The Department of Housing and Urban Development has joined with a list of foreign governments and universities around the world in a research project that ultimately could help predict - and maybe deflect - human plagues such as famine, pollution, lack of housing and other man-made disasters.

The cooperative project, HUD says, not only will help the world, but it may have applications within the U.S. borders, as well.

The high tech project will attempt to combine Geographic Information Science with Global Urban Indicators to come up with forecasts about where things like too little food, too many people, not enough water and too little control could create future trouble spots.

The goal of the project is to increase use of geographic information system (GIS) research as the basis for making informed policy decisions making. GIS research uses such key indicators as poverty rates, housing starts, rents, and access to safe water in helping make informed urban planning decisions.

To reach the project's goal, the researchers will develop GIS training materials and data sets for a select number of urban indicators available on the Internet. He first data sets could be completed by the end of this year.

Policy makers in the United States and developing countries may benefit from these urban indicators for decision making on housing and urban development programs.

"This international effort and all the resulting collaboration with project members will provide HUD with critical information about developing nations," said HUD Deputy Secretary Saul Ramirez. "And as a result, we'll have a much broader perspective when analyzing issues and developing policies for U.S. communities."

The Global Urban Indicators project is a joint venture of HUD and universities around the world who are members of the University Consortium for Geographic Information Science.

HUD recently awarded UCGIS a $240,000 grant to help establish and develop the collaborative venture.  The grant is expected to leverage more than $2.6 million in additional funding.

Much of the project will be modeled on HUD's "State of the Cities" database, which contains similar information for U.S. cities.  The project will also build upon the United Nations' Centre for Human Settlements programs and the World Bank's Cities Alliance initiative. The U.N. is using data from 237 cities in 110 countries to assist in its efforts in deciding how key areas of the world will develop.

Researchers at participating universities will collect and analyze the data using special GIS software donated by the Environmental Systems Research Institute, a UCGIS affiliate.

Rep. Paul Kanjorski, D-Pa., applauded the HUD project. "We know that this mapping technology can be an incredibly effective tool for local policy-makers.  This project will bring a greater understanding of how these technologies can be used effectively, both in the U.S. and around the globe."

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