GIS

Tech Trends: Rebuilding Iraq

15 Dec, 2004 By: Arnie Williams

ESRI and Bentley help clean the water


Much of the world's focus today is on war-torn Iraq. Newspapers and airwaves are awash in stark images of warfare and destruction. With sweeping photos of destroyed buildings topping nightly news broadcasts, it's hard to imagine how some of these locations will ever move from destruction to reconstruction. Even so, a number of organizations have spent the past year focusing on a more positive view of the future of Iraq. Organizations such as the U.S. Agency for International Development and the U.N. OCHA (United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) are investing time, training, and resources in Iraq with a view toward rebuilding the country's vital infrastructure.

Of course, trying to do so in the midst of war is much like attempting to change the tire on a moving vehicle. In some ways it's impossible, and in other cases, impractical. But preparing for the windows of opportunity that present themselves, especially as Iraq undergoes national elections and strives to provide more security for its cities, is a paramount goal of these and other aid organizations.

Without doubt, technology will play a crucial role in helping to revamp and modernize Iraq's infrastructure, particularly in areas of water distribution and power management. Technology from two companies familiar to the CAD and GIS industries is involved in these initial efforts—mapping technology from ESRI (www.esri.com) and hydraulic mapping and analysis technology from Bentley Systems (www.bentley.com) , through technology acquired in its recent purchase of Haestad Methods (www.haestad.com) .

IN SEARCH OF A PLACE TO TRAIN

ESRI has donated software and training resources to the Iraq effort since the beginning of the conflict, notes David Gadsden, international relations and federal account manager for ESRI. Much preliminary work has been done in support of efforts by U.N. OCHA to establish a gazetteer of locations throughout the country. U.N. OCHA has created a mapping standard for linking planned projects to locations so that all of the aid and reconstruction organizations that will be involved in the rebuilding effort will have a data standard to work from.

The challenge for U.N. OCHA has been to integrate data from U.S. Department of Defense military grid maps, GPS data from U.N. sources, its own p-code standards currently under development, and legacy maps from Iraq—all into a standardized and widely usable GIS database (figure 1).

 Figure 1. Maps such as these linking aid projects and infrastructure refurbishment needs to specific locations in Iraq are being developed to provide technology resources to coordinate reconstruction efforts in Iraq. Maps courtesy of USAID.
Figure 1. Maps such as these linking aid projects and infrastructure refurbishment needs to specific locations in Iraq are being developed to provide technology resources to coordinate reconstruction efforts in Iraq. Maps courtesy of USAID.

The good news, notes Gadsden, is that the Iraqi ministry had comprehensive legacy maps and a sophisticated knowledge of geography at the outset. What they needed was training in the latest technology, and ESRI was instrumental in helping to provide that. But finding a safe and secure training location in a war-torn country was no easy task.

After initial consideration of Baghdad and Mosul as potential training sites, ESRI worked with the U.N. Humanitarian Information Centres to set up ArcGIS training for the Iraq Ministry in Amman, Jordan. The training took place in November 2003, notes Gadsden, and was quite successful.

With much of the day-to-day work of reconstruction on standby, current U.N. efforts are largely focused on the upcoming election. Most, if not all, of the reconstruction work will await the outcome and aftermath of successful elections and subsequent improvements in security. But when the time is right, the Iraq Ministry will have the most up-to-date mapping and GIS resources.

THE IMPORTANCE OF WATER

Few natural elements are as crucial to the quality of life as an ample supply of clean, fresh water. This is even more tenuous in war-ravaged countries where water management facilities can often suffer disruptions and destruction (figure 2). A number of companies, such as Parsons (an engineering, program management, and construction firm) through USAID (www.usaid.gov, will work on revamping and redeveloping water resources just as soon as it's safe to do so. Parsons recently selected WaterGEMS (Geographic Engineering and Modeling System) technology from Bentley as one of its technology tools to aid in its water infrastructure projects.
Figure 2. A potable water main runs through a raw sewage canal near a residential area of Nasiriyah in southern Iraq. Distribution of potable water remains a big problem for the citizens. Existing water lines are few and are often contaminated because of a high water table and the presence of open sewage. USAID partner RTI is finding solutions for the aging, poorly maintained water and wastewater infrastructure. Photo courtesy of Thomas Hartwell, USAID.
Figure 2. A potable water main runs through a raw sewage canal near a residential area of Nasiriyah in southern Iraq. Distribution of potable water remains a big problem for the citizens. Existing water lines are few and are often contaminated because of a high water table and the presence of open sewage. USAID partner RTI is finding solutions for the aging, poorly maintained water and wastewater infrastructure. Photo courtesy of Thomas Hartwell, USAID.

The technology, notes Dr. Tom Walski, a hydraulics specialist with Bentley Systems, works in conjunction with mapping technology to provide pressure and flow data crucial to the refurbishment of water distribution systems (figure 3).

Figure 3. A WaterGEMS map, such as this, with its ability to locate p-code data and to import maps from various GIS mapping systems, will help companies such as Parsons Engineering streamline efforts to refurbish damaged water systems in war-torn Iraq.
Figure 3. A WaterGEMS map, such as this, with its ability to locate p-code data and to import maps from various GIS mapping systems, will help companies such as Parsons Engineering streamline efforts to refurbish damaged water systems in war-torn Iraq.

"Before you put a pipe in the ground," he says, "you want to make sure it's the right pipe and that the system will work." WaterGEMS provides hydraulic simulation and testing, which helps eliminate costly errors in piping outlays, pumps, tanks, valves, and the like, especially over varied terrain.

Before such technology, notes Walski, civil engineers would often work from paper maps. They spent an inordinate amount of time manually building a hydraulic model, typing in data, calculating pipe lengths, and trying to interpolate topographical maps and elevations. What used to take days and was prone to error now takes minutes thanks to the ability to read existing or imported CAD and GIS data, ensuring accurate models.

WaterGEMS technology is strong, mainly because of its flexibility. The software works as a stand-alone product with its own built-in GIS database, but can also be incorporated into ESRI's ArcGIS product, AutoCAD, and Autodesk mapping products. The software will soon be integrated into Bentley's PowerCivil, PowerField, and PowerMap products.

"An important thing to keep in mind," notes Bob Mankowski, "is that water-utility infrastructure projects are not one-time affairs." With a civil engineering degree from Drexel University, Mankowski joined Haestad Methods in 1995 and progressed to the chief technical officer post. He now serves as Bentley's director of product management for municipal products. Mankowski has been instrumental in the development of a number of water technology products. "Water treatment and hydraulic assets last a long time," he says, "so design and maintenance goes on year after year. It's not just a design it, build it, and forget it operation. Rather it's design, build, operate, and manage—throughout the complete lifecycle to retirement."

HOPE FOR THE FUTURE

Obviously, the situation in Iraq is frustrating on many levels to the aid organizations that are ready to offer much-needed infrastructure refurbishment and modernization. The planned January elections and hoped-for improvements in security throughout the country could open many doors that are now too high-risk for many projects to go forward. As security improves, the Iraq Ministry and other Iraqi organizations that will work hand-in-hand with aid organizations will be able to use an array of sophisticated technologies, such as those provided by ESRI and Bentley, to speed up such vital quality-of-life projects.

Arnie Williams, former Editor-In-Chief of Cadence magazine, is a freelance author specializing in the CAD industry. E-mail Arnie at awilliams@grandecom.net.


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