Timor Leste – environmental data review workshop

The 6th of March as part of the Norwegian Petroleum Assistance Program together with DNMA I contributed to a workshop to be held at the Arbiru Hotel in Dili, Timor Leste. The intended outcome was to contribute to a process for establishing better handling of environmental data. The workshop was opened by his Excellency Sr. Abilio de Deus de Jesus Lima, State Secretary for the Environment.

Translations/terjemahan/tradução: Bahasa and/dan/e Portuguese

The following documents are copies of the workshop invitation and all presentations:

[wpfilebase tag=list id=2 tpl=table /]

The workshop had 36 participants from government offices, NGOs and commercial companies. Presenters at the workshop were:

  • Solveig Andresen
  • Ragnvald Larsen
  • Ivete Leite de Oliveira
  • Fransisco Poto
  • Ligia P. A. dos Santos
  • Moizes G. de Zar

The workshop was built around three themes:

  • Data overview and review
  • Establishing a rationale for spatial data and pointing to ways of disseminating data
  • Providing a framework to take the process forward discussing the Environmental Information Network (per UNEP) and an initiative from UN Mission in Timor on establishing a centralized mapping authority.

A central figure from my own presentations is this one:

Very briefly it illustrates the basics of a spatial data infrastructure. This is how easy it is – and at the same time how difficult. It might require the collaboration of many governmental institutions. In most countries, also Norway, it’s a challenge.

Group work 1

The intention with the first group work was to look at the environmental data overview collected by the DN team together with Ms Ivete Leite de Oliveira. The availability and description of structured environmental data was not good. We therefore tried to get a general overview of spatial data and hoped that this would lead us to relevant sources. The initial overview is based on interviews and a structured review of data in the GIS group in Timor Leste. All of this was entered into a Microsoft Access database:

Field database front end

With this review process we managed to pick up suggestions and ideas. Some errors were corrected as well. A proper process leading towards a national overview of data sets is however well beyond the ambition of this group work.

The 45 minutes available were however used wisely by the participants. Particularly useful feedback’s were:

  • additions of data sets
  • a suggestion to use a group category (implemented in the database)
  • duplicate categories (district/sub district/etc limits could be in administrative limits)
  • Some data sets were removed as they were considered irrelevant/non-existent

The outcome is in no way meant to be an authoritative list of spatial data in Timor Leste. Focus in this group work was to look at how much work will have to go into a proper process. I believe that the participants understand that this is a lot of work – and that a more structured effort on a governmental level (for data in general) is needed. For environmental data the UNEP Environmental Information Network was mentioned later this day.

Timor Leste Biodiversity datasets

Timor Leste Biodiversity datasets

We tried to update the initial database with feedback from the groups. Both printouts and the database itself are available for download. Download information is available in a separate table in this posting.

Group work 1 – conclusions

It is necessary to make a coordinated effort to structure environmental spatial data and other data sets.

Group work 2

The remaining participants (26) were divided into 5 groups and presented with 5 questions on 5 stations. All groups contributed by PostIt notes and comments on a sheet of paper with the questions on them.

Question 1
The clearing house pilot presented by Moizes and Ligia was made available foor the users and they could then try it out and comment on how they considered it as a tool. We asked:

-Looking at the online clearing house pilot, what is good and not so good?

  • What is good?
    • User friendly
    • Current speed and refresh speed of the maps.
    • Allows for geographical information to all users
    • Reduction of consumables
    • Users can make their own maps
    • Good way to make reports, presentations, maps and other docs accessible
  • What is not good?
    • Needs institutional appearance according to government guidelines
    • Maps need copyright information
    • Ability to aggregate and interact with layers individually.
    • Needs function for user feedback
    • Needs to address language issues for maximum accessibility
    • Metadata needed: Who, when, how
    • Sustainability
    • Need decission about internal externally available information
    • Language confusion (Currently a mix of Tetum,Portuguese, Bahasa and Englis)

Question 2

Access to environmental information is approached differently in countries around the world. Many countries even have access to environmental information as part of their constitution. We wondered if the participants had any views of this matter and asked:

– Who should have access to online environmental data?

Government, NGOs, Academia, Companies, Religious organizations, General public, UN,
There were mentions of categorized access limits based on use.

Question 3

The coordination of spatial data in a country is necessary for a host of good reasons, ranging from political to technical. What were the participants sentiment on this issue. We asked:

Who should coordinate spatial data in Timor Leste?

A future mapping authority was suggested. This entity should have communications with relevant partners (See answers to question 4). An Environmental Network with clear Standard Operative Procedures

Question 4

For proper coordination of spatial data it is necessary to interact with stakeholders and relevant expertise. We asked:

– Who should be partners in coordinating environmental data?

  • Academical and research institutions
  • Government agencies
  • NGOs
  • Donor agencies
  • Local government

Question 5

The conclusion from the Norwegian expert was that to be able to use environmental spatial data in a structured way it would be necessary to work on standards and systems. In that context it is important to establish an understanding of the constraints. We asked:

– What stops us from making better environmental data systems?

  • Technical knowledge of deploying such systems and keeping them operational.
  • Maintenance
  • Use of such systems because they are often not home-grown or they are difficult to understand
  • Lack of awareness
  • Lack of a staffing table
  • Scarcity of data
  • Limited experience and understanding of using environmental data
  • Institutional issues: Roles and responsibilities not clear
  • We do not understand the data we have. Poor metadata.
  • Lack of training
  • Lack of knowledge
  • Lack of consistency (data and team management)

Group work 2 – conclusions

A conclusion of this work is that it will be important to do some coordination of environmental spatial data. Some feedbacks were made in this work, and the pilot study at DNMA will be a starting point for the further work.


Some images were taken from the workshop. They area available in the below gallery:

  • Arbiru Workshop

Some relevant links

Concluding remarks

Comments on this posting from participants and other are welcomed!

5 thoughts on “Timor Leste – environmental data review workshop

  1. Adrian

    Worked for UNMIT and IOM in Timor-Leste in 2008/9. Found reading this very interesting, and also very familiar. Actually, recognise the UNMIT GIS Chief Timur in one of your photos. Anyway, with the UN Mission mandate coming to an end at the end of this year?, and with the UN Mission having such a wealth of information, will they then contribute/ organise/establish a body/ organisation that can take the building of geospatial information/ development of standards/ skills further?

  2. Pedro de Jesus Mendonca

    I need some information about climate change then about relation with pollution

    1. ragnvald Post author

      Dear Pedro, I know there are metereological data available. With long enough timeseries I assume those would be relevant for climate change analysis. For pollution data I am afraid I do not know about any such data. In a many countries one would find agencies monitoring the environment using chemical indicators for pollution levels. I am not sure if this is the case for Timor Leste. I would suggest you contact DNMA in the Fomento building for further information.

  3. Stephen Kabiito

    Nice interesting article I have just read from this website. Well, I was working with UNMIT as Meteorological Officer 2011-12 and had a first hands experience towards these drastic problems of data management and other sensitive sectors. Such sectors involved climate change, pollutions, ocean coastline environment management, plus many more. There is data available available but only for only UNMIT duration only. In between these data sets, there are some relapses in between but better than nothing. This article hope it touches to pretty serious actions of implementation soon as UNDP’s climate change unit take the cue to develop and research this sector to exhaustion. Thanks


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