Balkans and risk: The state of open data for DRM
By Pierre Chrzanowski, Open Data Specialist at OpenDRI; and Charles Christonikos, Risk Research Consultant at OpenDRI
Despite the volume of climate and disaster risk data available for the Balkan countries, critical gaps remain. To improve understanding of natural hazard risk in the Balkans, efforts are being made at both local and global levels to track the state of open disaster risk management (DRM) data in the region and identify critical datasets.
The Open Data for Resilience Index is a platform to track and evaluate open data for DRM and enables anyone to submit exposure, hazard, vulnerability, and baseline data for a given country. Each data set is then assessed against 10 open data criteria to determine how easily it can be downloaded and reused. The Index serves as a common resource for DRM practitioners, governments, and other stakeholders to reduce gaps in data for hazard-prone locations.
According to Stella Karafagka, who conducted an inventory of data sets for Balkan countries, much of the essential DRM data has restricted access or does not exist. Slovenia, however, stands out from this trend. It is the only Balkan country that has published most of its key datasets openly. For instance, Slovenian building data is available to download and reuse without restrictions.
The Index also reveals that despite the frequency of extreme weather events in the region, most of the countries have not released open meteorological data. One explanation for this data lock may be traditional funding mechanisms which require hydrometeorological agencies to fund themselves and sell their data.
Slovenia is the only Balkan country that has published most of its key datasets openly.
Case studies from government and journalism are an opportunity to explore initiatives and projects addressing risk data gaps in the Balkans.
The European Union (EU)-funded Programme for Disaster Risk Management and Mapping (IPA DRAM) is a partnership between national civil protection agencies. IPA DRAM supports Balkan countries in collecting and better utilizing disaster loss data. One of IPA DRAM’s main deliverables will be a global disaster loss database that leverages EU and Sendai disaster risk reduction frameworks to promote data harmonization between countries. The program also provides support for risk assessment and mapping.
Stefania Traverso, a GIS specialist from the CIMA Research Foundation and an IPA DRAM expert, commented on the need to raise awareness at all levels about the issues of data availability and interoperability. Traverso also stressed the need for civil protection agencies to work together toward common data frameworks, and use common resources wherever possible.
Civil protection agencies need to cooperate on data availability and interoperability, work together toward common data frameworks, and where possible use common resources.
Georgiana Ilie, a reporter and senior editor at the Romanian magazine DoR, described the role of journalists in addressing disasters and how data gaps can hamper their work. Ilie’s investigation into the outcomes of an earthquake hitting Bucharest took several months due to the lack of publicly accessible information in Romania.
Yet her resulting story, “Earthquake in the Vulnerable City” (Ilie 2017), exemplifies how journalism can entertain and educate citizens about DRM. The data used for the publication included an incomplete list of buildings at risk provided by the city, hazard data from the National Institute of Earth Physics (INFP), and various reports from the World Bank and other international organizations. A comprehensive database of buildings, however, was missing, in addition to information on shelter locations, safe open places, and evacuation plans. All of these missing data would be essential to share and publicize in the event of an earthquake.
Access to open disaster and climate data for Balkan countries is challenging for several reasons:
- Restricted access: Despite national open data initiatives, the EU directive on open government data (PSI [Public Sector Information] Directive), and the directive on environmental and geospatial data (INSPIRE [Infrastructure for Spatial Information in the European Community] Directive, most key datasets in the Balkan countries remain under restricted access.
- Building data: The volume of crucial building data under closed or restricted access is worryingly high.
- Download: Although geospatial data is becoming increasingly available through web services, the lack of directly downloadable raw data remains a constraint to conducting risk analysis.
- Interoperability: Regional collaboration and scaleup of DRM projects are impeded by the lack of interoperability and standardization between data sets.
- Focus on bottlenecks: Preliminary results from the Open Data for Resilience Index suggest that those who utilize DRM data in the Balkans would benefit from sharing their findings through the Index in an ongoing, collective process. Focus should be given to key data bottlenecks, such as building data.
- Government and civil society collaboration: The number of open data activities in the Balkans at both the government level (in Bulgaria, Croatia, Serbia, and Slovenia) and by civil society organizations is increasing. Ongoing initiatives should focus on data for resilience and ensure that key data sets are released openly. These teams should collaborate and work more closely with DRM stakeholders, such as national civil protection agencies.
- Journalism as open data advocates: As extreme weather events in the Balkans intensify, journalists should play a larger role in investigating the types of data needed to cover natural hazard and climate change stories, and advocate for greater access to public sector information.
- Frameworks, guidelines, and support related to open data for DRM offered by the EU and international organizations such as the World Bank should be used by Balkan countries to identify financial resources, peer-to-peer knowledge exchange, and common resources and tools.
- Web services: To combat restricted or limited access, data publishers should make greater use of web services to provide full open data and directly downloadable raw data sets.
Special thanks to Georgiana Ilie, DoR magazine, Romania; Maryia Markhvida, Stanford Urban Resilience Initiative and World Bank; Stefania Traverso, CIMA Research Foundation and IPA DRAM; and Stella Karafagka, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki for their participation in the 2018 Understanding Risk Balkans Conference session, The State of Open Data for DRM in the Balkans.