This guest blog post was written by Miguel Ángel Dobrich and Gabriel Farías of Amenaza Roboto, a science and technology news website based in Montevideo, Uruguay, whose project won the 2023 Data Visualization Contest organized by the World Bank and the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data at the Data Festival in Punta del Este, Uruguay, on November 9, 2023.
The winning project's homepage in English, also available in Spanish and Portuguese.
Seven out of ten people in Uruguay live in coastal zones, a strip equivalent to only 3.6% of the country’s total surface area. The effects of climate change and real estate development are drastically modifying this strip of coastline. These changes are, in turn, impacting a large part of the population, their housing, critical infrastructure, areas of ecological interest, and some of the country’s main economic resources.
“From Drought to Floods: The Impact on Labor in the Coastal Zones of Uruguay, from East to West,” our data project tackling and explaining these issues, was awarded the data visualization prize at the 2023 Data Festival, and it is the most ambitious journalism project we have ever reported. At Amenaza Roboto, we believe that journalism should more effectively serve the needs of local communities, and in the “Global South,” smaller newsrooms can address topics that legacy and larger media organizations may overlook, and we try to fill that gap by running Uruguay’s sole data and climate journalism vertical.
Thanks to the support of The Pulitzer Center, in the framework of our award-winning project, we were able to do just that by focusing on how climate change is reshaping the lives of workers across Uruguay. Over six months, we analyzed governmental open databases on climate, socioeconomic, geographic, and satellite data to obtain information on the impact of climate on the population and their employment, with emphasis on the three vulnerable groups of workers: domestic workers, commuters, and artisanal fishermen. We also generated a database by using photogrammetry and LiDAR technology that was integrated with governmental open data through 3D visualizations.
LiDAR technology being applied for a flooding simulation in Ciudad del Plata, Uruguay. (Video: Amenaza Roboto)
Our extensive investigation analyzed the three groups of workers in three pilot areas (Montevideo, Ciudad del Plata, and Valizas) where climate change will affect working conditions and occupational safety. We found that climate change and climate variability are already impacting the lives of workers in Uruguay and are expected to leave impoverished populations in a more vulnerable situation. But through our project, we also established that data can help us tackle these challenges: by leveraging open data, as a society, we have the ability to make decisions and take crucial action before people in Uruguay are adversely affected by flood projections and other natural disasters.
What tools did we use to tell this story?
We used 21 open datasets from the Uruguayan Government and four datasets created by us for the research.
Our investigation is also based on 13 interviews conducted by us, and 19 national and regional documentary sources.
We used satellite images from Google Maps and Planet Labs.
We created our own maps.
And in our GitHub account you can access Amenaza Roboto’s LiDAR data and raw files.
What was our approach and methodology in building this project?
First, we involved scientists from different backgrounds in the day-to-day journalism process. Also, we aimed at working with data in an ethical manner and published all underlying datasets that were used in these investigations.
Second, open data is at the core of our storytelling process, reflected in adding a detailed description of our methodology, its sources and the statistical techniques used in analyzing it. With this, we also wanted to have an impact and show that academics, journalists, policymakers, and community organizers can better engage with the findings of journalistic investigations.
Audiences also play a pivotal role when building a data story. At Amenaza Roboto, we focused on serving as a tool to empower and promote behavioral changes in society, based on people’s appropriation of a problem. In this context, and by disseminating the effects of climate change, we aimed to highlight communities as relevant actors, and to integrate them – along with technical knowledge – into the sphere of political decision-making.
“From Droughts to Floods” is one of four impactful investigations we have undertaken in less than a year, using open data and benefitting from our country's policies that grant access to government databases. The key ingredient of our work is collaboration with a multidisciplinary and multicultural team, including working closely with scientists – like our esteemed science lead and geologist, Dr. Natalie Aubet (PhD) – who has spearheaded our research endeavors.
We hope that our efforts can inspire others across the world to tackle salient development issues, such as climate change, with the power of data.
You can find “From Drought to Floods” in Spanish, Portuguese and English here.