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GeoSUR, a Latin American and Caribbean (LAC) open access and web-based initiative for geospatial data-sharing, has received a boost at the Eye on Earth Summit in Abu Dhabi (12-15 December).

The conference "Networks of Networks" working group accepted  GeoSUR – one of the first such regional networks in the developing world – as a "case model". 

"This could help to use the lessons we learned as a starting point to build similar networks in other developing regions," Eric Van Praag, coordinator of GeoSUR, told SciDev.Net.

"We can help kickstart a network like this in other parts of the world and probably get some funding or support," explained Van Praag.

Established in 2007 by the Development Bank of Latin America (CAF) — a multilateral financial institution that supports sustainable development and comprises 16 LAC countries, Spain and Portugal and 14 private regional banks — the initiative is the first portal to offer access to spatial information for all the countries of the region in one place.

The information is generated by more than 60 participating LAC agencies from — ministries, research centres, nongovernmental organisations (NGOs), geographical institutes and private companies — and includes regional base maps; infrastructure, land use, land cover and protected area maps; and aerial imagery.

Presenting its five-year report to the Abu Dhabi meeting, the initiative said that 80 per cent of institutions using GeoSUR searched and accessed data, and between 30 and 40 per cent consulted it to support government and institutional decision-making and to download data.

Examples of uses for which the system had been used included locating suitable areas to build shelters in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake, visualisation of Peru-Bolivia border maps to evaluate the feasibility of undertaking cross-border projects, assessment of the impact on infrastructure projects on protected areas and indigenous communities in Colombia, updating drainage network maps in Ecuador, and development of a flood and landslide hazard map in Venezuela.

"This is an evolving network, and we are putting more and more information into it," said Van Praag. 

"GeoSUR is a public tool, so if you have your own GIS system and you want to do some analysis you can actually download it to your computer,” he said. “This could give scientists the chance to collaborate and hopefully build things from the information they download and give the result of their work back to GeoSUR so it can be shared with other users."