Developing strategies to end hunger

Introducing Big Data for Development

Hunger Report Monday

Let's start today's Hunger Report Monday post with a poll in honor of  Big Data Week, which just wrapped up yesterday. What percentage of all data in the world do you think was created in the last two years? Cast your vote above -- then click submit to see how others voted. 

Once you’ve voted, click here to see the correct answer according to IBM. The current scope of the world’s data creation boggles the mind: 2.5 quintillion bytes of data every day.

But where is all of this new data coming from? The short answer is: human activity on the Internet. Images, articles, videos, posts, tweets, music, maps – all the things we’re now used to seeing online. But the more interesting part of “big data” goes beyond this content to the ways human beings interact with it – as explained in this short clip from The Economist


Big data has given rise to a huge controversy about the potential for unethical use of all this information being gathered on individuals’ online activity. While this is clearly a justified debate, the other side of the coin is how big data is already being used to improve the world.

Chapter 1of the 2013 Hunger Report stresses that reliable data is the bedrock of effective policy to reduce hunger and poverty. Without it, there’s no way to know for sure whether the solutions are responding to the actual causes. The conventional data, supplied by global organizations such as the United Nations and the World Bank, gives us semi-annual numbers on poverty rates, child mortality, and the like. But researchers for these and other institutions are discovering that big data can augment and fill in gaps in what we already know.

For example, the U.N. Global Pulse is an initiative recently launched by the U.N. Secretary General's office to begin using big data to track crises such as the 2011 Horn of Africa famine in real time – so prediction and prevention can actually keep up with current circumstance. To do this, the initiative is using new digital data sources and analytic technologies. One of Global Pulse’s early successes is the use of rapidly spreading cell phone technology to gauge food shortages.

A close cousin of big data is open data, which uses many of the same technologies to make information on the activities of governments, corporations, and other entities publicly available. This can help tremendously in citizens’ efforts to hold their public officials accountable, for example. Thanks to the World Bank Open Finances initiative, all of the Bank’s major disbursements can now be instantly downloaded to your computer (or a smartphone through their

new app). The Bank is also now working with new organizations specializing in big data, such as DataKind, to fashion alternative development indicators from large data sets made from content like tweets and light intensity numbers. The solutions they were able to generate in one recent weekend event are pretty impressive.

The world of big data is, as its name indicates, enormous -- and still mostly unexplored. But the potential is there to radically change the way we conceptualize and react to serious problems such as hunger. Read more about using accurate data to fight hunger and poverty in Chapter 1 of the 2013 Hunger Report, Within Reach: Global Development Goals. Derek Schwabe


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