M. M. Yagoub

Department of Geography

Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences

United Arab Emirates University

P. O. Box 17771, Al-Ain

United Arab Emirates


Tel:    (971)-3-7064-674

Fax:   (971)-3-7671-706




URL  :



The main objective of this paper is to study Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Education in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Study of Geography, as opposed to the mis-conceptual believes in the past, has now gain a wide acceptance among students, through introduction of GIS. Until recently, GIS education in the UAE was hindered by the cost of hardware and the complexity of software. With the price/performance increase in power of desktop computers and new low cost and user friendly software, more universities in the UAE have been able to acquire GIS hardware and use GIS programs. The United Arab Emirates University (UAEU) was the first university, in the UAE, that established a GIS program—in the Department of Geography since 1999. The overall implication from a profile across the academic institutes in the UAE is that students who graduate from these institutions and have studied courses related to GIS (Geography/Computer/Engineering) can compete in the multi-disciplinary GIS market. Application of GIS is noticed in various departments in the UAE, such as municipalities, health, telecommunication, water, electricity, and Oil. A survey conducted for investigating the GIS set up at some governmental departments in the UAE has shown that the demand for GIS professionals is between 1 to 15 persons per department. The paper will also highlight companies that involved in GIS activities, seminars and conferences, problems related to GIS, as well as projects that may play an important role in the development of GIS in the UAE.


KEY WORDS: GIS, Education, UAE




Geographic Information Systems (GIS), Land Information Systems (LIS), Geomatics, Geoinformatics, and Geographic Engineering are computerized systems that input, process, retrieve, display, analyze, and output spatial data. The term GIS is used broadly to refer to these systems. The main components of GIS are data (information), hardware, software, and people (Frank et al., 1991).  It is noted that, about eighty per cent of urban decisions made by state and local governments involve a spatial component either directly or implicitly, demanding a process based on geographical data (Laurini and Thompson, 1992). For this, GIS offers a potentially valuable platform for spatial analysis, such as map overlay, map algebra, and statistical analysis (DeMers, 1997; Fotheringham and Rogerson, 1994; Goodchild et al., 1993).


Established on 2 December 1971, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a federation of seven emirates: Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Ajman, Um alQaiwain, Ras al-Khaimah, and Fujairah. Comprising an area of 83,600 square kilometers, the country lies between latitudes 22o-26.5 o North and longitude 51o -56.5o East. The population of the UAE is estimated to be approximately 3 million. Growth at present is 6.5 per cent per year; however, this is expected to slow to 2.9 per cent by 2005 (UAE Year Book 2000/2001). Since the independence of the UAE and under the direction and supervision of His Highness Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the UAE has witnessed a rapid development in rural and urban areas. This development makes the UAE a vibrant and technically sophisticated environment for global and local business. GIS seeks to meet the demands of this environment for spatially referenced information. Introduction of GIS in the UAE is the part of a global GIS revolution as well as a result of a regional impact by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), for example, implementation of GIS in Qatar and Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. In the UAE, GIS is considered an integral part of Information Technology (IT) and many IT departments are introducing or on their way to introduce GIS. In the last few years there has been a tremendous increase in the IT field and usage of computers in the UAE, and this may be due to:



In addition to the spread of  IT, there is a great demand for GIS professionals worldwide and in the UAE. For example, the number of professionals using GIS as a part of their job in the United States is approaching 500,000, with a similar number of GIS users in the rest of the world. The job market demand for people with GIS training is about 75,000 per year (ESRI, 2000). This demand has forced many universities and private companies to restructure their programs and strategies so as to meet the demand. A survey conducted by the author for investigating the GIS set up at some governmental departments in the UAE (Table 4) has shown that the demand for GIS professionals in the UAE is between 1 to 15 persons per department. 


The paper begins with a brief overview of the education in the UAE, this is followed by more detail on the GIS education. The paper paid attention to the ingredients of GIS education such as implementation of GIS in some governmental departments, companies involved in GIS activities, seminars and conferences, problems related to GIS, as well as projects that may play an important role in the development of GIS in the UAE.


Education in the UAE


Education has been the priority of H.H. Sheikh Zayed’s plan for “Human/Social Development”.  Considerable progress has been made since the independence of the UAE in 1971. In 1985-86, there were over 250,000 pupils enrolled in governmental or private schools, including the University. Over 525 state schools were in operation throughout the country, with more than10,777 teachers employed (Vine and Casey, 1992).

The total number of students at the primary and secondary level in public and private schools reached 563,461 in 1998 from 480,973 in 1995, an increase of 4 per cent per year (UAE Year Book 2000/2001). Teaching and administrative staff rose to 43,510 in 1999 from 37,425 in 1995, while the number of schools increased to 1085 from 901 for the same period.


