How better data saves lives

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On 16 January, the first-ever United Nations World Data Forum kicked off in Cape Town, South-Africa. Over 1000 data experts from around the world will gather in the next few days to address a wide range of data issues. The goal? To mobilize the data revolution for sustainable development and to improve lives using innovative data solutions.

Though not everyone’s favourite subject in secondary school or university, statistics are key to smarter policy-making, and an improved use of data and statistics will be crucial to achieving the goals set out in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The benefits of data are enormous. Data not only measures progress, but can also inspire change. When data is openly accessible, it can be used to drive advocacy and to increase accountability.

who dataMore importantly, data saves lives. Mobile phone data is being used by epidemiologists to predict the spread of infectious diseases like Ebola, Zika and malaria. The use of big data also offers unprecedented possibilities for improving humanitarian aid. It can help identify when and where people are in need of relief, or are in danger, and allow aid workers to allocate resources more efficiently.

A health worker in Bangladesh showing tuberculosis case detection information on a whiteboard.

Yet much remains to be done. For example, only 13% of countries dedicate a budget for gender statistics. This creates a huge gender data gap. At the same time, 77 out of 155 countries monitored do not have adequate poverty data.

“There is something of an iron law of development research, which means that if two or more researchers get together, at some point they start to complain about how bad the data is,” according to Dr. Claire Melamed, Executive Director of the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data.

To tackle this important issue, over 1000 data experts and statisticians working in academia, NGO’s, the private sector and national governments will meet in Cape Town on the first-ever United Nations World Data Forum. This forum aims to improve the use of data for sustainable development.

To achieve this, the UN will launch the Cape Town Global Action Plan for Sustainable Development. This ambitious plan calls for a commitment by governments, policy leaders and the international community to undertake key actions under six strategic areas, including: coordination and leadership; innovation and modernization of national statistical systems; dissemination of data on sustainable development; building partnerships; and mobilizing resources.

We know what data can do, and what impact it can have. The UN World Data Forum now has to make sure data is used in such a way that everyone can benefit and no one gets left behind.

Photo credits: 1.) UN Poster 2.) WHO/G Hampton