With more than eight million cases of COVID-19 in over 200 countries, the Coronavirus pandemic has not only wreaked havoc on health systems, but entire economies as well. ‘The Great Lockdown,’ as it is being dubbed, has already resulted in record unemployment and economists are now predicting global income will shrink by 3 percent - a contraction that dwarfs the Great Recession of 2008-2009 and rivals the Great Depression.
The harsh effects of the novel Coronavirus will also hit Kosovo’s economy – with the country’s GDP now expected to contract by 4.5 percent in 2020, a reversal of the pre-pandemic projections of 4 percent growth. Worse, remittances – which account for roughly 10-12 percent of Kosovo’s GDP and have traditionally acted as a counter-cyclical cushion – may also dry-up, given the global nature of the crisis.
What the extent of the COVID crisis demonstrates is that investments to respond and building resiliency can go a long way in saving lives and livelihoods - by simultaneously limiting the spread of the disease and blunting negative economic shocks. While investments in healthcare are obvious, geospatial investments — such as those planned in Kosovo under the World Bank-financed Real Estate Cadastre and Geospatial Infrastructure Project (REGIP) — are also critical, as they can support different sectors of the economy, including healthcare.
Mature spatial data infrastructure (SDI) is crucial because it brings together and analyzes both time and location – two decisive factors in any crisis response and particularly important when lives are at risk due to a highly contagious respiratory virus. A typical, mature SDI system incorporates a robust array of factors into its analysis – including good governance and policy, various standards, rich geospatial data sets, human and institutional capacity, time and others. However, a simple SDI, such as a geoportal with basic location data, can also provide practical support to COVID response efforts and pave the way for a more sophisticated information infrastructure in the medium- to long-run.
Many countries have relied on SDIs in their fight against COVID. The Republic of Korea, a leading example, has done well at containing the spread of COVID by leveraging its geospatial data, embedded both inside and outside its health system. GPS tracking of phones and vehicles, alongside call data records and credit card transaction information, was instrumental in contact tracing and breaking the contagion chain. What’s more is that Korea benefits from an extensive and fully integrated geospatial infrastructure. The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport (MOLIT), Ministry of Science and ICT (MSIT), and the Korean Center for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) operate an epidemiological investigation support system of COVID-19 diagnoses using smart city technology – “Smart City Data Hub” that was jointly developed by MOLIT and MSIT. The Korean National Spatial Information Portal is the key information infrastructure backbone of this system and ensures that data is shared in a way that facilitates real-time contact tracing, enables predictions of where the next hotspots are likely, and informs deployment of resources accordingly.
The Kosovo REGIP Project, which is pending parliamentary ratification, plans to support the development of Kosovo’s nascent SDI along similar lines by investing in datasets of economic priorities for Kosovo, upgrading the State Geoportal to bring it in line with international standards, ensuring interoperability of the portal with priority datasets to enable quick data sharing, and safeguarding data privacy. These investments could support COVID response efforts by enabling hotspot prediction, allowing the healthcare and social safety nets responses to reach those in most critical need. In the medium-term, these investments could also build Kosovo’s resilience against any subsequent wave of COVID until a vaccine becomes available. Higher resilience would also translate into lower economic impacts. Furthermore, making the Geoportal interoperable with some of the existing datasets—such as the civil registry, address register, and the social registry—could facilitate faster disbursement of government aid to vulnerable citizens.
In the medium- to long-run, the REGIP Project’s geospatial investments could also serve as an important lever for economic recovery. Studies show that expected benefits of geospatial information tend to be roughly 3.2 times larger than the initial investments. The benefits are driven by the fact that real-time sharing of different geospatial datasets can provide valuable information, improve the quality and speed of decision-making, and reduce duplicative data collection costs across different government agencies.
For example, the availability of land ownership data can expedite the establishment of a factory, and access to elevation data can ensure that new construction is built in safe locations away from landslide- or flood-prone areas — saving lives and safeguarding economic well-being against future disasters. The private sector could also benefit from access to open data or open API data that can help lower the cost of existing services or launch new ones as businesses gain access to data on customers, markets, supply chains, etc.
Geospatial investments present both short-term and longer-term benefits in Kosovo’s response to the COVID crisis and economic recovery plans that will follow. As Kosovo’s development partner, we at the World Bank remain committed to facilitating important infrastructure investments and international best practices to support Kosovo during the COVID crisis — with €14.6 million at hand as soon as the REGIP Project is ratified.