Higher Education


The UAE has started its higher education since the establishment of the United Arab Emirates University in Al Ain in 1976. The university represents a symbol of federation for the Emirates. Many other universities and higher institutes are continuously expanding, such as the Higher Colleges of Technology (HCTs) (established in 1988) in major cities in the UAE, Zayed University (1998) in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, American University in Sharjah (1997) and Dubai, and Ajman University (Table 1). A record number of 10,703 people sought higher education places in the 2000/2001 academic year. About a third of the female students have applied for courses run by the Humanities and Social Sciences faculty, while the most popular choice among males is Engineering and Business Economics. The 2020 educational strategy plan aims to introduce the latest information technology at all levels, including the provision of a computer for every ten students at kindergarten, every five students at primary schools, every two students at preparatory school, and a computer for every student at secondary school (UAE Year Book 2000/2001).


The second International Conference on UAE Education Reform which was held in Dubai between May 13-15, 2001 has focused on introduction of computers, IT, GIS, distance learning, and the Internet in the educational process. It is very clear that there is a great deal of attention paid by the authorities in the UAE to utilization of technology in education development including GIS (Al-Khaleej Times 2001).


Academic Institutes Conducting GIS Programs and Related Fields in the UAE


The study of GIS may be undertaken with the goal of performing analyses or embarking on careers as GIS consultants, systems analysts, application specialists, and the like (DeMers 1997). Each day more universities and colleges are seeking information on how to begin GIS programs. The reasons are many, but four of the most important are (ESRI 1998):



The increase in the number of colleges has increased the number of graduates and postgraduate students in the field of GIS. However, while it is true that more and more universities are introducing GIS programs, it is also true that the establishment of GIS needs funding not only to the GIS setting but also for the students in the form of scholarships. The availability of funds from local government and private firms will increase the enrolment in GIS programs. Big companies such as those working in the fields of telecommunication and petroleum products can play a major role in accelerating the GIS wheel in the UAE. The attention paid to GIS education in the UAE stems in part from the reasons listed above and the continuous increase in people in need of jobs (Mansour 1989). Of the main universities in the UAE (Table 1, Figure 1), the United Arab Emirates University (UAEU) has taken the lead in this area.


Table 1      Main Universities and Higher Institutes in the United Arab Emirates



Web site

Ajman University

American University

Dubai Aviation College

Etisalat College of Engineering

Higher Colleges of Technology

Sharjah University

United Arab Emirates University

Zayed University



American University


One of the courses offered at the Department of Civil Engineering is Surveying and Geomatics (CVE 241). Although the course focuses on geodetic positions, coordinate systems, datums, basic measurements procedures and use of surveying instruments, it also includes such topics as GIS, Global Positioning System (GPS), and remote sensing.


The courses at the Department of Computer Science “College of Arts and Sciences” that are quite relevant to GIS include computer programming (FORTRAN, VISUAL BASIC, C++), Database, Artificial Intelligence, Neural Network, and Image Processing (CMP 421). Image processing lays a foundation for remote sensing and image classification.


Etisalat College of Engineering


Although the college is oriented towards engineering there are still some subjects quite relevant to GIS. A description of some of these courses follows below.


Relational Database Systems (G512) provides an overview of database systems and of relational versus hierarchical organization. Architectures: Client-server systems, PC-based systems, database servers, distributed systems. Relational Systems: Structured Query Language (SQL), data definition, keys, data manipulation, and specification and design of Database Base Management Systems (DBMS).


Software Engineering (G515) provides an overview of project management, management structures, personnel issues, planning & scheduling, documentation and manuals, software cost estimation, productivity estimation techniques, software quality assurance, social, ethical, and professional issues.


Multimedia (G518): GIS is now moving in new areas such as multimedia and the Internet (Berry et al. 1998; Buckley et al. 1998). The course “Multimedia” will be of great benefit to the GIS field. Topics covered in this course include multimedia standards and enabling technologies, digital audio/video, image compression techniques, video conferencing, virtual reality, and Tele-computing.


Higher Colleges of Technology (HCT)


Information Technology programs at HCT include elements of Information Systems, Software Engineering, Network Engineering, and Computer Science with emphasis on the application of this content in modern technical and business areas. The HCT has a wide range of subject areas that incorporate GIS modules—for example, Surveying Engineering and IT subjects.


Zayed University (ZU)


The College of Information Systems at Zayed University offers two majors at the baccalaureate level: Information Systems and Applied Information Systems. The College focuses on areas of information science, computer science, or management information science. One of the specializations included is geographical information systems.


United Arab Emirates University (UAEU)


Faculty of Science, Department of Geology: Remotes Sensing and GIS Center


The UAEU has continuously supported the human development programs in the UAE by graduating each year around 4000 students since its establishment.

