Implementing the UN Open GIS Initiative in United
Nations Mission in South Sudan
By Majur Achiew
(GIS Assistant) and Remi Kouakou (GIS Officer), UNMISS
Following the UN Open GIS training course for QGIS and
PostGIS, which was contributed by the UN Committee from the Open Source
Geospatial Foundation (OSGeo) with support of volunteers of GeoForAll, the United
Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) GIS team leader in Malakal (GIS OIC,
Malakal), who attended, initiated a discussion in the field office to implement
the objectives of the training course.
open source technologies through partnership
UN Open GIS is an initiative
conceived by the UNGIS Section of the Operations Support Division of the Office
of Information and Communications Technology (OICT) to leverage free and open source
software resources. The undertaking was first brought to the table in September
2015 in Vienna, Austria, mainly to establish an open source program for peace
operations (Eom, 2016). The result was the establishment of the UN Open GIS
Initiative in March 2016 that would harness open source technologies through
partnership. The UN Open GIS Initiative recommends a phased approach in a
hybrid model, and these four (4) phases (or Working groups) are called
Spiral-1 forms a web-based GeoPortal platform;
Spiral-2 focuses on capacity building for open
source software applications to be used for operational requirements specific
to each field mission;
Spiral-3 is devoted to developing geospatial
Spiral-4 will take on developing applications for
data collection including the use of UAVs (ICTD, 2017) and optimizing vector
capacity in Malakal
As part of the Spiral-2, which aims to build UN capacity for
utilizing available open source software applications, the UNMISS Malakal GIS team
was encouraged by their OIC to embark on an in-house training using QGIS tools at
disposal. The decision to dedicate time to learn open source GIS software was not
only based on the UN Open GIS Initiative, but it also due to the licensing constraints
from proprietary software and applications that field missions face.
Open Source Software
Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) provides flexibility in terms of access
to source-code and for ease of understanding and modification, which in some cases
can be either cheap or free as in monetary value (Dempsey, 2017). FOSS offers
greater access to range of services with little restrictions on the users. The
best part of FOSS is either getting rid of or reducing the reliance on
proprietary software – the licensing contracts for which can be expensive and inflexible.
UN Open GIS Initiative was conceived to harness the available resources in the
Open GIS community to not only reduce costs but also to increase efficiency and
flexibility in service delivery and innovation.
It was against these backdrops that the Malakal GIS team
embarked on projects that utilize the resources of open source GIS software.
QGIS is a free and open source GIS software with powerful
tools. It was understood that a combination of several FOSS applications aided
by the open source software with all GIS capabilities would yield the desire results.
This was how some of the product items requested by peacekeepers at UNMISS
Sector North were produced.
the Malakal GIS OIC took the online QGIS course offered by Politecnico
di Milano, a UN Open GIS partner. Upon completing the course in November
2016, all the staff in the Malakal field GIS office were encouraged to learn
and use the software as part of the in-house training facilitated by the OIC.
The other staff would later, in 2018, take the same course while having
acquired the basics. Malakal GIS team currently operates in open source
platform for almost all operational needs.
source GIS software utilization
Digital Change Detection: Land Use and Land Cover (Impacts of IDPs
on land and resources)
Topographic Maps (Engineering operations, Camp management, and
- Malakal Compound Topographic Map
- Kodok AOB Topographic Map
- Bentiu Airfield Topographic Map
- Malakal Compound 3D map
- Bentiu UNMISS 3D Camp
products have already been popular among the mission’s Engineering, Aviation,
and Camp Management sections.
Benefits of using open source GIS
samples highlighted in next pages, affirms that there exist several benefits of
using open source GIS software. Successful completion of large-scale works
using FOSS, combined with some proprietary software in UN GIS will provide a variety
of options to choose and a safety net for business continuity in case of
staff are currently fully operating in QGIS as well as in proprietary software.
Most staff are more confident in using QGIS due to the flexibility to accessing
a variety of extensions (plug-ins) that are freely offered.
FOSS challenges, QGIS
source programs are very dynamic in many aspects including frequent changes
that take so much of the user’s time to adapt. Much of the tools and
functionalities in QGIS as with most Open source programs, are too technical
for beginners. This comes from the prime objective of the open source, which is
geared toward programmers and scientists. While this gives them flexibility and
efficiency, it does the exact opposite to less technical and less experienced
users, something propriety vendors (e.g. ArcGIS) avoid.
Image preview of the products created using Free and Open Source Software
programs are included below. These are meant for review only and as such the
visual quality has been intentionally reduced for article space purposes.
Interested individuals or parties can find these products on UNMISS GIS Portal
or make a special request for higher quality items.
ICTD, 2017, UN GIS Goes “Open”: DFS, https://ft.dfs.un.org/un-gis-goes-%E2%80%9Copen%E2%80%9D
Eom, 2016, UN Open GIS
is a GIS Community Initiative: DFS, https://ft.dfs.un.org/un-open-gis-gis-community-initiative
Dempsey, 2017. Open
Source GIS and Freeware GIS Applications. https://www.gislounge.com/open-source-gis-applications/
Malakal Town (airport part) Land Use and Land Cover Digital Change Detection.
(Left: Malakal Town in 2014. Right:
Malakal Town in 2015 after IDPs moved to UNMISS Camp). This is used to track
changes in the land use (built areas, agriculture, tree cutting etc.) or land
cover changes due to displacement of local population.
UNMISS Malakal Camp Land Use and Land Cover Digital Change Detection. (Left:
UNMISS Camp in 2014. Right: UNMISS Camp
in 2015 after IDPs moved in). This is used to track changes in the land use
(built areas, agriculture, tree cutting etc.) or land cover changes due to
displacement of local population.
UNMISS Malakal Compound Topographic Map showing elevation of the camp. Blue is
high while white is low.
Marathon Circuit Map. An animated video was also created but omitted for
technical reason. The animation follows the red line which is not visible until
the video starts.
Kodok AOB Topo map showing elevation of the proposed area for the UNMISS COB.
Red is high, and green is low. A helpful tool for the engineers during earlier
Bentiu Airfield Topo Map showing elevation of the airfield. Green is low while
white is high.
UNMISS Bentiu Office and Accommodation 3D Map. Helps camp management staff
near-real-world sense of the area as opposed to traditional 2D maps.
UNMISS Malakal Camp 3D Map. Only relatively permanent structures are included
in the 3D output. Most of the left-out objects are either containers or