In only a few months, the COVID-19 pandemic has swept across the world, causing tremendous social and economic upheaval and profoundly altering the everyday lives of billions of people.
Many countries, in an attempt to ‘flatten the curve’ and maximise the ability of national health systems to cope with the pandemic, have begun to implement travel bans, close national frontiers, and institute a range of measures to encourage social distancing.
As the virus continues to spread, many members of the PARIS21 community—from national statistical offices (NSOs) to development agencies—find themselves facing unprecedented challenges. For statistical organisations working in countries with weak infrastructure or lower health system capacity those challenges might be especially stark.
Yet the need for more and better and data has never been greater. NSOs face calls for timely, ad hoc data to track the outbreak and inform containment and mitigation efforts. NSOs play a critical role in informing policy and programmatic interventions to respond to the crisis. Looking beyond the crisis to its aftermath, a robust supply of high-quality, disaggregated statistics will be essential to interpret and respond to the long-term effects of COVID-19 for all citizens, particularly those at risk of being left further behind.
What is PARIS21 doing?
To combat the pandemic and ensure that recovery efforts are effective, inclusive and sustainable, policymakers and other actors need data that are timely, accurate and representative of the populations affected. Citizens also need trustworthy data in order to make informed decisions and to hold their governments to account.
National statistical organisations are struggling to respond to greater demands for data while at the same time facing historic capacity and institutional constraints, and demand for support among PARIS21’s national statistical partners, especially in low- and middle-income countries, has been overwhelming.
They have been calling on PARIS21 as a trusted, longstanding partner able to engage relevant stakeholders at all levels to design and implement capacity strengthening solutions for better response, resilience and recovery. PARIS21’s role as a bridge between national and global efforts also provides a critical platform amidst the pandemic for scaling-up national solutions and best practices, South-South cooperation and partnerships.
PARIS21 has convened a COVID-19 Task Force to engage and support our NSO partners across the globe, with the aim to mitigate the effect of the evolving global crisis on their daily operations, medium-term activities and long-term development.
The Task Force is focusing on three central questions facing national statisticians and their staff:
- How will the global COVID-19 crisis affect the operational activities of NSOs in low-income countries?
- What challenges do NSOs face in responding to the increased data demand due to the effects of the emergency at the sub-national and national level?
- What are possible solutions to mitigate the negative consequences of the COVID-19 crisis for statistical development and operations?
The Task Force is analysing structural effects of the COVID-19 epidemic on societal, economic and institutional aspects.
Acceleration of structural trends: Forecasts hypothesize that the crisis might accelerate structural trends such as the application of digital technologies in data collection and production processes. This, in turn, might increase inequality in various dimensions, creating capacity gaps between NSOs in more developed countries, and those lagging behind.
Re-prioritisation of planned statistical activities away from LNOB: Moreover, the COVID-19 crisis might force NSOs to re-prioritise their planned statistical activities throughout the year. Experts fear that topics related to the LNOB agenda such as data on vulnerable communities might get pushed back.
Long-term economic effects on funding for statistics/data: Furthermore, the economic aspects of the crisis caused by COVID-19 will affect the spending priorties of donor countries and might thus affect the level of funding to statistics and data as a sector.
The role of NSOs in crisis situations: Finally, NSOs have a fundamental role in influencing policy making and societal behaviour in crises and situations of fragility.
How is COVID-19 affecting low- and middle-income countries?
As NSOs in developing countries comply with lockdowns and other mitigation policies, immediate challenges associated with remote work and limited capabilities will begin to impact national statistics in the short-, medium- and long-term. In addition to disruptions to field-based data collection, available data on socio-economic conditions and prices may rapidly fall out of date due to evolving conditions on the ground, even as demands for new data rise. Furthermore, the pandemic will exploit durable structural challenges related to coordination, governance and financing, adding layers of complexity for NSOs in crisis.
Examples of short- and medium-term impacts:
|In Rwanda, the government took immediate measures to close schools and non-essential businesses following detection of the first infected case. In this cautious environment, the NSO has now discontinued all ongoing household data collection.||In El Salvador, prior to a localized outbreak, the government declared a month-long closure of key NSO activities, disrupting progress in ongoing field-based data collection and the planning cycle for the new National Strategy for the Development of Statistics (NSDS).||In the Philippines, the national government proposed a cash transfer to poor households for the duration of the COVID-19 lockdown. The Philippines National Statistical System will now need to provide data to identify poor households and define the programme threshold to compute the amount needed to finance the cash transfer.|
These short- and medium-term effects are described in the following diagram:
Initial findings of the Task Force were presented during the PARIS21 Board Session in a webinar on 8 April 2020 at 15:30 CET. The webinar brings together NSOs and other organisations, in particular from low- and middle-income countries, to share their experiences and how they plan to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic in the near- and long-term.
Impact on the PARIS21 Programme of Work
As of early April, the PARIS21 Programme of Work 2020 as it is presented to the PARIS21 Board for approval is still valid. The Secretariat will continue to monitor the evolving situation and will make any required adjustments.
For more information on the impact of COVID-19 on the Programme of Work, please see our latest note on the topic.
Data for the People - A PARIS21 Post-Crisis Podcast
The Coronavirus pandemic has ushered data, statistics and facts onto the world stage on a scale never seen before, as countries combat the rising tide of infection and are preparing their responses.
Are we entering an age of evidence-based policymaking and citizen empowerment or will the pandemic lead to a “totalitarian surveillance state” (Yuval Noah Harari)? Societies will make now important choices that will define the after crisis period for a long time to come. In this context, are national statistical systems up to the task and reaping a windfall of public support and investment or are they are sidelined as non-essential services, squeezed between more demand for data and limited production possibilities in times of a lockdown.
These are some of the questions that we will explore under the headline, “Data for the People”. Our new podcast invites representatives of statistical offices, data scientists, academics, journalists, civil society and more to share their views on choices for empowerment, fact-based decision and science in a world that seeks more international co-operation. What are the opportunities we can use now and how can we do things differently to position our statistical community as an important partner of in these emerging societal debates?