The first Remotes Sensing Center in the UAE was established at the Faculty of Science, Department of Geology, UAEU, in 1991. The Center was renovated in the year 2000 by a grant from the Japanese Oil and Petroleum Company (JODCO). Currently, the Center has six PCs (Pentium III, 733 Mhz, 26 GB HD, 256 MB RAM) with two PCs working as servers. Additional hardware includes Flatbed A3 Epson GT scanner, HP LaserJet 500N and PICTOGRAPHY FUJI printers, HP DesignJet (A0) plotter, and Calcomp A0 Drawing Board III digitizer. The software include six licenses of ER-Mapper 6.0, and ArcView 3.2. The center is used for application of remote sensing in geology and geomorphology (sand dunes delineation, identification of soil and rock types, identification of fold and fault lines, etc.).


Faculty of Engineering: Computer Aided Design (CAD) Lab


The Faculty of Engineering lab has more than 40 AutoCAD 14 licenses. Courses relevant to GIS at the Faculty of Engineering include:


Information Technology (ELEC115) - Electrical Engineering

Software Engineering (ELEC355) - Electrical Engineering

Surveying for Geography (CIVL235) - Civil Engineering


Students in the Department of Geography (GIS) are encouraged to register in the above subjects as elective ones, because of their direct relevance to the GIS field.


Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, Department of Geography: GIS Lab


The Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences was established in 1977 and is considered the biggest and the oldest faculty at the UAEU, with 12 departments, 193 staff, and 3865 students (Table 2). UAEU was the first university in the UAE to establish a GIS program—in the Department of Geography in 1999. The objective of the program is to produce skilled GIS graduates who can build, use, and maintain GIS databases. Some of the subjects of the curriculum designed to meet this objective are shown in Table 3. The curriculum covers basic English courses, as English is used as a medium of instruction, and geographical subjects (Physical Geography, Human Geography, Geography of the UAE;  Population; Industry; Transport;  and Geography of Arid Zones). Students enrolled in the GIS program are required to cover Principles of Cartography (coordinate systems, map projection, map design, scale, symbols), Computer Cartography (computers in geography, map design using computers, visualization), Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing (principles of aerial photography, image interpretation, satellites, land observation systems, image processing and classification).


The GIS I course (Table 3) covers hardware, software, data collection methods, data structures, Database Management System (DBMS), and introduction to programming. The GIS II course is intended to address advanced GIS issues such as GIS database design, spatial analysis, Spatial Decision Support System (SDSS), and GIS customization. In addition to that, the curriculum includes a great deal of hands-on laboratory work and practice, six (6) credit hours of training at governmental departments, and a final year project. The final year project is designed to address national, regional, and global issues. The students are expected to use computer/GIS based models and multimedia presentations for their results. The GIS program requires 132 credit hours with 24 hours in GIS and related fields (Table 3). On successful completion of the requirements the student will be awarded a Bachelor Degree in Geography with major in GIS.



The GIS program began with female students (36) and is expected to open soon for men. It was noted that there are more requests to join the GIS program. It is also anticipated that the number of students joining the GIS program will increase in the future, especially when it opens for those from the Science stream (currently it is open only to those from the Art stream). Around 30 graduates are expected per year once the program is running at full capacity. Since many governmental departments in the UAE are starting GIS programs (Table 1), there will be ample employment opportunities for UAE nationals with solid GIS knowledge and skills.



Table 2      Number of students and staff at the faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences











Islamic Studies







Arabic Language and Literature







History and Archeology





















English Language and Literature







Mass Communication







Social Work







Political Sciences














Family Sciences




















               *Ratio = Staff/ Students for semester 2000/2001


Table 3      Some of the GIS program subjects at the Department of Geography,

Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, UAEU


Foundation Subjects

General Geographical


GIS Relevant


GIS Subjects

English I, II,III

Physical Geography, Human Geography, Geography of the UAE

Surveying for Geography


Principles of Cartography

Mathematics I,II

Geography of Population/Industry/Transport

Urban and Regional Planning

Computer Cartography

Computer Applications I


Geography of Arid Zones/Arab/New world

Quantitative Geography


Computer Applications II

Environmental Management

Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing









Currently, the Department’s GIS lab (at the Men’s and Women’s campuses) has a wide range of computing facilities. Twelve PCs (Dell Pentium III, RAM 128 MB, HD 8GB) at the Men’s lab and twenty PCs (IBM 300GL, RAM 64 MB, HD 4 GB) at the Women’s lab are linked through an Ethernet network so that a large body of software is immediately accessible through a user-friendly menu system (floating licenses). Input devices include 10 digitizers (KURTA XMT TABLET, A3), 3 handheld Magellan GPS receivers and a scanner (HP ScanJet 3C, A4). Color graphics output is provided by two HP color laser printers (HP LaserJet 5). The facilities are linked through fiber optics to the Wide Area Network (WAN) of the UAEU and to the Internet.




