In August 2017 the worst monsoon rains for 15 years hit the Terai region of Nepal, causing flooding and landslides that affected 1.7 million of Nepal’s citizens. Nepal’s southern districts are often affected by floods, and this is far from being the first time that the region has had to deal with the fallout from lost homes and public services, lost livelihoods and lost produce. However, recent advances in data collection, sharing and use, have helped save hundreds of lives by warning people of flood risks. As water levels rose, the Government of Nepal’s Department of Hydrology and Meteorology shared data on rainfall levels via their website and social media, and used the data to inform the circulation of mass alert texts to communities in at-risk areas. This is a clear demonstration of the importance of data sharing and the impact from its use.
There is a growing recognition of the importance of open data in Nepal. The Prime Minister’s acceptance in August of an action plan on open government data – formally submitted by the country’s National Information Commission – demonstrates emerging political support for open data. Beyond government, a vibrant community of open data enthusiasts have played an important role in advancing Nepal’s data revolution through improvements in collecting and sharing digital data on web portals, using data in journalism and for accountability, conducting research on data, and sensitising government stakeholders to open data.
The backdrop to this development is a country still recovering from devastating earthquakes in 2015, and grappling with ongoing federal restructuring of the state into seven provinces and 744 municipalities and local bodies. The first local elections in almost two decades were held this year, and a whole new set of data needs and gaps must now be addressed if the newly elected local officials are to be able to properly exercise their functions as mandated by Constitution. The need for the production, sharing and use of good-quality disaggregated and open data is more pressing now than ever.
The Data for Development in Nepal programme of The Asia Foundation and Development Initiatives (DI) – a programme funded by The UK Government’s Department of International Development – aims to support Nepal’s stakeholders in their efforts to share and use data as evidence for development. The programme will strengthen Nepal’s open data ecosystem by building on DI’s work with Nepal’s open data community and The Asia Foundation’s longstanding in-country presence. The programme will bring together government, civil society and private sector to grow the demand and political will for data sharing and use; strengthening the systematic sharing of high-quality data; and supporting the use of data for decision-making.
In the past few weeks the programme has supported Bikas Udhyami to develop a series of videos (for example, here and here) to demystify different aspects of Nepal’s development through the use of available data; Kathmandu Living Labs to engage Nepal’s private sector with open street maps as a way to improve efficiency; and Open Knowledge Nepal to conduct a sensitisation programme on open data with university students. In addition, DI and The Asia Foundation recently launched Nepal’s first Innovation Fund on Open Data to support Nepali organisations in generating and implementing innovative interventions that share or use data to address specific development challenges.
We are also working with local partners to develop an inventory of Nepal’s homegrown data assets, to assess the user needs for data on development cooperation, and to build a community of practice and a knowledge hub on open data in Nepal. We hope that interventions supported by our programme and the learning from it will enable Nepali actors to build a strong foundation for sharing and using open data in Nepal, design better development interventions and more informed policies, and will ultimately lead to better development outcomes for Nepal.