The project creates a sophisticated but accessible and easy-to-use web-based digital mapping resource around Cambodia’s natural protected areas. Anyone with an interest in these areas, from government officials to small communities, NGOs and even individual students, can create a map of a protected area and then overlay that map with other features. For example, they may want to see if there are overlaps with economic or mining concessions, community forests or indigenous villages.
Natural protected areas, set aside for the conservation of wildlife or threatened ecosystems, cover almost a third of Cambodia. Technically, there should be management zones set up in each one to govern their use and ensure their protection, but these zones have been fully implemented in just 3 of the 45 protected areas. This leaves the areas at risk.
Take, for example, Beng Per Wildlife Sanctuary, a 2,494 km2 area that is home to some of Cambodia’s most endangered species. On the one hand, it is partly surrounded by 10 community forests and 8 community protected areas, allowing local people to play a protective role. But overlay different layers on ODC’s digital map, and it becomes clear that no fewer than 15 economic land concessions (covering over 69,000 hectares) and 7 mining company areas have adjoining and even overlapping claims, putting the sanctuary at risk.
Audiences and uses
The tool allows potential conflicts of interest to be identified and addressed or publicised. Solutions can be proposed that will reduce the risks of commercial exploitation in a sensitive protected area.
● Local communities in or near a protected area can use the tool to gain a full understanding of the situation they must deal with and the actors involved. They have objective facts they can use in discussions with the local, provincial and central government.
● NGOs with special interests have a reliable fact base for their advocacy.
● News media can use the tool to get independent background information, providing a base for accurate reporting.
● The government can use the data to check against the information they receive from officials or the private sector.
The tool is free for users to access. Provided by a non-profit, non-political body, it is free of any commercial or political bias.
What makes this project innovative?
The innovation behind this project can be found in: ● Its accessibility. The map resource is available for both English and Khmer speakers. No special technical skills are required – anyone with a simple laptop and an internet connection can use it. ● Its focus on user needs. This isn’t a static resource, but an interactive tool that allows users to overlay data to meet their own needs. ● Its focus on independence and objectivity. ODC’s map is free of commercial or political bias. ● Its focus on open data and open source technology. ODC’s platform is an open-source site in both software used and methodology. The Cambodian government’s IT policy encourages the use of open source programs and the uncensored transmission of information, resulting in an energetic IT community that has produced Khmer Unicode and indigenized software. ODC continues this tradition. The open data, open source approach also allows sharing and cooperation with other regional and global platforms. ● Its focus on visual information. A picture can say a thousand words.
What was the impact of your project? How did you measure it?
Currently, ODC’s platform receives over 500,000 visitors in 12 months, but a more significant metric is that a third of the visitors are repeat visitors, people returning to make use of the data. ODC is very open to engagement with users. As an example of the uses its interactive digital map has been put to, here are just a few examples: ● An official from Cambodia’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries made extensive use of ODC’s data on economic land concessions, comparing it to the Ministry’s own information. This helps the government assess the accuracy and comprehensiveness of its own data collection procedures. ● Cambodian Center for Independent Media used ODC map data in a major 2018 investigation involving the impacts of economic land concessions on indigenous communities and their protected areas (https://www.ccimcambodia.org/?p=1232) ● A geographic information system specialist from the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction used ODC data on natural protected areas, economic land concessions and community forestry as a key resource in communal land use planning in a province of Cambodia. ● In 2017, researchers from NASA used ODC’s mapping of forest loss (even in protected areas) as one resource for a look at forest loss in Cambodia over time. (https://visibleearth.nasa.gov/view.php?id=89413) ● ODC data has been quoted in reports by the UN’s Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia. ● ODC’s data has been used in many substantial publications, such as The Handbook of Contemporary Cambodia, edited by Katherine Brickell and Simon Springer (Routledge, 2017). ● The open data/open source approach ODC has adopted with its interactive mapping has led to regional/global connections with open data organizations such as Land Portal Foundation, Open Land Contracts and Land Matrix, taking new ideas in and spreading ideas outwards.
Source and methodology
Open Development Cambodia (ODC) was the first open data website of its kind in Southeast Asia. It is a considerable achievement that the project was developed in one of the least-developed countries, Cambodia, rather than a country with vastly greater resources such as Singapore or Malaysia. ODC aggregates data from both offline and online sources including government, non-government organizations and private companies. In some cases, paper-based data must first be digitized. Even data that is already available in a digital format still needs to be cleaned and checked. The non-profit, non-political approach that ODC follows means that its focus is purely on obtaining the most up-to-date, comprehensive and accurate data for its interactive map and other resources. There are numerous ways data can be checked. For example, when a new natural protected area has been formed, a legal document is issued that sets out the specific details. Where a spreadsheet of data about multiple protected areas is provided, the individual pieces of information for each area can be checked or spot-checked against the specific legal documents associated with each area. In many cases, data has been collected by government or government agencies but not made publicly accessible. ODC has worked with relevant government contacts to access information. ODC has also had many contacts with companies that have projects in Cambodia.
Thy Try, Executive Director/Editor-in-Chief Prum Punwath, Data Researcher and GIS Coordinator