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UNEP GRID Centres: The growing incidence of environmental disasters like forest fires and floods, underscores need for accurate and up-to-date information

Nairobi, 20 August 1999 - GRID-Arendal (Norway) will celebrate its 10th anniversary on 23 August. GRID-Arendal, one of 14 nodes in the UNEP-GRID system, was established under an agreement between the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Norwegian Ministry of Environment to provide support to UNEP's assessment and reporting activities. The arrangement is a unique collaboration between a national government and an international organization and has demonstrated how a private foundation, with strong government backing, can provide meaningful support to an important international process. Its work has also boosted the capacity of the UNEP to communicate globally.

For instance, in early 1998, and again this year, vital early warning aid was provided by GRID in the form of environmental data and regular status reports on the Indonesian forest fires to the relevant United Nations emergency response agencies.

GRID-Arendal's success in providing technical support to programmes in state of the environment assessment and reporting and environmental data management in Central and Eastern Europe has prompted UNEP to take the relationship a step further. Klaus Toepfer, UNEP's Executive Director, announced that the institution would be designated as a UNEP Key Centre for Polar Environmental Assessment and Early Warning with particular focus on the Arctic.

Agenda 21, the blueprint of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development called upon UNEP "to improve environmental monitoring and to provide the world with an early warning system on environmental problems". GRID-Arendal is a member of the Global Information Resource Database network - a system of collaborating data centres supporting the environmental assessment and reporting function of UNEP, providing information in a form useful to decision makers as a basis for making new policies and evaluating management responses. The network also serves the public by disseminating that information through printed reports and the Internet.

At present, there are 14 centres. Each has its own geographic and/or thematic area of specialization. These centres often combine forces to deal with various topics such as determining the vulnerability of areas to natural disasters and the location of potential environmental threats as a basis for disaster mitigation planning. It is also possible to analyse regional environmental factors and broad changes in environmental parameters to determine trends, thereby providing early warning of emerging issues.

Centres gather, integrate and analyse date and information extracted from maps, satellite images, statistical tables and other sources within and outside the United Nations system, to contribute to integrated or topical state of the environment assessments and reports such as the Global Environment Outlook.

GRID has over the years attempted to bridge the gap between scientific understanding of earth's processes and the sound management of the environment. This environmental data management support to UNEP, has certainly helped to enhance their capabilities to make informed decisions.

GRID-Christchurch, New Zealand, has a similar function to Arendal but focuses on the Antarctic. In the preparation of materials for the Secretary-General's report on polar issues, to be presented to the General Assembly, vital support is provided by these two centres.

GRID-Sioux Falls, United States of America, focuses on changes in global land use and land cover; GRID-Bangkok and GRID-Nairobi are concerned with regional and sub-regional state of the environment databases for Asia and the Pacific and Africa, respectively; GRID-Geneva is concerned with the tracking of data and information sources, compilation of information on environmental factors for areas where emergencies are occurring, for example, the Balkans or serious fire event. National and key topical centres also work together with specialized institutions such as the World Conservation Monitoring Centre (WCMC), to ensure the maintenance of comprehensive information on topics of special interest like global biodiversity and related reserves and protected areas.

The GRID network aims to increase its capacity and coverage. It is an important component in ensuring that necessary and vital information on the location and nature of environmental issues is readily accessible to policy makers and the public.

Note to journalists: Global Resource Information Database (GRID) is a digital, geographic environmental data and information integration, analysis and management service for UNEP, the United Nations system, international organizations and government. It consists of a network of fourteen cooperating centres which archive, collate and disseminate information. The nodes are located in Nairobi (UNEP headquarters), Arendal, Bangkok, Budapest, Christchurch, Geneva, Katmandu, Moscow, Ottawa, Sao Jose dos Campos (Brazil), Sioux Falls, Tbilisi (Georgia), Tsukuba (Japan) and Warsaw. GRID focuses on data extracted from maps, satellite images, statistical tables and other sources within and outside the United Nations system, linked together through computerized Geographic Information Systems and Image Processing Systems.

In addition to its data management function, GRID implements the following for users: helps to find environmental data; analyses national environmental conditions and trends and assesses risks and vulnerabilities; supports UNEP state of the environment and topical assessments as a basis for decision making; assists the development of regional and national capacities for environmental assessment and reporting for developing and transitional economy countries. At a more advanced state GRID has been applied as a supporting function to environmental impact assessments.

For more information, please contact:
Tore J. Brevik,
UNEP Spokesman and Director of Communications and Public Information Branch,
Nairobi, Kenya.
Tel: (254-2) 623292; Fa: 623692;
Aake Bjoerke,
Information Manager,
P.O. Box 1602, N-4801 Arendal, Norway.
Tel.: +47 37035650; Fax: +47 37035050;

UNEP News Release 1999/87

Friday 20 Aug 1999
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