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Some 200 delegates from countries within the region, the United Kingdom and Africa, are expected in Jamaica next week for the 6th Conference of the Urban Regional Information Systems Association (URISA).

The five-day event, from November 12 to 16, is scheduled for the Hilton Rose Hall Resort and Spa in Montego Bay.  Minister of Water, Land, Environment and Climate Change, Hon. Robert Pickersgill, is expected to officially declare the event open on November 14.

Under the theme: 'Spatial Technologies: Critical Thinking, for Critical Times', the conference is expected to attract persons involved in using Geographical Information System (GIS) applications. 

These include over 120 key industry decision makers, senior government officials, heads of agencies and departments as well as GIS and information technology (IT) professionals and experts.   

The conference will also host a high level meeting of policy directors and technocrats, including Minister Pickersgill, who are expected to decide on a direction for the use of GIS technology in the region.

Speaking at a recent JIS Think, President of the Caribbean Chapter of URISA and conference chair, Valerie Grant, said the conference will focus on the development of a regional framework of geo-spatial information, capacity building and education, standardization of regional data, trends in information technology, among others.

She said the event also provides a great opportunity for persons locally and regionally, to improve their knowledge base on geo-spatial technology, as new software will be on display.

Acting National GIS Co-ordinator in the Ministry of Water, Land, Environment and Climate Change, Mark Codling, said one key element of the conference is to show how GIS technology can be used to enhance development.

"We have to see how the region can move forward in opening new doors for jobs in the geo-spatial industry. We have seen a high demand for data, so we’ll have to decide how we can make proper decisions and assist our policy makers and government in moving forward toward national development," he said.

He said that GIS is applicable to every sector, noting for example, that it has been used in agriculture, in terms of identifying ideal locations for setting up greenhouses.  “We looked at certain parameters; the slope of the land and where it is best to put a greenhouse and it was very successful. So government was able to identify locations that are not flood prone, saving millions of dollars,” he noted.

Ms. Grant agreed about the wide-ranging applicability of GIS technology, noting that “most of the enduring problems that we face, such as poverty alleviation, disaster risk reduction, all have a spatial component and GIS is what helps to solve them. So if (Hurricane) Sandy produced “X” inches of rainfall what is the likelihood that a certain place will flood. These are some of the decisions we can make or predict in a dispassionate scientific way,” she stated.

Representatives from Suriname, Guyana, Barbados, Trinidad, Saint Maarten and Jamaica are expected to attend the URISA Conference.  Members of the public, including representatives of tertiary institutions, keen on geo-spatial technologies and development, are invited to view displays and participate in the scheduled workshops.