How Resource Watch Changed the Way We Monitor the Planet’s Pulse
By Janet Ranganathan and Craig Hanson
From Cape Town to California, conflict over water is becoming a regular occurrence around the world. In 2017 alone, water played a major role in conflict in at least 45 countries, especially in North Africa and the Middle East. This is not just a crisis for places plagued by drought, it’s also a global security issue because lack of water contributes to migration and insurgencies.
Water scarcity, migration and social unrest are symptoms of larger problems, much like a fever would be to a flu. To prevent future water crises, we need to do more than track the symptoms. We need information on the root causes and underlying drivers of water scarcity. Social, political and environmental trends are complex and interlinked, but it’s not always easy to see where they overlap. Decision makers need information on all of these drivers, and how they are interlinked, to understand the best place to intervene and inoculate against crises in the future.
Radical Transparency Through Open Data
One year ago today, World Resources Institute and more than 30 partners launched an open data monitoring platform to advance a healthy planet where people and ecosystems thrive. Resource Watch leverages technology, data and human networks to bring much-needed transparency on the state of the planet.
In just one year, the platform has been used by thousands of people in 178 countries. Analysts and journalists have used the data to mobilize change on the ground. Some examples of the change we’ve made in just twelve months are described below.
The Water, Peace and Security (WPS) initiative is an impressive undertaking to trace the role of water in social unrest with data on water stress, conflict events, political stability, and others hosted on Resource Watch. The early warning system they have developed to predict when conflict might be triggered provides actionable information to local officials, so that they can intervene before conflict arises and spreads. It was recently used to preview water-driven conflict hotspots at a United Nations Security Council meeting.
Another use case was provided by a health specialist at Save The Children who uses Resource Watch regularly. Looking at flood patterns in rural Bangladesh, the specialist uses Resource Watch to estimate how flooding might lead to human displacement and reduced access to health services. The specialist is also looking at how gender inequality and access to the internet might be correlated with women’s access to contraception.
Other examples of how the platform is being used to create change include:
- USAID is using data on Resource Watch to monitor tree cover loss and fires within protected areas of the Philippines and other Pacific Island countries.
- Insight2impact (i2i), a global resource center based in South Africa, is using Resource Watch to provide data on environmental trends and risks to financial institutions.
- The United Nations Development Programme is using Resource Watch to help national governments track and report progress on Aichi Biodiversity Targets from the Convention on Biological Diversity using data from Resource Watch on forest loss, biodiversity intactness, protected areas, and critical habitats of endangered species.
- Several universities from the Vienna University of Technology to the University of Maryland are incorporating Resource Watch into their curriculum to improve data literacy and generate new research insights.
Building on Resource Watch’s Open Data Infrastructure
All of the work we do on Resource Watch, and the application programming interface (API) on which it’s based, is open-source, which means organizations can build their own applications on top of what we’ve built, like building Lego blocks on our infrastructure. The API serves as a public good by saving other organizations money and time from building their own data infrastructure.
We’re thrilled that several applications have harnessed this public resource for connecting to data. Some examples are: The Partnership for Resilience and Preparedness, Global Partnership for Sustainable Development API Highway, MapX, Insights2Impact, Global Forest Watch, Congo Forest Atlases, Climate Watch, and Aqueduct. These applications have benefitted from the investments we’ve made into designing data architecture, standardizing data and metadata and creating online functionalities. Applications can focus their resources on meeting their users’ needs because of these investments.
Monitoring to Mobilize
Transparent data can drive accountability and more responsible decision making. Empowering people with information on the crisis, and how it affects them, will drive calls for greater accountability from those responsible and from those in a position to act to prevent further degradation.
During our next phase, we will be bringing Resource Watch closer to the ground by incorporating higher resolution imagery and enabling users to upload localized datasets. We will empower local champions with the data they need to make more sustainable decisions or hold those in power accountable. This will require getting more local data on the platform and building a user community that takes evidence-based action for ecosystem conservation and restoration.
The work we have done over the past year would not have been possible without our partners and funders, and we hope you’ll join us by using Resource Watch and telling us how to make it better for your needs. We need your help to scale data transparency and action across the globe.