World Population Day 2010: Open data is the message

On World Population Day 2010, experts are highlighting the concepts of ‘everyone counts’ and open data.

World Population Day was July 11, 2010, designated by the UN as a day to think about our increasingly crowded planet estimated at 6.8 billion people.

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) set the theme for 2010 as “everyone counts,” the idea that population data are more than just numbers; they represent real human lives.  For instance, the UNFPA point out that the 2001 census showed that in India, boys significantly outnumber number girls, strongly suggesting that some 2000 Indian girls are lost each day to prenatal sex selection.  This revelation mobilized Indian media to report and bring daylight to the illegal practice of sex selection.

One thing I’ve been watching with great interest is the move of some large institutions to making their records more open.

In April of 2010 the World Bank launched its Open Data Initiative data.worldbank.org, which made a wealth of information on developing economies of the world freely available to anyone.  Over 2,000 indicators, some going back 50 years, such as life expectancy at birth, infant mortality, and school enrollment reveal what life is like there.  The World Bank hopes that people will use this information not only for research, but to create new tools and analysis to solve global problems.

More recently is the announcement by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations on July 9, 2010 that the world’s largest database of food, hunger, and agricultural information is now freely and openly available to anyone at the website faostat.fao.org.  In the hands of people who want to solve problems of world hunger, these tools have great potential to help.  The data includes vital statistics on agricultural and food production, usage of fertilizers and pesticides, food aid shipments, food balance sheets, forestry and fisheries production, irrigation and water use, land use, population trends, trade in agricultural products, the use of agricultural machinery, and more.

The trends of making vital information freely available to anyone, open data, are an encouraging sign in an increasingly crowded planet we find ourselves in.

Jorge Salazar