* School of Environmental Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University New Delhi ** Sustainable Development Networking Programme, Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India, New Delhi. *** Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India, New Delhi.
Integrated Information management achieves its greatest potential in the context of biogeochemistry. While it offers many potential benefits, these are significant costs and risks, to stakeholders. So that an information management system for biogeochemistry is best developed in a highly consultative way. The pressure-state-response model of environmental monitoring provides a useful structure within which biogeochemistry -related information can be managed in an integrated way. In most countries, a variety of information bases are likely to exist already, and a number of ways of integrating these is available, highly centralised through to wholly develop. The "political" issues are likely to be more difficult to resolve than the purely technical.
A beginning is made towards this direction at international level towards promoting information management, through such initiatives as the Environmental Information System (ENVIS), and methodologies are available to carry out the essential first step of evaluating existing information systems. There is a need to strengthen such systems.
Keywords: Biogeochemistry, environmental monitoring and information management.
Biogeochemistry is the determination of the quantity, quality, and availability of water and geological resources, on which is based an evaluation of the possibilities for their sustainable development, management and control. Biogeochemistry is, in other words, a component of environmental resources management, and its role is to supply information required for particular purposes. These purposes include:
The conventional definition of Information Management on Biogeochemistry includes a large number of variables. This alone is an important reason for adopting an integrated - as opposed to piecemeal - approach to information management. In addition, the many applications of Biogeochemistry-related data listed above, combined with constraints set by limited resources, require that information managers design their data and information systems to meet as many needs as possible.
The concept of information management acquires a greater significance when seen in the context of information management on biogeochemistry. Integration may be contemplated from a number of perspectives, each with significant implications for the management of information. Some of these are:
Various dimensions of environment such as water: surface and groundwater, quality and quantity, ability to support aquatic life, and all geological and geochemical status which unifying element of a complex of our ecosystem.
Interactions between freshwater and other environmental systems with respect to the atmosphere, coastal and offshore waters, and terrestrial ecosystems. These interactions create complexity, for the management of flood plains, non-point sources of contaminants and erosion products, wetlands, industrial emissions to the atmosphere.
These inter-relationships between water, social and economic activities. These sectors rely on water as an essential element of production throughout irrigation agriculture, hydropower generation, water supply & sanitation, navigation and fishery.
The diverse institutions, national agendas, and legal instruments which have been established in virtually all countries (and also internationally) to manage different aspects of the biogeochemistry.
Most biogeochemists and geochemists agree that management and assessment are ideally carried out at the river basin scale. This ideal is achieved in an increasing number of basins, both national and international, commonly by the establishment of some form of specialist river basin agency. However, the misalignment of administrative boundaries and watersheds creates difficulties for data collection and information management in many other basins. For these problems while a focus of the International Workshop on Environmental Biogeochemistry at the global scale, but this not considers information from the perspective of the administrative units which, in practice, are responsible for Information management on biogeochemistry at international level.
In principle, there are many advantages to managing biogeochemical information in an integrated manner. These may include improved comparability of information, greater economy and efficiency of data collection, access to an extended information base, and the ability to attend service new needs such as state of the environment reporting. However, there are many impediments to achieving integrated information management on biogeochemistry (- and, indeed, management of biogeochemistry itself). The greatest impediment is the existence in most countries of a number of organisations active in the biogeochemistry sector. Each has its own responsibilities, clients, objectives, and supporting programme of data collection, and perhaps may have little incentive to co-operate with other organisations. The benefits are in the future are less easily demonstrated.
Over the years, many benefit-cost analyses undertaken have demonstrated the worth of biogeochemistry-related information. But biogeochemists and geochemists have difficulty in persuading decision-makers to invest in assessments on biogeochemistry. Although most specialists agree that such a integrated system is preferable to a piecemeal arrangement its implementation remain a difficult.
In proposing an integrated information system on biogeochemistry, it is essential, then, to consider besides the benefits and costs, and risks to the potential participants or "stakeholders". However, need not necessarily be in the form of a conventional analysis to be useful it must consider non-monetary benefits and costs. In particular, the existing organisations already operating their own information systems must incorporate an integrated information system. The ease with which each can be convinced to participate in a proposal is likely to vary widely, in accordance with their estimates of the net costs and risks. In these circumstances, experience increasingly is that a consultative approach, based on open communication and negotiation, is most likely to "get to 'yes"'.
Several of the elements are iterative, and the whole process cannot be rushed, if a majority of stakeholders are to "buy in" to the proposal. The initiator of the proposal must be careful not to promote a preferred solution, and to avoid being seen to attempt to "bulldoze" the process. Only when a collective decision to proceed has been reached can technical issues be usefully tackled.
