Opening up data sharing in Asia’s Water Tower

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The Third Pole, New Delhi, India

New website pioneers data sharing in a region beset with misunderstandings and secrecy over water, sure to be used by journalists, campaigners and researchers

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The rivers feeding Asia’s megadeltas – the Indus in Pakistan, the Ganga-Brahmaputra in India and Bangladesh, the Irrawaddy in Myanmar, the Mekong in southeast Asia and the Yangtze in China – all have their origins in Tibet.

 

Water is a major driver of conflict and uncertainly in Asia, where over 1.3 billion people rely on water from the major rivers which originate in the Hindu Kush Himalayas.

In an effort to help understand and respond to the rapid changes taking place in the Hindu Kush Himalaya region, also known as “Asia’s water tower”, Internews’ Earth Journalism Network (EJN) and its partner The Third Pole has launched an open source data and mapping platform.

data.thethirdpole.net is a collection of scientific data on water sourced from leading organisations monitoring water in Asia, which can be used by journalists and researchers to prepare maps and graphics and to raise public awareness of the massive environmental challenges facing the region.

The Hindu Kush Himalaya mountain range is known as the “Third Pole” because it contains the world’s largest store of ice outside the polar regions. This is the source of Asia’s major river systemswhich provide power and drinking water for over 1.3 billion people – nearly 20% of the world’s population.

The region’s river systems cross numerous national boundaries. Many countries are already suffering serious water stress; planned infrastructure projects, including dams, are raising both regional and cross-border tensions and may have severe environmental impacts.

People in the region face high risks from flooding, water shortages and pollution. Future population growth, climatic variation and increasing demands on scarce water resources from agriculture and industry are increasing these risks.

Mitigating common water threats demands high levels of cooperation, but historic tensions and mistrust between countries in the region have impeded effective action.

The launch of this website marks a significant breakthrough in data sharing in a region where information about water is often considered a national secret and constrained by various licensing schemes. The accuracy of information is also frequently contested by different government agencies in different countries.

In light of these issues, access to quality, timely information is more critical than ever.data.thethirdpole.net provides a simple, searchable catalogue of datasets of over 125 datasets on hydropowerglacier statusgroundwater depletion and natural disasters. The aim is to promote open data to enrich the quantity and quality of information available in order to stop and hopefully reverse environmental damage to this globally important ecosystem.

All data hosted on the site is available for download in multiple formats sourced and by a network of providers. Partnership agreements have been signed with 10 organisations including the International Center for Integrated Mountain Development(ICIMOD) and the International Water Management Institute (IWMI). The database will grow over time as new information is sourced and verified by a growing network of contributors.

“The most exciting thing about this site is that its publication represents a beginning rather than an end. The data is interesting when it has real world application and knowledge value,” said Willie Shubert, EJN’s Senior Coordinator and a leader of the project. “This website is a fundamental step toward the adoption of open data in one of the world most critical bioregions.”

Supported by the Skoll Global Threats Fund, the data.thethirdpole.net is part of a growing cadre of open data sites focused on the region, including the recently launched ICIMOD Regional Database Initiative and WRI’s Aqueduct.

“This project will allow journalists to think more creatively and simplify information that is generated through complex science,” says Project Manager Ramesh Bhushal. “It provides the freedom to visualise stories that are of great importance and make them accessible to the public, and inform policymakers for better decision making.”