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SA to release govt data going back 100 years

News

SA to release govt data going back 100 years

New portal will release research on environmental, socio-economic, technological drivers for every SA region

Journalist

There’s no such thing as too much information. And to prove it, South Africans are about to get direct, free access to government data and research going back almost 100 years.
The Department of Science and Technology and the South African Environmental Observation Network (Saeon) are behind a project to make data freely available on environmental, socio-economic and technological drivers for every region in the country.South Africans will be able track the impact of climate change in their area, follow urban migration trends and stay updated with the rate of automation and shift in energy sources.
This is expected to help people make informed decisions for their lives – such as buying or building a house in an area that is prone to floods, droughts or fires – by better understanding the risks they are exposed to.
The portal, which will be hosted on the South Africa Spatial Data Infrastructure website, was developed specifically for South Africa and is the only one of its kind in the world, according to one of the projects leaders, Wim Hugo. It is due to go public in about four weeks’ time.Usually only governments or research and scientific organisations have access to this type of data, but the portal will put it at the disposal of citizens, business and local authorities. The information is expected to be especially useful for municipalities.
Hugo said the second category of data on the portal included elements that would be impacted by these drivers, “such as people, assets, the economy and industries such as agriculture, forestry, fisheries and ecosystem services”.
“Anybody can use the data because it has already been paid for by taxpayers,” said Hugo, who is also the chief data and information officer at Saeon.
“This is an asset protection programme because government invests in scientific research but it needs infrastructure to maintain and preserve the data that is collected.”
The data portal will be regularly updated and in some cases will store information from as far back as far 1920.Most of the data would be from various government departments and scientific organisations. But communities were also expected to contribute event information, said Hugo.
“Community feedback is an attempt by us to get more event-related data,” he said. “Things like photographs of floods, fires, service delivery protests and poaching events.”
Much of the data used has come from the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research’s research on projections of future climate change in South Africa.CSIR senior scientist Julia Mambo said the potential of the portal was in providing information to decision makers, especially at government level.
“This will ensure that service delivery takes into account [things like] climate change,” she said.
Department of Science and Technology chief director Henry Roman said the reason for the project was to provide decision makers with a tool to assist them in spatial planning based on climate risks and vulnerabilities.
“This may be a one of a kind spatial database for climate risk and vulnerability. We hope it will be accessed by all South Africans and used to educate on climate variability. We hope it changes how science is communicated and data translated into easy to access information in what is increasingly becoming a data-driven world.”
The department and Saeon plan to visit each province within the next four months to train municipal authorities on using the tool when creating their integrated development plans, which map the five-year infrastructure development project for a region.

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