MANILA, Philippines – Ensuring access to data helps save lives.
In a Rappler Talk interview, Mahar Lagmay, executive director of the University of the Philippines (UP) Resilience Institute, highlighted the importance of open data in disaster resilience.
“A lot of scientists have agreed that data should be made open. It’s for the public good. It’s for humanity and it’s very important that we observe this – we implement this – to save lives,” Lagmay told Rappler.
In his new book Open Data Law for Climate Resilience and Disaster Risk Reduction, the multi-awarded scientist discussed the need to keep data open as it empowers people to work together to achieve resilience.
Open data, as Lagmay defined, is not limited to digital formats of databases downloadable online. He said that these should be “available in bulk and should be free of charge, or with no more than a reasonable production cost.”
He added that open data should also allow people to “use it, reuse it, redistribute, and intermix” with other datasets, without any conditions, except for attribution.
Lagmay argued that a clear policy on open data should be legislated to achieve the Philippines’ sustainable goals as well as save Filipinos from disasters and the effects of climate change.
“There are already policies and that is a good step forward. It’s best that we put it into law, so that there’s accountability. And by putting it into law, the guidelines are clear and we know where we are,” Lagmay said.
The Philippines is among the founders of the Open Government Partnership (OGP), a multilateral initiative that aims to promote transparency, empower citizens, fight corruption, and harness new technologies to strengthen governance.
Since the OGP’s founding in 2011, the Philippines has developed action plans – such as the Philippines-OGP National Action Plan and the Philippine Development Plan 2017-2022 – to ensure good governance conditions through open data initiatives.
The Duterte administration, through the landmark Executive Order (EO) No. 2 or the Freedom of Information EO, also allowed for the executive branch to implement open data initiatives, but with limitations. (READ: How serious is the Duterte administration about FOI?)
Despite a good number of measures by the Philippine government, Lagmay said a “culture of open data” has “yet to be seen.”
He added that critical datasets for disaster risk reduction (DRR), climate change, and environment are not available for the public in government databanks.
“I hope to see with all of these policies that have been put in place that in the near future, the same or the equivalent as what we see as ‘open data’ in the US or in Europe be available here as well,” Lagmay said.
Scientists and engineers are not the only ones who should use data, added Lagmay.
“It should be a whole-of-society approach,” he said, where stakeholders from various fields work together to achieve disaster resilience.
“In order for that to work, you must have open data. You must have open access, open knowledge, and open source – all of these openness – so that you can build trust. How can you build trust if you keep data from the other person?”
He noted the importance of open data in a whole-of-society approach to DRR.
“If we don’t do that (implementation), the whole effort for disaster risk reduction will fail. That has been the lesson that we’ve seen repeatedly in past disasters,” he said.
One of the most disaster-prone countries in the world, the Philippines is exposed to several natural hazards such as floods, storm surges, landslides, and earthquakes. (LOOK: Project Agos)
According to a 2015 study, 8 out of the world’s 10 most disaster-prone cities are in the Philippines. The study also showed that the country ranked 80th out of 198 countries for resilience. – Rappler.com
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