Liverpool data science firm helps to save lives in Nepal

A Liverpool technology company is helping aid workers to tackle the humanitarian crisis in Nepal – by providing them access to the data they need to manage relief efforts.

ScraperWiki, which has received funding from The North West Fund for Venture Capital which is managed by Enterprise Ventures, specialises in the emerging field of data science. It helped to set up the Humanitarian Data Exchange (HDX), a UN website which brings together statistics and intelligence from different sources to help aid agencies respond more effectively to crises and disasters.

Now the HDX has been proving its worth in the wake of the Nepal earthquake in April, which left over 8,700 dead and 2.8 million in need of assistance. The Nepal earthquake page on the HDX site provides relief workers access to over 80 different datasets, covering everything from census data and details of local infrastructure to casualty figures, and an interactive map showing the location of camps.

ScraperWiki continues to work closely with the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) to increase access to humanitarian data through the HDX site.

Aidan McGuire of ScraperWiki says:

“Aid agencies do a remarkable job but ultimately the impact they make depends on having the right information to hand – such as details of casualties, local and the resources available in the area. This information is usually held by many different organisations and in different formats. Now for the first time, developments in data science allow us to bring such information together very quickly and even combine it with data from mobile phones and social media to give relief workers a much clearer picture.

“The Nepal earthquake, and the ebola outbreak before that, have proved the value of HDX when planning relief efforts. Now more organisations are coming forward to offer access to their own data, the most recent being the World Food Programme. The more quality data that is included, the more powerful a tool it becomes.”

ScraperWiki, which is based on Liverpool Science Park, was founded by Aidan McGuire and Julian Todd in 2009 with initial funding from Channel 4. In 2012 it secured a million dollar funding deal led by Enterprise Ventures which included investment from The North West Fund for Venture Capital, to help it to improve its technology platform and build its business offering. The company now employs eight people.

Doug Stellman Investment Director of Enterprise Ventures said ScraperWiki had been very active in the open data movement, which encourages organisations to make data freely available:

“Many organisations, particularly governmental, have realised that they have valuable information locked away, but by making it widely available important new uses of the data can be developed. ScraperWiki has software that helps unlock the data as well as consulting skills to make it available in the appropriate structures. It is doubly pleasing to see these skills put to use in humanitarian situations.”

The North West Fund for Venture Capital is part of the £155m North West Fund and is financed jointly by the European Regional Development Fund and the European Investment Bank.

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