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GAIA : A Multi-Media Tool for Natural Resource Management and Environmental Education

Case Study: Macro-scale, Multi-temporal Land Cover Assessment and Monitoring of Nepal and Thailand

Computer Science & Information Management Program,
Asian Institute of Technology

UNEP Environment Assessment Programme for Asia and the Pacific

Bangkok, Thailand



Human induced land use/land cover change, particularly that of deforestation, is one of the major environmental issue in South and South East Asia. Conversion of forests to other land uses such as agricultural land, urban areas and infrastructure devel opment etc.; have been increasing associated with the high rate of population growth and socio-economic development. Shifting cultivation continues to play one of the major factor responsible for forest degradation. Commercial logging and forest fire are two other prominent factors causing deforestation in humid tropics. Land degradation due to intensive agricultural practices, where most of the arable land has already been converted to crop land, is another environmental concern growing attention, in the region.

Wetlands, mangrove forests and coastal areas are increasingly at risk from the rapid economic development of the region. Biodiversity loss is occurring mainly due to habitat loss, land conversion, forest fragmentation, intensive yet monoculture agricultural practices and land degradation. More recently, pollution, climate change and introduction of exotic species are also contributing towards the erosion of biodiversity.

Accurate, reliable, easily accessible and timely information on the land use/land cover status of the region, their change pattern and driving forces responsible for the change, is necessary in formulating future strategies on natural resources conservation and management. Such information also plays an important role in resource allocation at various levels and global change studies. Time series analysis of remotely sensed data in conjunction with GIS incorporating socio-economic and bio-physical data plays a vital role in providing such information to the decision makers.

This case study which is designed to focus on the major priority problems and issues concerning natural resources planning and management in two South and South East Asian countries namely Nepal and Thailand. The case study is a part of EU funded projec t entitled " A Multi-media Tool for Natural Resources Management and Environmental Education". The broad goal of the project is to contribute towards the effective planning and management of natural resources of the region. It aims to develop an informati on network for wide dissemination of the output of the project using a multi-media training tool and develop institutional capabilities in the developing countries.


Population pressure and unsustainable type of agricultural practices contributed towards the environmental degradation in the fragile ecosystems of Nepal Himalayas. The effect is transboundary in nature, extending over eastern India and Bangladesh. Midd le hills and Terai region are most severely affected in terms of deforestation and forest degradation. Over-exploitation and grazing are two major factors responsible for forest degradation in the hills. All the accessible forests are severely degraded in this region causing soil erosion and landslides downstream. Encroachment of forest land for agriculture and uncontrolled logging are responsible for forest destruction in the Terai region. With the increasing population, extension of agricultural land in the marginal lands and in the steep slopes has become common phenomenon leading severe environmental consequences. Land degradation is in great pace in much of these parts. Habitat loss, forest fragmentation, forest degradation and over-exploitation of r emaining forests are some of the most important factors responsible for the loss of bio-diversity.


Much of the forest areas of Thailand has already been destroyed. The remaining forest areas are under intense pressure from the ever increasing demand of the people residing in and outside the forest areas. Mangrove forest has been (or in the process of ) converted into more profitable shrimp farms and salt pans. Land degradation due to inappropriate land use and natural factors is a major environmental concern in the north-eastern region of Thailand. Shifting cultivation remains to be active in the nor thern provinces. Urbanization is another form of land use/land cover change. Change in cropping patterns and cropping intensity due to the introduction of high yielding varieties of crops and farm mechanization are equally important for land cover change.


The project will be implemented in a greater framework of UNEP's decentralized Environment and Natural Resources Information Network (ENRIN) for Asia and Pacific. Key partner agencies involved in the project includes ICIMOD and SACEP for Nepal case study and ASEAN and MRC for Thailand case study (Fig. 1).


The out put of the project is expected to contribute towards the effective management of natural resources and the environment, utilizing most advanced training tools, based on multi-media methods and wide-area networking information technology in develo ping countries. It will be available on World Wide Web (WWW) that will be used for regular regional training courses as part of EAP-AP capacity development. Multi-media methods shall be integrated with Geographic Information Systems (GIS) for training. Through the series of training, the system will be evaluated and tested in support of disseminating and further exploring the methods developed through the active involvement of subregional and national partners.


Through the case study, the following outputs will be produced to incorporate in the WWW for wide dissemination and training.

Land Cover Map of Nepal and Thailand as derived from the
interpretation of NOAA AVHRR satellite data in two time frames
viz. 1985/86 and 1992/93.
Land cover Report of Nepal and Thailand which includes textual
descriptions, diagrams, photographs and numerical data.
NOAA AVHRR satellite imageries of Nepal and Thailand
Composite NDVI images of Nepal and Thailand
Scientific paper
High resolution satellite data such as SPOT and Landsat of the
selected areas undergoing major land cover transformations
("hot spot" areas). Ideally one in each country.
Detailed investigation reports of "hot spot" areas in the form of
text, numerical data, diagram, photographs and classified maps.

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