The hardware is complemented by a comprehensive suite of software tools for geographical information processing. These include ESRI ARC/INFO 8.0  (8 floating licenses) including GRID, NETWORK, TIN and COGO options and one ARC/INFO 7.2.  In addition to that the labs include 20 PC-ARC/INFO 3.5 and 30 ArcView 3.1 licenses. ARC/INFO runs in IBM server and workstation environments while ArcView and PC ARC/INFO are PC-based. Remote sensing and image processing work is based on the ERDAS Imagine (version 8.3 and 8.4, 15 floating licenses). Additional requested software includes, PC-ARC/INFO 4.0, ERDAS Imagine 8.4, ArcView Modules (3D Analyst, Spatial Analyst), Oracle (relational database management), and ARC/IMS (Web-based GIS).


The GIS Lab at the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, Department of Geography, can be expanded in the future to a GIS center with the following objectives:



Various faculties within UAEU can benefit from the center, such as Agricultural Sciences, Architecture (Landscape Architecture, City & Regional Planning), Engineering (Civil Engineering and Environment), Information Technology, and Science (Geology, Environment).


The overall implication of the profile across the academic institutes in the UAE is that students who graduate from these institutions and have studied courses related to GIS (Geography/Computer/Engineering) can compete in the multi-disciplinary GIS market.

GIS applications in governmental departments in the UAE


In this section, GIS set up at some governmental departments will be highlighted, future work will include more comparison and analysis (structure, budget, data, hardware, software, personnel, problems). A survey imaging GIS set up (Appendix A) was distributed among thirty governmental departments and feedback is received from some of them (see Table 4).


The vast majority of GIS clients are environmental consulting firms, economic analysis firms, transportation consulting companies (DeMers 1997), and governmental departments. In the UAE, most of the big GIS projects are governmental. Since GIS is a multidisciplinary field, its application is noticed in various departments such as municipalities, health, telecommunication, water, electricity, Oil, agriculture, etc. Most of these departments are currently embark on building GIS database. Studies had shown that the cost of data collection (information) for GIS is by far the most expensive part. A ratio among the cost of hardware, software, and data is approximately 1:10:100 (Frank et al. 1991). Generally speaking, in the UAE, there are two types of data: restricted and unrestricted. Restricted data mainly applies to large scale topographic maps and aerial photographs, either in hardcopy or softcopy (digital format).


Understanding of GIS set up at the governmental departments helps the faculty (Department of Geography) to formulate a strategy for introduction of different GIS software and pinpointing departments where students can have training or finding jobs in them after graduation (Supply- Demand Equation).


Al Ain Municipality


Generally speaking, municipalities are considered the main source of hardcopy and softcopy maps in the UAE. Since 1995, Al Ain municipality (Town Planning Department) adopted what is known as Computerized Data Management System (CDMS). The system is based on Microstation and provides quick digital geo-referenced data for various departments such as electricity, water, planning, geology, agriculture, transportation, telecommunication, education, and cadastral mapping.


With respect to GIS, Al Ain Municipality is still in the process of establishing its complete GIS hardware and software. Currently, more than 100 PCs are running MicroStation, MGE, and Geomedia from Intergraph. In addition to the PCs, HP laser printers, A0 scanner, and A0 digitizer are available (Table 4). Since most of the daily work of the department of Town Planning and Surveying is related to geographical location, it is anticipated that the municipality will spend more money in GIS data, hardware, software, and training.


Dubai Municipality


The municipality introduced the latest technology in mapping, the Continuously Operating Reference Stations (CORS) system that helps surveyors, GIS/LIS professionals, engineers, scientists, and others to position points at which GPS data have been collected. Many governmental, academic, commercial, and private organizations can benefit from this system. Currently, more than 80 PCs are running MicroStation, MGE, and Geomedia. In addition to that few ESRI products such as Arc/Info and ArcView are introduced.


The modern technology helped Dubai Municipality to do away with the traditional way of keeping land records in paper files and to have reliable updated data in digital formats. Prof. Gottfried Konecny, survey consultant to the United Nation (UN) Secretariat and the United Nations Center for Human Settlements (UNCHS) and professor at the University of Hanover, Germany, has appreciated the GIS at Dubai Municipality.


Dubai Electricity and Water Authority has an electrical SCADA System under UNIX. The system is used for development and implementation of real time control, hydraulic network (changes in the water network), modeling (maintenance planning and water quality analysis), and GIS interface.


Ministry of Health


The spatial dimension of health and health care has been noted since ancient times (Picheral, 1994). Most of the data contained in health information systems are spatial data, for example, catchment area of a health center, health district, location of hospitals, clinics, and pharmacies (Sauerborn and Karam 2000).


The ministry of health in the UAE has an ambitious plan for establishing a Web-based-GIS Health Information System. The system will provide services to doctors as well as to public. In its principle, a UAE map will be displayed for the user, from which she/he can select the city (e.g. Abu Dhabi, Dubai), the system will then zoom to the city and gives detailed map for the selected city with roads and Health facilities (Hospitals, Clinics) highlighted in color-coded map.


Emirates Telecommunication Corporation-Etisalat


Since the establishment of the Emirates Telecommunications Corporation  (Etisalat) in 1976 and within a short span of time, the Corporation has succeeded in transforming the UAE into one of the advanced countries in the world in the field of telecommunications services. The services include launched of Emirates Internet in 1995 and Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM) in 1997.


