Global Data Community’s Response to COVID-19

Data Community’s Response to Covid-10. Credit: UNWDF Secretariat, UN Statistics Division

By Francesca Perucci
UNITED NATIONS, Oct 28 2020 – The world is currently counting more than 42 million confirmed cases of the COVID-19 and over 1 million deaths since the start of the pandemic.1

The first quarter of 2020 saw a loss equivalent to 155 million full-time jobs in the global economy, a number that increased to 495 million jobs in the second quarter, with lower- and middle-income countries hardest hit.2

The pandemic is pushing an additional 71 to 100 million people into extreme poverty and, in only a brief period of time, has reversed years of progress on poverty, hunger, health care and education, disrupting efforts to realize the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.3

While the virus has impacted everyone, it has affected the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people the most.

The pandemic has also demonstrated that timely, reliable and disaggregated data is a critical tool for governments to contain the pandemic and mitigate its impacts.

In addition, data on the social and economic impact have been essential to develop support programmes to reach those in need and start planning for a recovery that leads to a safer, more equal, inclusive and sustainable world for all.

Data and statistics are more urgently needed than ever before. While many countries are finding innovative ways to better data, statistical operations have been significantly disrupted by the pandemic.

According to a survey conducted in May 2020, 96 per cent of national statistical offices partially or fully stopped face-to-face data collection at the height of the pandemic.4

Francesca Perucci, UN Statistics Division. Credit: IISD/EBN | Kiara Worth

Approximately 150 censuses are expected to be conducted in 2020-2021 alone, a historical record. Yet, to address the urgent issues brought by the pandemic, some countries have diverted their census funding to national emergency funding.5

Seventy-seven out of 155 countries monitored for Covid-19 do not have adequate poverty data, although there have been clear improvements in the last decade.6

Behind these numbers there is a tremendous human cost. Despite an increasing awareness of the importance of data for evidence–based policymaking and development, data gaps remain significant in most countries, particularly in the ones with fewer resources.

In addition, the lack of sound disaggregated data for vulnerable groups, such as persons with disabilities, older persons, indigenous peoples, migrants and others, exacerbates their vulnerabilities by masking the extent of deprivation and disparities and making them invisible when designing policies and critical measures.

The 2030 Agenda, with the principle of “leaving no-one behind” at its heart, underlines the need for new approaches and tools to respond to an unprecedented demand for high quality, timely and disaggregated data.

The UN World Data Forum

The UN World Data Forum was established as a response to the increased data demands of the 2030 agenda and as a space for different data communities to come together and find the best data solutions leveraging new technology, innovation, private sector and civil society’s contributions and wider users’ engagement.

The first and second World Data Forums in Cape Town and Dubai resulted in the Cape Town Global Action Plan for Sustainable Development Data and the Dubai Declaration.

These two forums addressed the new approaches required to the production and use of data and statistics not only by official statistical systems, but across broader data ecosystems where players from academia, civil society and the private sector play an increasingly important role.

This year, the UN World Data Forum, initially to take place in Bern, Switzerland, was held on a virtual platform because of the pandemic.

The virtual event allowed for a very broad and inclusive participation, with over 10,000 participants from 180 countries to showcase their answers to the challenges posted by the COVID-19 crisis, share their latest experiences and innovations, and renew the call for intensified efforts and political commitments to meet the data demands of the COVID-19 crisis and for delivering on the sustainable development Goals (SDGs) while also addressing trust in data, privacy and governance.

The programme of the Forum included three high-level plenaries on leaving no one behind, on data use and on trust in data. Together and under one virtual roof, the forum launched the Global Data Community’s response to COVID 19 – Data for a changing world.

This is a call for increased support for data use during COVID-19, focusing on the immediate needs related to the pandemic and for increased political and financial support for data throughout the COVID 19 pandemic and beyond.

Showcased in 70 live-streamed, 30 pre-recorded sessions and 20 virtual exhibit spaces, many innovative solutions to the data challenges of the 2030 Agenda were proposed and partnerships were formed, including:

    • Lessons learned in using data to track and mitigate the impact of COVID-19, at the global, national and local level;
    • Better ways to communicate data and statistics;
    • Use of maps and spatial data to improve the lives of communities;
    • Lessons learned from the use of AI algorithms;
    • Challenges in balancing data use and data protection;
    • How to secure more funding for data.

The next World Data Forum is scheduled to take place from 3 to 6 October 2021 in Bern, Switzerland, hosted by the Federal Statistical Office and the United Nations.

What next?

The Covid-19 pandemic has sadly confirmed that without timely, trusted, disaggregated data there cannot be an adequate response to the many challenges of dealing with the crisis and ensuring a sustainable, inclusive and better future for all.

Clearly, the time is now to recognize that we need data for a changing world. The time is now to accelerate action on the implementation of the Cape Town Global Action Plan and the Dubai declaration to respond more effectively to the COVID-19 pandemic and to put us back on track towards the achievement of the SDGs and to build stronger and more agile and resilient statistical and data systems to respond to future disasters.

World leaders need to recognize that increased investments are more urgently needed than ever to address the data gap and to close the digital divide and data inequality across the world.

To ensure the political commitment and donor support necessary to prioritize data and statistics, it is critical that the data community is able to demonstrate the impact and value of data.

The UN World Data Forum will continue to strive towards these objectives. It will also remain the space for knowledge sharing and launching new initiatives and collaborations for the integration of new data sources into official statistical systems and for promoting users’ engagement and a better use of data for policy and decision-making.

1 WHO Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Dashboard
2 ILO Monitor: COVID-19 and the world of work. Sixth edition
3 United Nations, The Sustainable Development Goals, Report 2020
4 United Nations Statistics Division, COVID-19 widens gulf of global data inequality, while national statistical offices step up to meet new data demands, 5 June 2020. https://covid-19-response.unstatshub.org/statistical-programmes/covid19-nso-survey/
5 PARIS21 Partner Report on Support to Statistics 2020
6 The World Bank

 


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