Accra hosted an energetic FIG Working Week

Accra hosted an energetic FIG Working Week

Focus on Africa

The annual Working Week of the International Federation of Surveyors (FIG) was held recently in Accra, Ghana. The location of the event on the African continent placed the world’s climate-related challenges – and the geospatial industry’s role in helping to solve them – in a truly international perspective. The insightful plenary and technical sessions were complemented by an exhibition and various social and networking events to foster knowledge exchange in a less formal setting. The result: an enjoyable and energetic vibe throughout the whole week.

From 19-23 May, around a thousand delegates – from member organizations, affiliates and academic institutions, as well as corporate members – from a total of 83 countries worldwide convened in numerous plenary and technical sessions at the La-Palm Royal Beach Resort and Convention Center in Accra to gain new insights and exchange knowledge. In parallel, an exhibition showcased the latest hardware and software for today’s surveying professionals. The theme for FIG Working Week 2024 was ‘Your World, Our World: Resilient Environment and Sustainable Resource Management for All’. 

With Accra as the host city for this year’s FIG Working Week, the possibilities for harnessing and leveraging geospatial knowledge in the battle against climate change were placed in a truly international perspective. President Diane Dumashie emphasized the importance of this global outlook in the opening ceremony. She told the audience that the role of Africa and also South America will be pivotal in improving sustainability in context of the planet. In fact, their role will be crucial in saving the Earth. She called on the approximately one thousand delegates – including surveyors and other geospatial practitioners – to take action and build partnerships, not only during the conference, but also afterwards.

The opening ceremony in the pavilion was graced with the special attendance of the president of Ghana, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo. The Ghanaian president urged the assembled delegates to use the days that lay ahead to discuss and consult with one another in pursuit of sustainable solutions, such as to mitigate the consequences of rapid urbanization – one development that is rapidly changing the face of the African continent. Another hot topic that is having major effects in Africa is resource management.

Besides the president of Ghana and the president of FIG, the delegates were welcomed by the heads of the Ghanaian Institution of Surveyors (GhIS) and the Licensed Surveyors Association of Ghana (LiSAG). The opening ceremony gave the audience a first taste of the African tradition of hospitality that would continue to be felt throughout the whole week.

Ghana's president, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, attended the opening ceremony of the FIG Working Week. He encouraged encouraged delegates to focus on sustainable solutions for rapid urbanization and resource management, two pressing issues reshaping Africa.

Plenary and technical sessions

On the first full day, during the first plenary session, traditional African leaders called for a less European or Western focus on the topic of sustainability and battling climate change. Instead, they asked for local customs, traditional views and cultural laws to be taken into account. On the second full day, the plenary session on ‘Land Tenure, Resources and Minerals: Building sustainable and resilient resource management for the planet’ highlighted various examples from Africa. Notably Nick Brown, head of office of the new UN-GGIM Global Geodetic Centre of Excellence in Bonn, Germany, advised delegates that the global chain of geodetic information is a delicate one; when hurt by outside threats, the consequences for life on Earth are enormous.

The third and final plenary session, titled ‘Your World – Our World: Inclusive Urban Geospatial Infrastructure’, showcased examples of how developments such as urbanization are affecting people and planet at a rapid pace – especially in Africa. Oumar Sylla, director of the regional bureau for Africa at UN-Habitat, painted a startling picture of the situation in sub-Saharan Africa. In absolute numbers, the urban population has increased from 32 million in 1960 to 459 million in 2020, with half of that growth happening in the last 15 years alone. Similarly, close to 50% of the total population now live in cities, whereas that figure stood at less than 15% in 1960. This immense shift is creating numerous vulnerabilities.

The plenary sessions were complemented by many technical sessions which featured countless local examples of ongoing efforts in Africa. There was strong support for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which have found some great ambassadors in the global surveying community. In particular, the Taskforce on SDGs played a prominent role in underpinning this specific role of the surveying community.

President of Ghana, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo and FIG president Diane Dumashie during the opening ceremony of the FIG Working Week.

Exhibition and social events

At the small exhibition, a number of manufacturers of hardware and software seized the opportunity of being in Africa to find new customers for their products and services. Corporate FIG members Esri, Leica and Trimble were joined by other members in the exhibition pavilion tent. Besides facilitating information exchange during exhibition hours, they also help to sustain the work of FIG by sponsoring tea/coffee breaks and other social events like the Gala Dinner and the Ghanaian Evening. Such events contribute to an enjoyable and energetic vibe that enhances the overall experience for delegates, who were treated to traditional African dancing accompanied by food, drinks and a lot friendly smiles.

New vice-presidents

The FIG Working Week is always an excellent opportunity for the commission boards to discuss ongoing business in their respective commissions. During the second General Assembly, on Thursday 23 May, the outcome of the voting for the new vice-presidents of FIG was announced. Michail Kalogiannakis of the Technical Chamber of Greece and Qin Yan of the Chinese Society for Geodesy Photogrammetry and Cartography received slightly more votes than German candidate Volker Schwieger and will both now join the board of FIG as vice-presidents. After the voting results had been announced, the conference concluded with a word of thanks to president Diane Dumashie and a lively presentation of the next destination: Brisbane, Australia.

Second chance

Accra was originally intended as the host for the FIG Working Week in 2021, but the COVID pandemic prevented a live event from being held at that time, so the Netherlands stepped in and organized an online event instead. The Ghanese Institution of Surveyors (GhIS) and Licensed Surveyors Association of Ghana (LiSAG) finally got a second chance this year, and they more than lived up to expectations!

During the first full day, traditional African leaders urged for a more localized perspective on sustainability and climate change at the plenary session.
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