The majority of Etisalat work is of geographic nature. For example, location of telephone lines, switches, fiber optics lines hubs, cables, radio/TV stations, and mobile phone sub-stations. In addition to that the spatial component is of great importance for coordination between its Head Office in Abu Dhabi and its main six (6) branches (Abu Dhabi, Al Ain, Dubai, Ras Al Khaimah, East Coast-Fujeirah, West Coast –Sharjah).


The history of GIS in the Etisalat is dated back to 1988 when Graphic Data System (GDS) was introduced. The system was adopted in all branches and many engineers are familiar with it. The main function of the system is to display the graphic component of Etisalat network and telephones systems. However, in terms of database management system, GDS is not user-friendly and is of limited editing and storage capabilities. These limitations compelled the Etisalat to search for an alternative GIS system.


Currently, the Etisalat introduced a combination of Microstation as a drafting system and a set of ESRI GIS products (Network Engineer, ArcFM, ARC/INFO, Rule Base Engineer-RBE). The database used with these systems is Oracle (SQL). Shifting from one system to another (GDS to ARC/INFO) is sometimes cumbersome and time consuming process (conversion from GDS format  *.fgb to ARC/INFO coverages). Etisalat has followed a good philosophy to tackle this problem. Its philosophy is based on modular approach and pilot study by starting at small branches at Ras Al Khaimah and Sharjah. The conversion process at these branches is completed since Mid November 2000. Problems and estimation of time, budget, and personnel have been identified from the GIS database at the small branches. The conversion and the GIS database at the bigger branches (Abu Dhabi, Al Ain, Dubai) are expected to complete by the End of 2001.


The hardware at Al Ain regional office of the Etisalat include Alpha, Intergraph, and Compaq Servers ES40 (Compaq Digital, 160 GB HD, 1 GB RAM), 30 Workstations (Compaq and Intergraph running NT), two HP plotters (HP750C), one A0 digitizer (Calcomp 9110), and two A3 printers (HP LaserJet 4V/4MV). The software include 30 GDS licenses, 5 Microsations, and Oracle database. Seven licenses of ESRI GIS products (Network Engineer, ArcFM, ARC/INFO) are recently installed.


Etisalat is considered one of the departments that invested heavily in GIS infrastructure (around 20 million Dirhams) and there is a great potential for GIS graduates to find jobs in it. An initiative to sign a memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the Etisalat and the United Arab Emirates University is on its way. A key role of the MoU is to establish a linkage for training of students and Etisalat employees in a bi-directional way. 


Sharjah Electricity and Water Authority


Sharjah Electricity and Water Authority (SEWA) had started GIS as a part of its planning and Design Section. Earlier planning section was using only ArcView to prepare some maps for reporting. It was expanded to establish full GIS in July 1999.  Nowadays a spatial database for electrical network and some good GIS applications for the users are available. For example Sharjah Electricity and Water Authority had developed a GIS application for Emergency Section. The main function of this application is to locate consumers by consumer number, plot number, and meter number. The application was developed based on MS-SQL Server 7.0, Visual Basic, and ArcInfo 7.2. Different other power system studies, GIS applications, and CAD works are also carried out. The office is connected to various distribution sections to exchange and share information. Planning Office is equipped with powerful dual Pentium server, Gigabit network connections, Pentium III Work stations, peripherals, and GIS software (Table 4).




Table 4      GIS software and hardware at some governmental departments in the UAE



GIS software






Al Ain Town Planning Dept.

Geomedia (5) MGE/Microstation (6)






Abu Dhabi Town Planning Dept.

AutoCad (5)

MapInfo (5)






Diba Municipality

ArcView (1)

AutoCad (1)






Dubai Municipality







Fujairah Municipality

ArcInfo (3)

ArcView (6)

AutoCad (2)







Geomedia (1)

Microstation (2)






Sharjah Electricity and Water Authority

ArcInfo (3)

ArcView (7)







(Al Ain)


ArcInfo (7)

ArcFM (7)

GDS (30)






Military Survey Department

ArcInfo (10)

ArcView (10)

Microstation (7)






United Arab Emirates University (UAEU)

ArcInfo 8 (8)

PC ArcInfo (20)

ArcView (38)


ERDAS (15)

















ArcView (17)






Note: Numbers between brackets indicate number of licenses.

Number of C = Computers, D = Digitizers, Pl= Plotters,  Pr = Printers, S = Scanners

Note: UAEU: Hardware and Software at both the Remotes Sensing Center, Faculty of Science, Department of Geology,  and the GIS labs at the department of Geography.

ADNOC: Abu Dhabi  National Oil Company

ERWDA: Environmental Research and Wildlife Development Agency

NDC: National Drilling Company (Ground Water Research Program)


          Source: Field Survey done by the author.


