​MY PHNOM PENH: Ian Thomas, cartographer | Phnom Penh Post

MY PHNOM PENH: Ian Thomas, cartographer

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Publication date
06 May 2016 | 08:21 ICT

Reporter : Brent Crane

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Briton Ian Thomas has been in Cambodia since 2001, when he came to map land mines for the Halo Trust in Siem Reap.

Briton Ian Thomas has been in Cambodia since 2001, when he came to map land mines for the Halo Trust in Siem Reap. Now he maps water resources for his own research group, Mekong Consultants. He chatted with Brent Crane about some of the best Cambodia data maps around 

Angelina Jolie Maps

When I first came to Cambodia, Halo Trust had this cupboard of maps. The villagers would hand draw the landmine maps of the area and maybe if there was an accident, they would draw a skull and crossbones on the map. Where they found a mine or UXO, they would mark it. This is the product of those maps. We got money from Google to put it in there and Angelina Jolie gave lots of money as well. Lots of people gave lots of money. When I first came to Cambodia, it was 2,000 or so people getting hurt every year from UXOs and now it’s dropped down to about 100 to 200. So we’ve done something right. The great thing about landmines is, once they’re gone, they’re gone.

Regional drought vulnerability map

The current drought situation is a very important concern of mine right now. This map from the Earth Observatory at NASA clearly shows that the current heat wave is smashing records, and that this drought therefore is really up there as a contender for the “worst drought ever” title. Those dark reds in Cambodia indicate that it was almost the most-affected country in all of South Asia and Southeast Asia. A +12C anomaly above the long-term average for April 2016 is really pretty darn extreme. And Wednesday, even the Thai Meteorological Department finally started to get pessimistic about any immediate heat wave relief or the monsoons coming soon.


MangoMap is the software you use to put maps online. To get maps to people is always the big difficulty. In the old days, you had to print them. The internet made things better, but with maps, you need to be able to put it all on a website, and there’s software to do that. The biggest one is Esri. That’s what I used for 20 years, GIS Esri software. But Chris Brown, he’s my next-door neighbour, made this software that’s quite easy to use. Tens of thousands of people around the world are using it. You have some GIS data, you put it up there and you make it pretty.

Economic Land Concession Maps

Licadho picks up the information from every source they can for these maps. There’s Licadho and there’s Open Development Cambodia, another NGO, and they’ve also published the data and made these maps. ODC tries to be apolitical. It just publishes. Licadho is very political. It’s not just ELCs but protected areas, too. Both Licadho and ODC. It’s a joint effort, and it actually helps everything. Freedom of information is good because it helps people to plan better, organise the economy, plan for disasters and God knows what else. What’s the point of data sitting in some government cupboard where nobody can access it? Open Development Cambodia is actually helping the development of Cambodia!

AsiaRice Sentinel Satellite Map 

This one is very good because it is the first free radar map. Radar is great because it goes through clouds and it’s very good for mapping crops. I’m actually more of a remote-sensing person. I handle the satellite imagery. It’s using the satellites to take pictures and interpret the pictures. There’s a whole trick of ‘what do those colours and shapes mean?’ What are you actually seeing? Right now, for example, Sentinel could be used to see how much water is left to use in the ponds. And then you could plan to take your trucks to the ponds where there’s still water. All this could be done. It just needs some motivation from the Cambodian side.

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