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Synthesis report: Big data for climate change and disaster resilience: realising the benefits for developing countries

Publication date:
J. Anttila-Hughes
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Despite some promising results, there are barriers, gaps and risks associated with the application and use of Big Data in supporting resilience in developing countries. Many of these challenges are similar to those that have emerged in related areas– notably in the ICT for Development (ICT4D) and Participatory GIS (PGIS) field. This includes for example, human and institutional capacity gaps and lack of access to internet and IT infrastructure.

This synthesis report explores the opportunities, challenges and required steps for leveraging the new ecosystem of Big Data to monitor and detect hazards, mitigate their effects, and assist in relief efforts. Ultimately the goal is to build resilience so that vulnerable communities and countries as complex human ecosystems not only ‘bounce back’ but also learn to adapt to maintain equilibrium in the face of natural hazards.

An overall conclusion is that Big Data for resilience, as with nearly everything with Big Data, is still “in its intellectual and operational infancy”; most existing applications are small pilots, few formal evaluations exist, and much of the field consists of studies from the grey and white literature, case studies, and reports from NGOs, humanitarian organizations, and private companies. But based on the evidence available so far, Big Data does show real value and potential as a force for increasing social resilience, provided it is approached and promoted not merely as yet another technological fix.

The report is intended to provide evidence to feed into the Post-2015 Development Agenda in September 2015, the Paris 2015 UN Climate Change Conference, and the 2016 World Humanitarian Summit to be held in Istanbul at the end of May 2016, as well as to support the implementation of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction.