Open Data Speeds Up Aid for Nepal

May 27, 2015 9:15 am PDT | Effective Governing

Our hearts go out to the victims of the 7.8-magnitude earthquake that hit Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu, and its surrounding areas on April 25th, 2015. With 120 aftershocks, there is very little Nepal could have done to prepare for such devastation. As relief teams file in to organize funding, sort through rubble, and assist those in need — organization is key. Fast Company tells a unique story about how open data is cutting costs, and increasing the timeliness of aid in Nepal.

It’s no secret open data is a key player in non-governmental organizations (NGO’s) and disaster relief. As relief organizations develop and implement an assistance plan, time is rarely in their favor. With this realization, The UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) created a unique platform to house open data and relief efforts under one roof. Human Data Exchange (HDX) is a simple interface with necessary geospatial data in simplified and usable formats to unify the information going out to all NGO’s for a natural disaster. This merge minimizes NGO’s planning time, and maximizes time alleviating those in despair. It is truly a win-win.

Problem Solved

What problem does this solve? Previously, NGO’s would have several different PDF formats of uneditable and unsortable data necessary for planning. Time spent sorting through a mountain of data was wasted effort in a situation that demanded efficiency. Now, “with the click of a mouse, each of these pieces of information can be downloaded in standardized, editable file formats,” and, “any approved organization can upload its data to share as part of that list,” Fast Company explains. By taking these actions, all data is automatically placed on the same playing field and suddenly the power of one international organization has increased to the number of organizations submitting data to this list.

What Does the Future Hold?

Different types of data are needed at different milestones in the relief cycle. Unforeseen aftershocks, environmental developments, and funding influence when and how execution occurs. Fast Company confirms, “right now, what’s important is geospatial data. Where are roads? Where are the towns? Where are the hospitals? So [relief teams] know what’s blocked and where the helicopters can land.” This data is painting actionable pictures from the unknown. “The organization MapAction was able to hop on HDX shortly after the earthquake and download five key shapefiles of the region.” This is just one example of data being immediately utilized to take a plan to action.

HDX is still a new product and it is slowly making inroads into more NGO’s. Large organizations like Red Cross are devising a plan to shift their workflow to upload influential data onto HDX. This will be the second natural disaster, following the Ebola pandemic in Africa, that HDX has been utilized for. We encourage you to view the HDX website  to track the Nepal earthquake relief’s important statistics. This is simply another way we see open data changing the world.


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