How Geospatial Data is Transforming International Development


SEATTLE — Geospatial data is transforming the way aid organizations approach international development. Geographic analytics identify the locations of populations that require the most assistance, providing support to the United Nations (U.N) 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The U.N. 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development aims to address global poverty sustainably, protecting the planet in tandem with the people. With a distinct concern for human rights and equality, the Agenda intends to build on the successes and amend the failures of the Millennium Development Goals.

Geospatial data can be used as a tool for informed-decision making in global challenges, as it gives a unique insight into the relationship between the environment and the demographics. This information can assist in developmental targets and emergency crisis responses. Aid agencies need to know where people are located when disaster hits in order to deliver help effectively and efficiently. Spatial data provides organizations with a visual framework that can quickly present solutions for those in need.

Sustainable development initiatives are inherently bound up with geography, as different communities require different programs that are distinctly tailored to their resources and needs. Geospatial data aggregates the locations of roads, wells and local inequities, and then strategically uses that information for the implementation of the 2030 Agenda goals.

Geovisualization is an aspect of geographic information software that helps organizations digitally visualize development assistance. This provides a much more realistic picture of a situation than any spreadsheet or bar graph.

As an example, USAID has used geospatial information to identify the density of temporary housing in Haiti, to map development results in Morocco and to design food security programs in Nepal.Spatial data is essential for the efficacy of these programs, and further technological progress will only increase data relevance and capacity.

In the past, geographic data has mistakenly ignored the financial aspect of developmental projects; and without it, mapping aid information is nearly useless. AidData – an innovative research lab located at the College of William and Mary – is aiming to fill in this gap. AidData has an accessible database of the domestic budgets, private investments and mobilized resources of each international development project worldwide.

The information collected by AidData allows for comprehensive program planning and aid advocacy, coordinating donors and promoting the tactical use of geospatial data in international development.

One complication in the usage of this data is that it is often only collected every five to 10 years, leaving organizations to allocate resources on the basis of prior trends. If geospatial data becomes a standard element of development initiatives, countries may invest in more frequent data collection efforts to improve accuracy.

Spatial thinking provides a three-dimensional perspective to international development. The coordination of demographic, socioeconomic, environmental and geographical data establishes a complete image of a country, including its current resources and future needs. Geospatial data has the potential to fully accomplish the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, eradicating poverty and promoting equality for all.

Larkin Smith

Photo: Flickr


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