Companies involved in GIS activities


As the market demand for GIS increases the number of small to large-scale companies has also increases. Appendix B shows some of the companies that involved in GIS activities in the UAE. Most of these companies are based in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, which represents sometimes a logistical problem (additional cost) for GIS activities outside these cities. The reason behind concentration of GIS companies, especially in Dubai, is due to the flexibility of commercial laws and accessibility to local and regional market through sea, land, and air. The automated geographic business of these companies is completely depends on the economical situation. Generally speaking, these companies involved in activities such as surveying and mapping, photogrammetry and satellite imagery analysis, database design, hardware, software, data, training, and system integration.


Conference  and seminars related to GIS

The number of conferences, seminars, journals, books and publications is becoming a standard scale against which the development of any field, including GIS, is measured (Short et al. 2001). The conferences and seminars provided a good opportunity for interaction and exchange of ideas which may lead to the prosperity and development of the GIS field. The following conferences and seminars give a clear indication about the increased attention paid to GIS in the last few years in the UAE.


1989: The First Symposium on Remote Sensing in the United Arab Emirates, Organized by the       UAE university and French Scientific Institutions, Al Ain

1993: Application of GIS seminar at Sharjah

2001: Training on GIS and Remote Sensing, Remote Sensing and GIS Center, Faculty

          of Science, United Arab Emirates University, Al Ain

2001: Seminar on Remote Sensing and Global Positioning System (GPS),

         Commission of Environmental Research, Emirates Heritage Club, Abu Dhabi

         ( The course was conducted by experts from CNES-

        Centre National d'Etudes Spatiales (France).

2001:International Congress on Information  Science Innovations (ICISC), the American     University of Dubai (AUD) 


Additional activities held within the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) include:


2000: GEO 2000:  4th Middle East Geosciences Conference & Exhibition

            Manama,  BAHRAIN

2000: First Middle East GIS Education Workshop, Center for GIS, Doha, Qatar

2002: Bahrain GIS International Conference& Exhibition












Problems of GIS technology are common to all nations; however, within the UAE particular difficulties were noticed in the following areas:


Data Availability

This can be discussed from two points of view. First, existing information may be outdated or incomplete. For example, in some Emirates lots in remote areas have not been geo-referenced since 1960s and land use maps have not been updated since 1970s. Second, data is scattered among central, state, and regional departments.


Co-ordinate System and Projection


Cadastral maps at the Emirate level are based on CLARK 1880 Zone 39 and 40 Universal Transverse Mercator (UTM) map projection. However, registration and transformation between neighboring Emirates is sometimes a problem. What is more, new topographic maps at the country level are in the World Geodetic System 1984 (WGS84) projection. Conversion from one system to another normally leads to some displacements that make the data incompatible even for the same Emirate. Incompatibility between maps for the same area normally creates errors that are propagated with GIS spatial operations (Burrough and McDonnell, 1998).


Data Sharing


Data sharing helps to reduce duplication of data and saves money, time, and manpower (Ahmad, 1994). However, many departments in the UAE are still reluctant to share their data based on security issues and incompatibility problems.




Different departments in the UAE use different GIS packages such as Arc/Info, Geomedia, and MapInfo (Table 4). This has led to difficulty in exchanging of data between different departments, thereby resulting in duplication of efforts (costing millions of dollars). Hopefully, this problem can be addressed by a national committee for the standardization of GIS databases in the UAE.


Budget Constraints


Until recently GIS has been approved only in departments that have enough financial resources. However, new versions of low-cost GIS packages, a reduction in the cost of hardware, and the availability of digital data may encourage small-scale departments to set up their GIS.







Many departments depend on consulting companies to establish their GIS. Although there is in-house training, it is not enough to handle/maintain a GIS project. Non-availability of staff involved in the GIS project from the beginning is another factor that may result in failure of GIS. It is also noticed that there is a migration among the trained staff to other branches of the governmental departments or to the private sector.


Projects that may play a role in the development of GIS in the UAE



Atlas of Coastal Ecosystem


This is a joint research project between the Commission of Environmental Research,

Emirates Heritage Club, Groupement pour le développement de la télédétection aerospatiale, and Toulouse Center in France. The focus of the project is to use remote sensing (satellite imagery + aerial photos) and GIS to map coastal features such as mangroves, coral reef, sea grasses, biodiversity species, and minerals. The end product from this project will be a coastal atlas for the UAE. The atlas is expected to be printed by 2002 at scale between 1:50,000 and 1:100,000 (Blasco, 2001). Since most of the urban areas in the UAE fall along the coastal lines, and the output product will be in digital format, the project will be of paramount importance to diverse disciplines and applications in the field of mapping and GIS.


Dubai Internet City


Initiatives have been taken by the leader of the UAE, H. H. Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan as well as H. H. Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and Minister of Defense, to establish Dubai Internet City. The city represents a hub for IT, e-commerce, e-government, multi-media, and the Internet.

