Open data makes disaster risks visible

United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction
Open source data is not just a vision of the future; it is increasingly available today.
Open source data is not just a vision of the future; it is increasingly available today.

GENEVA, 15 October – As UNISDR makes its final call for input to the Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction (GAR15) the role of open data and risk information is emerging as an essential element of sustainable development.

Preparations for the UN flagship report are gathering pace and there is growing research into the modeling of disaster risks, which can provide the type of information to help governments plan better, educate people to make informed decisions, and assist companies to ensure their investments are secure.

“We are in a relationship with risk and we need to manage that relationship. In fact, we like risk in many ways but need to make sure we are risk aware. In order to do this, people need access to the best possible information,” said UNISDR’s Information Management Coordinator Craig Duncan.

“Open data, models and knowledge can help us understand our disaster risks. As of May this year, we have a global risk model for earthquakes and wind speed. We are now working hard with the GAR15 team to come up with a comprehensive global coverage for earthquakes, floods, and tsunamis that will include economic loss information.

“It’ll be an exciting future in how we see disaster risk at a national level. The trend today is clearly towards open knowledge and open data and new initiatives are making this information more available to the public.”

Mr Duncan was speaking at the ‘Open Data: A Driver for Development and Sustainability’ session at the Open Knowledge Conference.

As the world moves towards a post-2015 international disaster risk reduction framework more open data initiatives that provide information to people and organizations to make better informed decisions in terms of managing their disaster risk are emerging.

Such initiatives include the joint European Commission and UN-led Index for Risk Management (InfoRM), UNOCHA’s Humanitarian Exchange Language (HXL) to improve the availability and interoperability of disaster data, the DesInventar open-source project to collect detailed disaster loss data, UNEP’s Global Exposure Database, and the World Bank’s Open Data for Resilience initiative to crowdsource, downscale and distribute disaster-related information.

The Open Knowledge Foundation, a non-profit organization founded in 2004, says making such information freely available for use and redistribution provides greater transparency, supports innovation, and enables citizen participation and engagement in decision-making.

Openness is just the beginning and only a means to an end said Dr. Rufus Pollock, co-Founder and Director of the Open Knowledge Foundation: “It takes people, international organizations, and institutions to understand it, act on it and make change. It doesn’t make the world a better place, but it is an essential ingredient in the 21st century.”

More information on the research areas and how to submit input for the 2015 GAR report can be accessed here.

The Open Knowledge Conference took place last month in Geneva.

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