Visualising the world’s response to Covid-19 through online trackers

More than a year after the first confirmed case of Covid-19, and almost eleven months after the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared a pandemic, there are few areas of local, regional and global politics, policy and society that have not been impacted by the global health crisis. Peace processes and conflict-affected areas across the world are no exception. Researchers at the Political Settlements Research Programme (PSRP) at the University of Edinburgh and partners in the Covid Collective research platform, have been tracking the nexus between conflict, peace, and Covid-19 since the beginning of the pandemic. To help inform peace and conflict research at a time of rapid and often unparalleled change, PSRP has developed the Covid-19 Library of Trackers, a curated selection of trackers that trace developments during Covid-19 in a wide variety of areas – such as border controls, human rights and freedom of speech – which may impact peace and conflict processes across the globe.

On the 23 March 2020, United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres called for a global ceasefire, asking ‘warring parties to lay down their weapons and support the fight against Covid-19’. Whilst the call was met with global enthusiasm and had tangible effects in certain conflicts, PSRP’s Covid-19 Ceasefire Tracker, which monitors ceasefires alongside live data on in-country infection rates, shows that no conflict has seen long-lasting ceasefire as a result of the call.

Tracking the impact of Covid-19

Instead, PSRP research has shown that there are a range of wider consequences of the pandemic that have implications for peace processes across the world.  Like the spread of the virus itself, many of these phenomena are being tracked by different actors, institutions and individuals across the globe. To help inform research on the nexus between peace, conflict, and Covid-19, PSRP has brought these trackers together in the Covid-19 Library of Trackers, a curated collection of online trackers that monitor social, political and economic developments during Covid-19.

While there are other ‘trackers of trackers’ (eg the Oxford University ‘super tracker’), our library is not just a list, but also a curation of how trackers use visualisation to connect and provide ways through different types of tracker. It includes not only ‘tracker’ type Covid-19 resources, and curates them according to broad area, but also includes the nature of the visualisation. We have taken this approach thanks to PSRP’s ongoing PeaceTech interest in bringing together peace and conflict data from disparate sources.

Whilst not intended to be exhaustive, the Library includes a vast scope and variety of trackers illustrative of variety in how trackers can be created and visualised. The trackers included in the Library span from the International Food Policy Research Institute’s changes in trade policy during the pandemic, to the UN Women Covid-19 and Gender Monitor, which maps out the implications of the global health crisis on women. Other trackers included JHUCSSE, Oxford, Worldometer for health type; Crisis Watch, GenevaCall, MAAPSS, UCDP, ACLED for conflict type; GSOD, ICNL, ACAPS for civic space; and  there are more pertaining to social policy and economy trackers. Among the many trackers, the Apple Maps and Google APIs have been providing useful data on mobility patterns during the pandemic and also provide their infrastructure and design freely to study and devise solutions.

The library facilitates a snapshot view of different types of online trackers and interested users can quickly get an idea of which tracker offers which facilities just by clicking and selecting functionalities such as type of tracker, data type available, visualisation available, global and regional extent and more.

The peace-conflict-Covid-19 nexus

For PSRP, whose research centrally focuses on how peace processes attempt to revitalise political settlements to make them more inclusive, the data available through the trackers in the Library has helped inform our research on the peace-conflict-Covid-19 nexus. Our Covid-19 oriented research includes a blogpost series on Yemen’s response to the health crisis, a report on the impact of the Covid-19 crisis on the Kurdistan region of Iraq and a report on the impact of Covid-19 on the lives of refugees/IDPs in South Sudan, as well as the Covid-19 Ceasefires Tracker. The library of trackers has helped guide users about what different types of trackers have been created during the pandemic, and how one tracker compares to another with respect to the data and facilities offered. It can show whether a tracker shows a map, or data file, or graphics, or has an API to connect to its database. This way it is possible to have an idea of which facilities are more meaningful in a tracker.

Whilst PSRP research focuses on the nexus between conflict and peace, the trackers included in the Library of Trackers expands well beyond this nexus. As such, the Tracker can help visualise available data and inform research in a range of other research areas. By gathering data from a wide array of sources in one place, allowing customised filtering settings, and using visualisation as a way of connecting different type of trackers, we hope that the Library of Trackers will increase the accessibility for researchers and others to the wide array of data gathering on economic, health, civic space, conflict and other developments that are taking place during the pandemic.

Access the Library of Trackers: https://dbhatedin.github.io/CuratedTrackersLibrary. For more information on PSRP and our research on Covid-19, visit www.politicalsettlements.org/covid-19.

This piece was originally published on the IDS website.

About the Authors

Dr Devanjan Bhattacharya is a MSCA Train@Ed Postdoctoral Fellow with the Political Settlements Research Programme, focusing on collaborative map visualisations for participation and mediation in peace processes. Devanjan holds a PhD and Masters degree in Geomatics Engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology. His research interests include geospatial data analytics, digital mapping, smart cities applications, spatial data infrastructure, internet of things, and artificial intelligence in geoinformatics.

Anne Funnemark is a Research Assistant with the PSRP. She completed her postgraduate degree in International Human Rights Law (LLM) in 2020, writing her project-based dissertation for the programme. Her research interest includes climate change and conflict, climate justice and women’s rights in peace processes. Anne also holds a MA in International Relations from the University of Edinburgh and is engaged in climate and environmental work in Scotland.