In line with the expected increase in the number of IT professionals, GIS applications are also expected to grow. For example, SDI has launched the first GIS/e-commerce enabled ArcIMS site in the Middle East for the UAE and Dubai City (ESRI 2001).


Computer-Geography in Schools


Dubai IT Academy has initiated a good program for introducing computers in schools. A survey done by Dubai IT Academy has shown that 60% of students in Dubai schools know how to operate MS Word, Excel, and PowerPoint (Al Aman, 2001). The same program (Computers in Schools) will start at Abu Dhabi during the academic year 2001-2002. The introduction of such programs in schools will increase computer literacy and lay a base for introducing subjects such as “Computers in Geography” and GIS.


Schools can make use of the available free GIS software on the Internet, such as ArcExplorer from ESRI, Geographic Explorer, and GRASS. 






The UAE university is on the way to arranging special programs with schools to celebrate the GIS Day (14 November 2001). Many organizations are involved in this day, such as the National Geographic Society, the Association of American Geographers, the University Consortium for Geographic Information Science (UCGIS), and the Environmental Systems Research Institute (ESRI). During the inaugural GIS day, held on November 19, 1999, more than 2.4 million children and adults in more than 90 countries learned about GIS (ESRI  2000).




The increasing spread of IT in the United Arab Emirates is observable in many departments and institutions and will play a vital role in accelerating the GIS wheel. Some academic institutes in the UAE are now offering degrees in GIS and more such degrees are in the pipeline.  Implementation of GIS in governmental departments has reached a solid foundation, which has impact on the increase in the number of companies involved in GIS activities, and the number of seminars and conferences related to GIS. However, there are many problems that hinder GIS development in the UAE, such as data unavailability, obstacles to sharing and compatibility, budget constraints, and shortage of skilled staff.


Since a round 60% to 80% of geographic data in the UAE is controlled, directly or indirectly, by municipalities, it is anticipated that any move for standardization lead by them will find  a positive response. Other governmental departments, private companies, and academic institutes that worked or have interest in GIS can join the move.


The move for standardization will allow easy data sharing, therefore, helps to reduce duplication of efforts, saves money, time, and manpower. Such savings can be maximized if all municipalities work under one umbrella with a Motto of “ CCCI”: Communication…Cooperation…Coordination…and…Integration.    


The mass media (radio, TV, newspapers, magazines, Internet) will play an important role in awareness about GIS. The introduction of “computers in geography” in schools will lay a foundation for GIS programs at the university level. Schools can make use of the available free GIS software on the Internet such as ArcExplorer and Geographic Explorer. Commercial GIS companies (Intergraph, ESRI, MapInfo, Siemen) and United Nation representative offices (UNDP, UNESCO, WHO) can contribute to GIS promotion by conducting joint research projects with schools, higher institutes, and governmental departments.



Literature Cited


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Al Aman. 2001. Dubai IT Academy. 313:6-7.

Al-Khaleej Times, 2001. Education development through utilization of technology. Friday, May 11, 2001, p.8

Berry, J. K., Buckley, D. J., and C. Ulbricht. 1998. Visualise realistic landscapes. GIS World 11(8):42-47.

Blasco, F. T. 2001. Mapping coastal ecosystem: Why and how. Lecture Notes, Remote Sensing Course, Emirates Heritage Club, Abu Dhabi.

Buckley, D.  J., C. Ulbricht, and J. Berry. 1998. The virtual forest: Advanced 3-D visualization techniques for forest management and research. ESRI User Conference, San Diego, CA, USA.

Burrough, P. A.  and R. A. McDonnell. 1998. Principles of geographical information systems. New York: Oxford University Press Inc.

DeMers, M. N. 1997. Fundamentals of geographic Information systems. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

ESRI. 1998. Filling a vital niche in GIS professional education: GIS Programs at Community Colleges. ESRI ARC NEWS.

ESRI. 2000. Learning with GIS. ESRI ARCUSER Magazine 3(3):10-13.

ESRI. 2001. The first E-commerce enabled ArcIMS site in the Middle East. ArcNews  86, January 12, 2001.

Fotheringham, A. S. and P. A, Rogerson. 1994. Spatial analysis and GIS. London: Taylor & Francis Ltd.

Frank et al. 1991. A perspective on GIS technology in the nineties. Photogrammetric Engineering & Remote Sensing 57(11):1431-1436.

Goodchild, M. F., B. O. Parks and L. T. Steyaert. 1993. Environmental modeling with GIS. New York: Oxford University Press Inc.

Laurini, R. and D. Thompson. 1992. Fundamentals of spatial information systems. London: Academic Press Ltd.

Mansour, M. I. 1989. Human resources development in the UAE. 2nd Cultural Seminar, Dubai, UAE.

Picheral, H. E. 1994. Place, space, and health. Social Science and Medicine 39:1589-1590.

Sauerborn, R., and M. Karam. 2000. Geographic information systems. In: Lippeveld, T., Sauerborn, R., and C., Bodart,  Design and implementation of health information systems. Geneva: World Health Organization Press.

