Much like water, data is all around us. And much like water, data is an invaluable resource that leads to better development outcomes. So for the past decade, the World Bank’s Open Data Initiative has provided free, open access to the Bank’s development data and supported countries to launch their own data initiatives.
Data allows us to build the clearest picture, harness the best evidence and make informed decisions to achieve a water-secure world. And when it comes to water, decisions based on data can greatly improve service delivery, sustain water resources, and build resilience.
That’s why, with support from the Global Water Security & Sanitation Partnership (GWSP), the World Bank has just launched the World Bank Water Data Portal. For the first time ever, a curated list of water data from the World Bank and other sources and institutions is now available in one place. This has meant sourcing from World Bank-funded initiatives such as the International Benchmarking Network for Water and Sanitation Utilities (IBNET), the Rural Water and Sanitation Information System (SIASAR) and the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR) and supplementing that with dozens of quality data sources such as the OECD, the UN, World Resources Institute, the World Wildlife Fund, and a number of governments.
The demand for the portal stemmed largely from two places.
Firstly, requests from World Bank client countries for data to help tackle some common development challenges. All too often, our staff in different countries with completely different contexts would receive remarkably similar questions from their counterparts in government — where might new irrigation techniques be most effectively applied?; how to most effectively target sanitation projects to tackle waterborne diseases?; what specific parts of the country were most impacted by water pollution? Much of the data that could help with these questions was available but in a number of different places.
Secondly, insights and evidence from our own global research and analytics. Our 2019 report Quality Unknown showed us just how fundamental reliable information is to the social contract in general and to tackling water pollution specifically. It revealed how better information disclosure could not only improve decision-making at the household level — for example, if people know water from a certain well has a higher concentration of arsenic, they will get their water from elsewhere — it could also inspire citizen engagement and social movements. So we knew just how key a role data can play.
The portal has been designed and will be maintained in line with two key principles.
Firstly, the principle of moving from fragmentation to organization. Water datasets are everywhere but it is precisely this deluge of data that can often make it challenging for researchers or decision-makers to seek out the information they need. That’s why this portal collates, aggregates, and catalogs what we believe are among the most robust datasets publicly available and provides the world’s largest warehouse of water data.