FIG Working Week and XXXII General Assembly in Eilat, Israel, 3-8 May 2009

Surveyors Have a Key Role in Accelerated Development

The Annual Conference of the International Federation of Surveyors - the FIG Working Week 2009 took place in Eilat, Israel from 3rd to 8th of May 2009. The theme of this year’s conference was “Surveyors’ Key Role in Accelerated Development” which is a hot topic worldwide but especially in Israel that is one of the most densely populated countries in the world. The conference gathered more than 500 delegates – with exhibitors and accompanying persons about 650 participants from 65 countries to Eilat, the southernmost edge of Israel at the Red Sea. Among participants 60 students and more than 60 accompanying persons. The technical programme included almost 250 presentations in about 60 technical sessions and workshops. The conference was hosted jointly by the Association of Licensed Surveyors in Israel, ALSI and FIG in co-operation with the Survey of Israel.

FIG Working Week

At the Opening Ceremony of the Working Week at the Dan Eilat Hotel, Mr. Joseph Kraus, President of ALSI welcomed the full hall of 450 participants to Eilat. He expressed in his welcome address the enthusiasm of the Israeli surveyors of getting this major FIG conference to Israel after many years’ preparations. The conference offered an excellent showcase of the development in different fields of surveying technology and the profession in Israel over the last 27 years that have passed since the previous FIG conference was held in Tel Aviv in 1972. Dr. Ron Adler, Chair of the Organising Committee of FIG 1972 attended the Working Week and made welcome greeting at the opening ceremony. The audience was also entertained with cultural programme focussing on traditional and modern dance from Israel and the region.

Dr. Haim Srebro, Congress Director and Director General of Survey of Israel had with his team put a lot of effort in the conference arrangements. In addition to the broad technical programme covering all ten FIG Commissions – especially the programme on valuation and environment topics was excellent – a special emphasis was put to show the rapid development of surveying profession in Israel. For many participants the professional highlight of the conference was the visit to the borders between Israel, Jordan and Egypt giving a showcase on the procedures how surveyors can contribute, in this case in determining the border as part of the peace treaty.

FIG President Stig Enemark stated in his opening address that the world is currently facing two major challenges: The first is the global financial crisis and the second is climate change. "They both require immediate as well as long term action. With regard to the financial crisis, nobody knows at this stage whether we have reached the bottom yet but the current recession will turn – eventually. FIG is well aware of the problems this crisis imposes on our members, but we should also look at the opportunities. As Barack Obama said during his election campaign in the US: “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste”. That means “no crisis should be overlooked with regard to the opportunities it provides as well”. The opportunities in this regard relates to the possibility of addressing the issue by large scale political means simply because the problems are so big that almost any intervention is acceptable."

The keynote presentation at the opening ceremony was given by Dr. Isaac Ben Israel, Chairman of the Israel Space Agency, on Israeli space programme. He explained how a small nation with limited resources can achieve an important role in the modern technology by focussing on some key areas.

At the plenary sessions three hot topics were discussed: Geo-information management; Emergency and Natural Resource Management; and GNSS, Geo-sciences and Surveying.

The main outcome of the first plenary session was that geography has really gone mobile. Lawrie E. Jordan, Director of Imagery Enterprise Solutions at ESRI, talked on the Geo Information Management Perspectives for the Future. He started with the statement that GIS is addressing the challenges of our modern society and that GIS is changing the way we work and face these challenges. He continued with demonstrating several applications of the value of geospatial and GIS such as planning, land information systems, managing natural disasters, utilities, transportation, defense and homeland security and others. He also mentioned the central part of imagery nowadays to GIS and the importance to integrate imagery and GIS. From ESRI's viewpoint GIS implementations follow today 3 common patterns – Desktop, Server and Federated levels, and that the WEBGIS - GIS on the Web - is just beginning. He finished his presentation by pointing out their Vision that geographic knowledge is a basis to human activity and vice versa.