Short, John R., Boniche Armando, Kim Yeong, and Li Li Patrick. 2001. Cultural Globalization, global English, and geography journals. The Professional Geographer 53 (1):1-11.

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UAE Year Book. 2000/2001. London: Trident Press Ltd.









Figure 1       Location of the main universities in the UAE


















Appendix A:  Survey about GIS in the United Arab Emirates


Dear Sir:  Assalam A. wrt. Wbt


Subject:   Status of GIS in the United Arab Emirates


As a part of a survey covering governmental institutions, I would be very thankful to ask your co-operation in providing some information about your department related to GIS. Please feel free to attach more information describing your GIS set up.


1. Please outline the budget allocated for GIS in your department during 1999, 2000, and 2001.


Budget (AED)








2. Please identify the number of computers, scanners, digitizers, printers, and plotters (and their brands) in your department.



























3. Please identify the GIS/Database software in your department.


Current Number of licenses

Future Number of licenses

ESRI Arc/Info



ESRI ArcView



Intergraph MGE/Microstation



Intergraph Geomedia



AutoDesk AutoCad/ AutoCad Map



Map Info






ERDAS Imagine






* Oracle  (Informix, Sybase, MS SQL)



Other (Specify)



* Delete if not applicable


4. Please identify the number of staff who is familiar with GIS in your department.

Current number

Target number






5. Please list the GIS and related projects that have been done or to be done by/for your department.


Project title

Budget (AED)














6. Please list the seminars/conferences related to GIS that attended or organized by your department.

















7. Please identify the GIS input methodology and its percentage in your department.


Input methodology

Percentage (%)





Keyboard input


Download from GPS receiver


Download from total station


Satellite imagery


Aerial Photography





8. Please rate the completeness of  the GIS database in your department.

& Less than  25%       & 25%         & 50%         & 75%          & Greater than 75%


9. Please rate the nature of GIS problems/difficulties in your department.



Percentage (%)

Financial (e.g. cost of data, hardware)


Administrative (e.g. management issues)


Technical (e.g. lack of staff)


Usage (important/not important)





10. Please rate the readiness of your department to implement GIS.

& Less than  25%       & 25%         & 50%         & 75%          & Greater than 75%


Appendix B


Addresses of governmental departments and private companies involved in GIS field in the UAE:






Home page (http://)

Governmental Departments







UAE University





2-6 324499

Town Planning Department, Abu Dhabi




Town Planning Department, Al Ain



Planning and Surveying Department, Dubai



Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (Adnoc)



National Drilling Company (NDC)




Military Survey Department

2- 6311327



Commission of Environmental Research



Private companies





Hyder ACER




Khatib & Alami




Intergraph Middle East



GISTEC (ESRI products)

6-555 7675

6-555 7605     


Gulf Computers (Map/Info)



Oracle Corporation



Scott Wilson




International Surveying




MAPS GeoSystems



Space Imaging Middle East



GECO Engg. (GPS receivers)

4 2697681

4 2697619




Important GIS addresses in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries:


Dr. Ramze Elzahrany

Umm Al-Qura University

Geography Department

P.O. Box 6928

Makkah, Saudi Arabia

Telephone: +966-2-5574644 ext 235

Telephone: +966-2-5574644 ext 236

Fax: +966-2-557-1561

Fax: +966-2-527-5065



Dr. Nasser Salma

Assist. Prof. Major Cartographer

King Saud University

College of Arts - Geography Department

King Saud University

P.O. Box 2456

Riyadh 11451, Saudi Arabia

Telephone: +9664675367, +9664683539


Assoc. Prof. Dr. Mohamed Aziz

Geography Dept.,

College of Social sciences

Kuwait University

P.O.Box 68168 Kaifan, Post code: 71962

Kuwait, State of Kuwait

Tel: (00965) 4841100 Ext. 2786 or 2776 (sec.)


Tel & Fax: (009650 4823881 (Private)

Mobile: (00965) 9546387

e-mail: maziz



The Dean

College of Social Sciences

Kuwait University

P.O.Box 68168 Kifan, Code: 71962

Fax. : (965) 484-1020

State of Kuwait



Mohammed Raziuddin, GIS Specialist

Department of City and Regional Planning

College of Environmental Design

King Fahd University of Petroleum &

Minerals (KFUPM)

Box # 1267, Dhahran 31261, Saudi Arabia

Tel. Off:(03) 860-2331

Fax:      (03) 860-3857




Kuwait Institute for Scientific Research

Tel:4836100   Fax: 4846891

Bahrain Center for Research and Studies

tel: +973 727100, Fax: +973 729819

Qatar  GIS Center
 Tel (974)337501
 Fax (974)444036


Saudi Center for Remote Sensing

King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST),

Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

Tel.: (966 -1) 481-1141 ,

Fax: (966 -1) 488-375