Global Impact Vulnerability Alert System (GIVAS): A New Early Warning Initiative?

Cross-posted on iRevolution.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon is calling for better real-time data on the impact of the financial crisis on the poor. To this end, he is committing the UN to the development of a Global Impact and Vulnerability Alert System (or GIVAS) in the coming months.  While I commend the initiative’s focus on innovative data collection, I’m concerned that this is yet another “early warning system” that will fail to bridge alert and operational response.

The platform is being developed in collaboration with the World Bank and will use real time data to assess the vulnerability of particular countries or populations. “This will provide the evidence needed to determine specific and appropriate responses,” according to UNDP. UN-Habitat opines that the GIVA will be a “vital tool to know what is happening and to hold ourselves accountable to those who most need our help.”

According to sources, the objective for the GIVAis to “ensure that in times of global crisis, the fate of the poorest and most vulnerable populations is not marginalized in the international community’s response. By closely monitoring emerging and dramatically worsening vulnerabilities on the ground, the Alert would fill the information gap that currently exists between the point when a global crisis hits vulnerable populations and when information reaches decision makers through official statistical channels.”

GIVA will draw on both high frequency and low frequency indicators:

The lower frequency contextual indicators would allow the Alert system to add layers of analysis to the real time “evidence” generated by the high frequency indicators. Contextual indicators would provide information, for example, on a country’s capacity to respond to a crisis (resilience) or its exposure to a crisis (transmission channels). Contextual indicators could be relatively easily drawn from existing data bases. Given their lesser crisis sensitivity, they are generally collected less frequently without losing significantly in relevance.”

The high frequency indicators would allow the system to pick up significant and immediately felt changes in vulnerability at sentinel sites in specific countries. This data would constitute the heart of the Alert system, and would provide the real-time evidence – both qualitative and quantitative – of the effects of external shocks on the most vulnerable populations. Data would be collected by participating partners and would be uploaded into the Alert’s technical platform.”

The pulse indicators would have to be highly crisis sensitive (i.e. provide early signals that there is a significant impact), should be available in high periodicity and should be able to be collected with relative ease and at a reasonable cost. Data would be collected using a variety of methodologies, including mobile communication tools (i.e. text messaging), quick impact assessment surveys, satellite imagery and sophisticated media tracking systems.”

The GIVA is also expected to use natural language processing (NLP) to extract data from the web. In addition, GIVA will also emphasize the importance of data presentation and possibly draw on Gapminder’s Trendalyzer software.

There’s a lot more to say on GIVA and I will definitely blog more about this new initiative as more information becomes public. My main question at this point is simple: How will GIVA seek to bridge the alert-response gap? Oh, and a related question: has the GIVA team reviewed past successes and failures of early warning/response systems?

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