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Geospatial data will play crucial role in recovery from COVID-19

Data must support all decision-making activities. Statistics and geospatial offices need to work in a productive manner to provide information for better planning and governance, to ensure speedy recovery from the COVID-19 crisis, says Rolando Ocampo, Chief of Division, Statistics and Economic Projections, UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean.

In the aftermath of the COVID-19 outbreak, the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (UN ECLAC) prepared an observatory to assess the effect of the pandemic on the global economy, and in particular the Latin American and Caribbean region. According to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), before the pandemic hit, Latin America and the Caribbean had already accumulated almost seven years of low growth, with an average of 0.4% between 2014 and 2019. The crisis being experienced by the region in 2020, with an expected drop of -5.3% in GDP, will be the worst in all its history. To find a contraction of comparable magnitude, one must go back to the Great Depression of 1930 (-5%) or even further back to 1914 (-4.9%).

This may trigger widespread unemployment and the level of poverty may rise, as the unemployment rate is expected to reach around 11.5%, marking an increase of 3.4 percentage points versus 2019 (8.1%). Thus, the number of unemployed persons in the region would rise to 37.7 million[1]

Recovery and change

The process of recovery from this unprecedented crisis will take some time — at least two years. The economic pause the world has witnessed from March-May 2020 will affect the global trade to a great extent. Since closure of industries has halted commerce, restarting production and restoring ‘normalcy’ will take a while. Investment in infrastructure and construction won’t happen instantly, and will take longer duration in developing countries. In the Latin America and Caribbean region, we expect that 28-29 million people will slip into poverty due to the pandemic.

The outbreak has had people shifting focus from other things to themselves and their families, increasing social distancing. We must break this trend after the crisis is over, as we are currently working in a closed manner. Once this crisis comes to an end, we will have to face lots of changes. For example, from the way we say hello to how we hold meetings, everything will change.

The lockdown has severely affected people, and the fear of a second strike will keep us on our toes. Day-to-day activities like going for theatre, movies, beaches, travel, and even to the school, will be impacted. All this will alter our relationships. So, if we don’t change the way we work; if we don’t have collaborations — between countries and regions; and if there is no multilateralism, as suggested by the UN, we will be in trouble.

Going forward, technology will help us connect and achieve collaboration. The UN will collaborate with countries and regions, development banks and finance institutions, to look at ways to uplift the people who have been pushed into poverty due to the COVID-19 crisis.

Importance of geospatial data and information

Geospatial data will play a significant role in the recovery process. Even today, governments all over the world are using geospatial portals to track and follow cases. In ECLAC, we have created a geo-portal to follow all the measures countries  of the region are taking in the following areas: movements and restrictions, health,  economy, employment, social protection, education and gender, to tackle the pandemic and its impact. We are working very closely with countries, hosting webinars with statistics and geospatial offices to identify the troubles they are facing in labor surveys and in following consumer price indices. All this data is very important to devise a thorough action plan for future.

Data must support all decision-making activities. Statistics and geospatial offices need to work in a productive manner to provide information for better planning and governance. At the same time, countries must work towards building data ecosystems. The integration of economic, environmental, social and geospatial data can make a world of difference.

Further, putting all this information in a coordinated manner in layers is crucial. For example, if we use administrative data to link it to service and census information, we can granulate the information to the level of small areas/inclusive neighborhoods/blocks and can link all the information. This can give more power to the decision-makers to take the right action.

Geospatial information is playing an important part in globalization of information. We need to give more capacity training to countries, including their municipalities. They need to know that it’s not only about having Google Maps on their cell phones, and that this technology can help them make better choices. The focus should be on making information accessible. Currently, it costs a lot to access accurate information, and this has to be addressed. Municipalities need to have access to accurate information for cadaster in an inexpensive manner.

We must also work hard to make accurate information accessible to decision-makers and society on statistics and economics, and link it to geospatial information. On their part, the industries need to be more socially responsive and make their innovation accessible for decision-making by collaborating with governments.  

Sustainable development

Before the Novel Coronavirus outbreak, we made a projection on the Sustainable Development Goals in the Latin American and Caribbean region, and identified that more than 70% of indicators show that it requires an intervention or a strong public policy to reach the threshold established under the Goals. However, now, it looks that this will get even more difficult for the region.

Assuming that we only have a decade for action, we will lose out on at least two-three years of this decade. That’s why it is extremely important to act together at the global level in coordination with the UN. And geospatial data and technology will play an essential role in this process.

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