Some of these - particularly the smaller local government bodies - would benefit from a nationally information system but many are more or less self-sufficient, and would not. There are a number of other net beneficiaries, however, including a number of central government ministries with regulatory and policy roles, Non-Governmental Organisations and Institutes.
The Ministry for the Environment & Forests (Govt. of India) has established an ENVIS programme, employing independent consultants, to analyse the needs of potential users and the functional and technical characteristics of an environmental information system. Attention is being focussed particularly on various components, such as an environmental metadatabase (that is, a database to provide information about the availability of environmental information), and an environmental indicators information system. In some ways, the project runs the risk of making decisions about the proposed information system, before the real benefits and costs to the contributors and users have been established, and consensus has been achieved.
There are a number of circumstances in which integrated information management systems have been launched successfully, and out of these, four appear to have been particularly significant:
Together, these drivers have tended to encourage resource managers to place less emphasis on "traditional" types of biogeochemistry-related data, such as river quality, flows etc., and to seek ways of describing resources and the environment in an inherently more integrated manner.
There are many other examples of the use of such indicators, in which information provides an efficient and readily understood record of the status of biogeochemistry. These examples frequently can be found in countries whose natural environment is under particular stress, and where an "effects-based approach" to resource management is practised. They also may be of less significance than the impacts of human activity, and the effectiveness of specific remedial actions that might be taken.
It is almost automatically assumed today that a system for managing biogeochemical information will be computer based. The recent advances in computer and communications technology create potentially huge opportunities to access and manipulate different types of biogeochemical data and information, generated by different organisations. Along with the opportunities go huge challenges, particularly for enabling interchange of information among contributors and users of information. There are a number of options for linking contributors and users are:
In most countries, the starting point for a move towards an Environmental Information System is one of the above options, because several organisations have interest and responsibilities in different parts of the environmental sector. To avoid the technical difficulties of arranging direct interchange above have many attractions, but they also introduce the more political difficulties relating to data ownership, access, security etc. The most desirable option in any circumstance will depend upon many factors, possibly the least important of which are technological. Data security, intellectual property rights, charging regimes, incentive payments (monetary or in kind) to contributors, accountability, quality assurance procedures, future continuity of data supply and updating, and other issues have loomed large in attempts to establish information systems. If agreement cannot be achieved on these, there is little point considering technical issues relating to data formats, interfaces etc.
In the International Workshop on Biogeochemistry, December 13-18, 1998 New Delhi concluded that similarly recognised the essential nature of information management. Of the recommendations for an approach to information management on biogeochemistry ' listed in the Meeting Report, three relate specifically to information management, and many others would be impossible without an adequate information base. It is worth quoting of these recommendations, because it emphasises the user-focused approach to information management, which is recognised as necessary to gain support for this activity.
The workshop participants observed that environmental problems related to the degradation of water bodies and their causes are common to all countries of Asia. Given the nature and the magnitude of the problems involved, the workshop participants recommend that attempts should be made to pool together the resources and expertise available in South and Southeast Asian region. This will benefit a group of nations within monsoon Asia to collectively address water-related environmental issues arising from common causes. Such an attempt could benefit enormously through co-operation with scientists from industrial nations with similar expertise.
The Secretary-General's report to the sixth (April, 1998) session of the Commission for Sustainable Development (United Nations, 1998) repeatedly echoes the need for information, but also recognises that decision makers have to be persuaded: "establishing the demand for data to justify an adequate provision of flow of financial resources may need to involve the pro-active marketing of data to key decision makers.
The first essential step towards information management on Biogeochemistry is evaluation of the existing state of affairs. The concept of global information network evolved during the preparatory session of the United Nation Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) of the Earth Summit in 1992. This was to encourage the deliberate sharing of information and expertise between the global networks and Sustainable Development Networks as they came to be known. It became a catalytic initiative to implement the Capacity 21 Programme of the UNDP and to fulfil the resolutions made at the conference.
Sustainable Development Networking Programme was launched in 12 countries in 1992 and is today operational in over 80 developing countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. SDNP - India has created a gateway to information on environment and sustainable development as a planted step to achieve the programme vision. The gateway hosted at http://sdnp.delhi.nic.in provide updates on latest sustainable development related global events, access to online and international databases and libraries references to case studies, publications and articles, and links to all major developmental organisations. It cannot be over emphasised that data collection and information management is of value only to the extent that they support analysis and decision making. If information does not enable better or more confident decision-making, it is of limited value.
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