Dr. Vanessa Lawrence, Director General and CEO of the UK Ordnance Survey, focused on the Role of a National Mapping Agency in Geo-Information Management. She divided her presentation into two parts – first her views regarding the Geo-Information technology in general, and then the tasks and activity of the Ordnance Survey in particular. She started with the unprecedented of GI challenges at global, national, regional and local levels, by relating to issues that the future GI hold on societies, users, technology and automation. She emphasized that the world is driven by community participation and that the Geographic information community is playing a leading role on this matter. Geography is underpinning the nation in UK and elsewhere. She described the OS MasterMap - the basic GI database of UK, which is composed of four layers - Topography, Addresses, Integrated Transport Network, and Imagery, as well as to their current GPS permanent stations referencing network.

Dr. Haim Srebro, Director General of the Survey of Israel described the On-Line Geospatial Information approach adopted by the Survey of Israel. He started by describing the challenges and problems that Israel and the SOI as the governmental agency for mapping is facing, such as high population density, rapid urbanization, and severe shortage in land. Effective solutions to these issues require accessible online geospatial information and data integration and data sharing among agencies. The SOI has a fundamental role as it is responsible for the Mapping & GIS, Cadastre and Geodesy in Israel and holds a professional leadership on the matter. He elaborated on issues such cooperation between SOI and the private market for production, R&D and maintenance of its geospatial databases, cooperation between SOI and the governmental agencies and ministries as well as with public organizations and the public itself. He explained the rational behind the SOI's going online and the structure of the National spatial data portal. He continued with the SOI's plans for the near future, including the active permanent network and online geodetic services, transformation from the current analogue cadastre to a coordinate based cadastre, to allow other agencies to integrate spatial information to SOI's sites, and joint projects with other governmental agencies.

At the second plenary session Emergency and Natural Resource Management Dr. Avi Shapira reported about the way Israel prepares for earthquakes. This is necessary because the Dead Sea fault is an active fault, with numerous little and stronger earthquakes. The last strong one occured in 1995 near Eilat with magnitude 7.2. When a strong earthquake would occur more north, in Galilea, then 90% of israel's population is affected. Shapira stated that being prepared for an earthquake has everything to do with the way houses and buildings are constructed, as in his view dangerous earthquakes don't exist, only dangerous buildings. Here we meet social and political aspects, as there should be sufficient will to construct such houses.

Prof. Orhan Altan, President of ISPRS and Chair of the JB GIS Committee on Risk and Disaster Management spoke about the Role of Geospatial Professionals in Risk and Disaster Management and Preventing Natural Catastrophes. He reported that UN inventories reveal that the number of disasters increases. He distinguished three phases in a disaster, namely before, during, and after. It appears that increasingly photogrammetry, remote sensing and geospatial information technology play an important role in earthquake research and he shows examples of a few recent earthquakes such as Wenchuen in China.

Finally Prof. Stig Enemark took the floor to place the work of surveyors in the broad perspective of governance of land in his address "Facing the Global Agenda – Focus on Land Governance". Also the disaster risk management is based on the 4 p's of people, places, politics and power. Surveyors have to develop from measurement to management. This should contribute to a spatially enabled society, as everything happens somewhere. FIG is dedicated to support the profession adequately on this way forward.

At the last plenary session the first keynote presentation was given by Dr. Ze’ev Begin from the Israel Geological Survey and current Minister in the newly appointed Israeli government. His presentation focussed on the 20 million years history of earthquake pruduction along the Dead Sea Fault. The other two speakers were Dr. Joseph Forrai who talked about the permanent GPS network based measurement practice in Israel and Prof. Rudolf Staiger, Chair of FIG Commission 5 who in his presentation "Push the Button - or Does the Art of Measurement Still Exist?" argued that pushing the button is not enough, but we need to improve our capability to master the entire measurement process.

Other highlights of the conference included the Forum for Director Generals of national mapping and cadastre agencies that in Eilat was attended by 20 national agencies. The Forum provides an opportunity for the DGs to network and to interact with the profession. The concept has been very well received and will be further developed towards the FIG Congress in Sydney in April 2010.

Naturally the conference offered opportunities for bilateral meetings between FIG and the different delegations as for the Survey of Israel and ALSI that signed bilateral co-operation agreements with the surveyors and valuers from China P. R.

The technical exhibition gathered a good selection of companies representing international and national companies. The FIG platinum corporate members played a key role at the exhibition. The main sponsors of the Working Week 2009 were in addition to Survey of Israel, Bentley Systems and Sivan Design.

