Role of IT in the Environment and Human Health

Technology has played a key role in the development of human society. Modern technologies such as information technology have changed the human lifestyle. Development of sophisticated instruments like computers, satellites, telecommunication instruments etc. have resulted in total revolution in almost all spheres of life.
Role of IT in the Environment and Human Health


The important role of information technology in environment and human health are as follows: 

1. Remote sensing 

Remote Sensing according to Campbell(1987) is the science of deriving information about the earth’s land water areas form images acquired at a distance. It relies upon measurement of electromagnetic energy reflected or emitted from the features of interest. 

Regardless of the orientation of the various definitions of Remote Sensing, the acquisition of images of earth surface features, using sensors, through the electromagnetic spectrum, the synoptic view advantage and Remote Sensing’s ability to provide data for scientific technological and sustainable management and monitoring of the environment offer a convergence. 

The Electro-magnetic spectrum (EMS) is the physical basis for Remote Sensing. It is an abstract idea and diagram of forms of electromagnetic energy for illuminating earth surface features. The source of energy is divided according to wavelengths.  


Briefly stated, the process of Remote Sensing involves -

1) Making observation using sensors (camera, scanners, radiometers, radar, and lasers) mounted on platforms (ground, aircraft, satellites, balloons) which may be at considerable height from the earth surface.  

2) Then, recording the observations on a suitable medium (photographic films and magnetic tapes) or transmitting/down linking the data to a ground receiving station where the data are corrected for geometric and radiometric distortions. 

3) Output products can be provided in computer compatible tapes (CC T) for users that made requests for the data. Remote sensing serves as a tool for environmental resources (biotic, abiotic and cultural) assessment and monitoring. Remote sensing has some fundamental advantages that make it a veritable tool in environmental monitoring and management and impact studies. 


GIS and Environmental Impacts Assessment:  

Tomlin (199O) defines a GIS as ‘a configuration of computer hardware and software specially designed for the acquisition, maintenance and use of cartographic data’.  

GIS as a powerful set of tools for collecting, storing and retrieving at will, transforming and displaying spatial data from the real world.  

The point of note is that a GIS is a computer-assisted system for the acquisition, storage, analysis and display of geographically are spatially referenced data. GIS is indeed a new application based field that has lend itself to varieties of human endeavors ranging from business, facility management to environmental management and resource application areas. Eedy (1995) has described GIS as a veritable tool in environmental assessment because it: 
Stores large multidisciplinary datasets. 
Identify complex interrelationship between environmental characteristics. 
Evaluate changes over time. 
Can be systematically updated and used for more than one project. 
Serve as a dataset for a variety of mathematical models. 
Store and mampulate3D in addition to 2D files. 
Serve the interests of the general public as well as technical analyst. 

Capabilities of GIS

GIS also have the capability for site impact prediction (SIP), wider area prediction (WAP), cumulative effect analysis (CEA), and environmental audits and for generating trend analysis within an environment.  

Rodriquez -Bachiller (1995) commenting on its application in ETA studies submits that it is a veritable tool for generating terrain maps for slope and drainage analysis, land resources information system for land management, soil information system, geo scientific modeling of geological formations, disaster planning related to geographically localized catastrophe monitoring development, contamination and pollution monitoring, flood studies, linking of environmental database and constructing global database for environmental modeling.  
Erickson (1994) suggested 4 four ways of using GIS for EIA. These are: 

Overlay method: This involves overlaying of different layers of interest of the study area to achieve the needed result. 

Checklist method: This is the listing of environmental components, attributes and processes categorized under different groups. 

Matrix method: This is the relating of specific project activities to specific types of  impacts. 

Network method: This defines a network of possible impacts that may be triggered by project activities. It involves project actions, direct and indirect impacts. 

Use of GIS in EIA 

1. In Project definition: During project identification and definition, the project proponent conducts feasibility studies and defines the usefulness of the study. GIS can be very well used for defining the project by showing the location of the project and its need can be established with respect to other geographical identities like source of raw material, market for selling, source of labourer, climatic conditions favorable for the project etc. 

2. In evaluating environmental and visual impacts: Using GIS various types of visual impacts can be evaluated like, how a road will look like? How much portion of the road will be visible from a particular point? By using DEM we can calculate and visualize the impact on ground levels either in filling or cutting and area of quarries etc (Oterholm, 1999).
3. In scoping system: GIS can serve as a basis for scoping of environmental effects. Once the basic databases are available, a GIS based system may provide better-targeted guidelines for EIS. A centralized institutional scoping structure, where by EIS guidelines are issued by a single entity, is found to be important for the operation of such a system as it can enjoy the Economies of scale and scope involved in setting up and operating a GIS system for scoping purpose (Haklay et al., 1998). 

4. In impact significance determination: A spatial impact assessment methodology based on the assumption that the importance of environmental impact is dependent, among other things, on the spatial distribution of the effects and of the affected environment. For each environmental component like- air, water, biological resources etc., impact indices are calculated based on the spatial distribution of impacts (Antunes et al., 2001). 

The fact that GIS is not used in practice to the extent that it could be used in principle may also be the due to a number of limitations of GIS like: 
  • Availability of digital data 
  • Cost of start up 
  • System maintenance 
  • Database construction 
  • Availability of hardware and software 

3. National management Information system (NIMS) 

- database for research and development 

4. Environmental Information system (ENVIS)

It was been created by MoEF in India for generating network of database for pollution control, clean technologies etc. 

Database: Database is the collection of inter-related data on various subjects in computerized form which can be retrieved whenever required. Now the data regarding birth and death rates, immunization and sanitation programs can be maintained more accurately than before in computers at health centers. Database is also available about the diseases like malaria, fluorosis, AIDS etc. The Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India has taken up the task of compiling a database on various environmental issues like wildlife, forests cover, wasteland etc. 

5. Human health

Information technology also plays a key role in human health. It helps the doctors to monitor the health of people of that area. The information regarding outbreak of epidemic diseases from remote areas can be sent more quickly to the district administration to take corrective measures. Now, patients can seek help of a super specialist doctor placed at far off distance. Many hospitals now, take on-line help of experts to provide better treatment and services to their patients. This has become possible only because of advancement of IT in the recent times. 

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