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Overcoming Regional Data Availability and Access Challenges

In many cases, lack of data availability in the region also obscures the clarity of the picture, hindering the ability to design and implement effective policies. This partially ties back to a political context characterized by instability and conflicts in many countries, limiting the application of evidence-based policy (Sutcliffe and Court 2005). Limited or flawed data lead to building policy on unrealistic baselines, and can also lead to financial losses (Maystadt et al. 2014). Food and nutrition security progress has been slowed significantly, likely due to lack of reliable data. For example, poverty data estimates only exist publicly for half the Arab countries. Many Arab countries retain data of social indicators and carry out household surveys, yet restrict access to more detailed information such as the underlying raw data with which more detailed policy analysis could be conducted. There is also a clear need to improve the region’s data quality and disaggregation, as it matters for evidence-based decision-making at the subnational and household level (Nyirenda-Jere and Kazembe 2014). Many Arab countries do not have sufficient data to allow tracking of the forthcoming Sustainable Development Indicators, and in many cases only show aggregates rather than subnationally classified data (Maystadt et al. 2014).

Evidence-based research and better data can significantly impact policy and lead to improving well-being and reducing poverty. For example, between 2000 and 2003, two pilot districts in Tanzania saw over 40 percent reductions in infant mortality rates when the government implemented health service reforms informed by data from household disease surveys (ODI 2015). There is also evidence that the United Nations Children’s Fund’s (UNICEF) widely implemented Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys’ (MICS) direct input has been useful in informing the Tajikistani government’s poverty reduction policies (UNICEF 2014).

Having the right tools to analyze and visualize the data in ways that would meaningfully benefit policy is equally important. The recent rise of online food security and nutrition monitoring tools and databases represents an opportunity to aid policy effectiveness through availability of reliable, accessible data. This kind of data, including open source data, should be an integral part to achieving the SDGs (ODI 2015).

A recent trend of online monitoring tools (particularly a number of food-security-related policy monitors) provides valuable, open access data. These include the World Bank’s Food Price Crisis Observatory and the Food and Agricultural Organization’s Food and Agriculture Policy Decision Analysis (FAPDA) tool. The latter has clear policy classifications by sector, food security dimensions, and targeted food commodity (FAO 2016) , while the latter provides classifications by policy instrument (World Bank 2016). The Agricultural Market Information System (AMIS) is another example monitoring and analyzing market statistics of four major global food commodities (AMIS 2016). The policy database is classified by type and measure of agricultural policies. However, the Arab region remains underrepresented in many monitoring tools. For example, AMIS includes only two Arab countries.

The recently developed Arab Spatial Food and Nutrition Security Analyzer is one example of such a database and monitoring and evaluation tool, which fully focuses on the Arab region (Arab Spatial 2016). It is an online database for food and nutrition security which aggregates data from international organizations and governments, providing food security and nutrition information on maps and charts, including monitoring several SDG indicators. It offers data on regional, national, and subnational levels of the Arab world, mapping out the food security and nutrition situation across governorates. Users have the ability to map different indicators and overlay spatial and tabular layers to link and analyze data through customized maps.

The availability of such detailed information for policy makers can provide clarity on how to best address food insecurity and poverty, and helps concentrate efforts in areas that need it the most. For example, gov-

Child malnutrition by governorate. Source

Fig. 10.2 Child malnutrition by governorate. Source: Arab Spatial: Child Stunting (Governorate), http://bit. ly/1UI8zw4. Data based on WHO Global database on child growth and malnutrition Online (based on DHS, MICS, Country-specific Maternal and child health survey (MCHS) and Family Health Surveys (FHS)) ernorates with high household food and nutrition insecurity levels can easily be identified (see Fig. 10.2) to better direct resources. More generally, promoting such data sharing among policy makers and researchers in the Arab region would ultimately result in a better understanding of how to combat poverty and food insecurity. It could help identify biases in rural-urban expenditure and pinpoint governorate-level allocations and expenditure gaps (Breisinger et al. 2012).

 
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