Why financing data matters more than ever
8 December 2020
We live in an age of extremes: 90% of all the data in the world was created in just the last two years — downloading it all would take you approximately 181 million years.
Yet, despite all this knowledge at our fingertips, we still can’t answer the most basic questions, such as “How many children are there in the world?”
According to UNICEF, one in four children do not officially exist as their birth is not registered, and we must rely on outdated models to tally populations.
How many deaths are there each year? According to the UN Statistical Division, only two in three countries are able to record more than 90% of their deaths.
What is the Covid-19 infection rate of men versus women throughout the world? According to Global Health 50/50, a mere 50% of all Covid-19 cases have sex-disaggregated information associated with them.
More financing for statistics is needed to build capacity to respond to the pandemic and deliver on many key sustainable development challenges.
Call in the statisticians
Financing also has to become smarter in order to reduce the extreme disparities in data access and availability that currently exist, where a handful of countries enjoy a glut of real-time information, while others are left sorting through paper records and PDFs from five years ago.
The Covid-19 pandemic has been a wakeup call that strong statistical systems, particularly health surveillance systems, can no longer be an afterthought. The health crisis has brought with it an acceleration of decision-making: months of deliberations have had to be replaced by quick choices based on sound, real-time data.
To close the financing gap of roughly $700 million USD and increase the paltry 0.3% of overall aid that flows to statistics, we need a cultural shift in international development and aid
And to fully understand the impact of Covid-19, the number of active cases, the number of previous cases, the number of deaths from the virus, all-cause mortality, and excess deaths (all sex-disaggregated, of course) are needed from all countries; not just those with advanced healthcare systems.
Additionally, secondary impacts like unpaid care work and violence against women need data as well. Unfortunately, existing gaps in data and weaknesses in statistical systems don’t allow this information to be readily available. An issue that has long hindered low-income countries has reared its ugly head in even the most advanced economies.
You get what you pay for
Tackling these acute challenges is on the minds of experts in the data for the development sector. Last month, over 10,000 users and producers of data and statistics from 180 countries gathered virtually for the United Nations World Data Forum.
The event focused on how timely, high-quality data — whether it be on gender data, refugees, or climate change — makes sustainable development more effective, efficient and impactful.
Amidst dozens of sessions about why and how to leverage data for sustainable development, only a few explored the thorny issue of financing.
Chief among these was a session that offered a glimpse of the Bern Network’s Clearinghouse for Financing Development Data — a new platform to support the global supply and demand of financing for data and statistics.
So, if statistics cannot win over donors’ hearts and purse strings during the status quo, let statistics win them over in the midst of a pandemic
The clearinghouse will be the first online initiative of its kind to collate large amounts of information on the availability and need for data financing that can help decision-makers better understand where to channel resources and improve the overall transparency, accountability and coordination of efforts to achieve more and better financing for statistics.
While the platform will go a long way towards making every development data aid dollar go further, much greater international commitments are needed.
To close the financing gap of roughly $700 million USD and increase the paltry 0.3% of overall aid that flows to statistics, we need a cultural shift in international development and aid to overcome challenges such as a fragmented funding landscape, siloed sectors, and difficulties accessing relevant information on aid flows and donor funding priorities.
The platform, in addition to the overarching goal of increasing and improving financial flows to statistics, aims to solve existing and persistent cultural challenges surrounding the data agenda by providing high-quality information needed to make good investment decisions.
Rebuilding with data
The case for investing in data, however, is a difficult one.
Like the expression, “the shoemaker’s son always goes barefoot,” development statistics, despite serving as the critical inputs for interventions, often fail to gain recognition for financing vis-à-vis other more visible sectors like healthcare or education. But research has proven that there is value in investing in data.
There are also several opportunities to ensure that existing opportunities can be better leveraged. One opportunity is to direct funds from existing funding mechanisms — such as the new funding mechanisms the UN, IMF or World Health Organization created to support country responses to Covid-19 — into statistical systems to improve production and use.
Another potential funding opportunity is the World Bank Group’s International Development Association (IDA). The current IDA19 round will allocate $82 billion USD to provide support to over 74 countries, and includes statistics under its priority themes. Such funds should holistically support statistical systems; not one-off pilot projects.
The world has woken up to the immense potential and importance of data to respond to crises, build back better, and advance sustainable development.
Making development data financing smarter, through platforms like the clearinghouse, are an important step to making every aid dollar go further and ensuring that they reach those who need them most.
So, if statistics cannot win over donors’ hearts and purse strings during the status quo, let statistics win them over in the midst of a pandemic to safeguard against future emergencies. Investing in statistics today means investing in our ability to respond diligently, rapidly, and appropriately tomorrow.
(Photo Credit: Unsplash and aPolitical)