Abu Dhabi honoured in California

Abu Dhabi wins Esri's Making A Difference award, which recognises achievement in embracing geographic information systems.

SAN DIEGO // Since scholars created some of the earliest representations of the Earth during the Islamic Golden Age between the eighth and 15th centuries, mapmaking has been transformed into a cutting-edge science that uses sophisticated tools such as computer modelling.

That voyage was the subject of an exhibition organised by Abu Dhabi for an annual conference in San Diego, California, this week. The exhibition pays homage to Islamic scholars and geographers, such as al Dinawari, the Kurdish Iranian, who is also considered the founder of Arabic botany, and Muhammad al Idris, who documented trade routes and explored distant lands. Abu Dhabi's efforts to continue the tradition were also lauded before the 13,000 international delegates from 110 countries at the Esri International User Conference, which opened on Sunday.

Abu Dhabi was honoured with Esri's Making A Difference award, which recognises achievement in embracing geographic information systems (GIS). GIS are used to create maps and images of data that can be used for things ranging from urban planning to running electricity grids. "Our leadership has set a goal for us - to be one of the best-performing governments in the world," said Mohammed Ahmed al Bowardi, the secretary general of the Executive Council, who received the award on Monday.

Mr al Bowardi is the head of a delegation of more than 70 people from Abu Dhabi, including officials from a wide range of agencies that use GIS, and 10 university students, to attend the meeting, which wraps up on Thursday. Businessmen, academics and members of the public may not realise it, but they are using GIS when they access the Abu Dhabi e-Government portal, www.abudhabi.ae. The portal offers people up-to-date information on topics ranging from personal documents, such as passports, to business permits, and allows users to conduct transactions online that previously had to be done in person.

The Abu Dhabi Spatial Data Infrastructure (AD-SDI), launched in 2007, has catalogued more than 1,200 government functions that require geographic data. The programme, a pillar of the modernisation of Abu Dhabi's government services being implemented under the direction of Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, is expected to save the Government Dh230 million by preventing duplication among agencies and ensuring accurate information.

Many agencies under the AD-SDI either have or intend to have their own portals. The Environment Agency-Abu Dhabi has had a portal for more than two years. The Department of Municipal Affairs, Urban Planning Council, and the Abu Dhabi Water and Electricity Authority are also expanding their own web-based mapping services for internal and public use. The conference chose Abu Dhabi as an example of a smaller, but cosmopolitan city to be studied under the 19.20.21 project, which is examining 19 cities that will have 20 million or more people in the 21st century.

The five-year project, which will explore urban trends, will organise map data, ranging from crime statistics to population densities. "We don't so much visit countries anymore as travel from city to city," said Richard Saul Wurman, an information architect who is behind the project. "Every time you use Google Maps, call emergency services, fly or take a ferry, or buy a house, you are using geospatial information," said Maurice Williamson, New Zealand's land information minister, who attended the conference.