Saving Sri Lankan lives through open data

from UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
Published on 13 Sep 2012

(Colombo 13 September 2013)

In the last 34 years natural disasters have killed more than 37,000 Sri Lankans. As recently as November 2010, heavy monsoon rains triggered devastating floods in parts of the country, affecting close to 1.2 million people (319,451 families). Thousands of families lost their livelihoods. Some 30,000 houses were partially damaged or completely destroyed and 300,000 hectares of rice paddy was ruined. The economic cost of disasters over the last ten years in Sri Lanka exceeded LKR 257 billion rupees, or USD 1.95 billion dollars.

In an effort to mitigate the effects of disasters, the Survey Department of Sri Lanka and the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) signed a historic agreement for Digital Data Dissemination on 13 September 2012. The agreement, the first of its kind between the Government and the United Nations, allows for organisations to freely use Government geographic data for disaster management purposes.

Numerous challenges arise for national authorities and partners when responding to a major disaster: recording the damage to housing, infrastructure, and services; tracking displaced people; distributing food and water; and coordinating the work of humanitarian organisations. Ensuring these organisations all use the same geographic data is essential if the information is to be shared quickly with the Government, as well as other humanitarian partners.

Mr. Mahesh Fernando, the Surveyor General of the Survey Department of Sri Lanka, said that this agreement “will assist in addressing information gaps in disaster management by improving how disaster related information is analysed, as well facilitating better decision making.” Both the Government and UNOCHA underscored the pivotal role that common data standards make towards making disaster preparedness and response activities more efficient and effective.

Mr. Brendan McDonald, Head of UNOCHA Sri Lanka, said that the agreement was “a practical example of the Government’s commitment to the implementation of the Hyogo Framework for Action” which was adopted by the Government in 2005 at the World Conference on Disaster Reduction, Japan. He also said that the agreement reflected how the Government and the United Nations work together to build sustainable partnerships in advance of disasters. This partnership can reduce the impact of disasters on people’s lives, as well as the Sri Lankan economy and environment.

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