In his closing speech President Stig Enemark summarised some key observations from the Working Week as "the only constant is change - but the pace varies from “Accelerating Development” to 5 mm a year". In finding solutions change management is the key tool and surveyors are the change agents. They have this role not only for managing within change - but managing the change itself. A good message for the future of the Federation is that at a time of global financial crisis, FIG is in fact more stable financially than ever before!

At the closing ceremony President Enemark presented certificates of appreciation to members of the local organising committee of the XXXII FIG General Assembly and FIG Working Week 2009 and to other persons that had actively participated in the arrangements of the successful Working Week. Special thanks were recorded to the Association of Land Surveyors in Israel, ALSI and its President Joseph Kraus and to Survey of Israel and its Director General Dr. Haim Srebro, Congress Director FIG Working Week 2009.

The FIG banner was handed over by President Kraus, ALSI and Conference Director Srebro to Mr. Warwick Watkins and Mr. Craig Sandy from the Organising Committee of FIG Congress 2010 that will be held in Sydney, Australia 11-16 April 2010.

General Assembly

The General Assembly was attended by about more than 120 participants representing 37 member associations and many other members. From the main decisions of the General Assembly it should be mentioned that the General Assembly confirmed the new finance reporting system for the Federation and to establish general and special reserves giving a possibility to help e.g. the poorest members associations and young surveyors. The membership fees were frozen for 2010 to 2009 level.

Association des Géomètres Experts du Niger (Association of Niger Surveyors) AGEN from Niger was admitted as a new member association. In addition 6 new academic members were endorsed from Egypt, Ethiopia, Israel, Mexico, Palestine and United Kingdom. Three new corporate members were approved: Magellan Navigation, and Orbits Engineering Firm.

The General Assembly appointed Ken Allred as an Honorary Member of the Federation.

The General Assembly endorsed two new task forces: Spatially Enabled Societies chaired by Dr. Daniel Steudler and the FIG Africa Task Force chaired by Dr. Diane Dumashie. Further the Young Surveyors Network was formally established. It will be chaired by Ms. Cecilia Lindén from Sweden.

The only election at the Working Week was election of Commission 8 Chair Elect for 2009-2010. At the election Mr. Wafula Nabutola from ISK, Kenya got 24 votes and beat Dr. Richard Sliuzas (11 votes) becoming the first Commission chair from a developing African country. The input of Africa will also be increased in FIG when the General Assembly adopted the bid from the Nigerian Institute of Surveyors bid to host the FIG Working Week 2013 in Abuja, Nigeria.

President Stig Enemark made a presentation on the Role of FIG in contribution to professional development and the global agenda. This presentation is available in Powerpoint-format (6.5 MB) to be used for explaining FIG and its role to the members of member associations.

The second part of the first session of the General Assembly was used for discussion forum with the Commission chairs.

The next FIG events will be the 7th FIG Regional Conference in Hanoi, Vietnam, 19-22 October 2009 and the FIG Congress 2010 in Sydney, Australia, 11-16 April 2010.

the FIG general assembly it can be mentioned that FIG is becoming truly international organisation as Wafula Nabutola was elected as the first Commission chair elect from a developing African country and at the same time the FIG Working Week 2013 was admitted to Abuja Nigeria.

Social events

The Working Week included several social events starting with the welcome reception at the Dan Eilat hotel. The good atmosphere was not disturbed even by the few drops of water that fall during the evening (the only rain for three months in sunny Eilat).

The social highlight of the conference was the unforgettable gala dinner at the King Solomon’s Pillars in Timna Park, where the unique surroundings and good music invited the 450  people to the dance floor until the early hours. This proved that FIG seems to be sexy even after 130 years.

The FIG Foundation Dinner gathered many delegates on the last evening to enjoy Eilat, good food and collect money to the FIG Foundation. The two scholarships given for Working Week 2009 participants were introduced during the evening: Dr. Jayanta Kumar Ghosh from India and Mr. Habtemicael Weldegiorgis from Eritrea.

Technical and social tours during the conference were well received and many participants took the opportunity to visit Petra in Jordan or places of interest in Israel after the conference. Many took the journey back home via the Dead Sea and Jerusalem.

More to Read:

Links to documents and reports of the FIG Working Week and XXXII General Assembly in Eilat, Israel

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