World Bank and Geospatial Data

Mark Altaweel


Economies increasingly depend on geospatial data to power knowledge on everything from behavior of consumers to monitoring agriculture and anticipating potential environmental threats. While this is the case for developed countries, in the developing world many countries need assistance to help energize economic growth using geospatial data.

Since 2010, the World Bank has increasingly focused on providing open data, including open geospatial data; however, only recently have they focused on a more robust and developed framework in which countries could more directly benefit.[1]

The World Bank in August 2018 launched the Integrated Geospatial Information Framework, which is seen as a way for GIS data to be provided for governments, NGOs, and companies to make more informed decisions that not only benefit their economies but also enable sustainable development. It is also the first fully structured and standardized geospatial dataset provided directly for governments and other entitites.

Data standards and interoperability are a key part of the application in the framework. There are nine ‘pillars,’ as they are called by the World Bank, which includes: governance and institutions, policy and legal, financial, data, innovation, standards, partnerships, capacity and education, and communication and engagement.

Free weekly newsletter

Fill out your e-mail address to receive our newsletter!

World Bank GIS data catalog
World Bank’s GIS data catalog

These tools all have information on how they can be used and used together for government, business, and non-profit applications.[2]

Small island states in the Pacific, for instance, have used it to monitor climate change threats and help create mitigation and management disaster plans.

National governments are also trying to use the framework to help small, local businesses use the framework to better provide geospatial data and services to the local economies. In parallel with this development, the World Bank is now providing aid in helping countries to develop infrastructure, policies, laws, and internal geospatial datasets.[3]

Additionally, the World Bank has begun to partner with Esri to help with data acquisition and analysis in what it provides.[4]

YouTube video

Examples of a developing country startup that is beginning to exemplify what the World Bank is intending includes the company Swvl in Egypt. It is a application-based geospatial tool that allows riders of public transport to find their best options in cities such as Cairo.

In areas of sustainability, the WorldBank has used geospatial data to enable better land use planning and monitoring in Sierra Leone, where unplanned land use has led to mudslides and have potentially led to severe environmental consequences. Better monitoring and knowing who has rights to which land could enable risk assessments to be made by the government and prevent or limit disasters such as mudslides.[5]

In 2016, the World Bank published a report that details potential benefits but also threats that disruptive technologies could have for developing countries. Traditional networks and businesses, for instance, can be threatened, which could lead to rapid unemployment.

Development plans and use of potentially disruptive geospatial technologies should be considered how they can also be integrated with traditional businesses and development plans, minimizing sensitivities to changes caused to employment or social stability in countries.[6]

An assessment of more than 100 houses near the mudslide area revealed high risks of more mudslides and rock fall in the next rainy season. (Source: World Bank)
An assessment of more than 100 houses near the mudslide area revealed high risks of more mudslides and rock fall in the next rainy season. (Source: World Bank)

Increasingly, the World Bank has seen geospatial technologies as a means for developing countries to benefit, including in areas of economy and better preparing for climate change and environmental disasters.

However, threats are present, as highlighted by the World Bank itself, where disruptive technologies could create rapid social changes and undermine some businesses, causing instability in the labor markets or even within society. A balanced approach that integrates traditional business, and fosters a collaborative environment, could help minimize disruptions while also enabling new technologies to provide greater social and economic benefits.

External monitoring of how the World Bank data are used should also be conducted to ensure that development does not sacrifice sustainability and environmental impact, goals which the World Bank says it fully supports.


[1]    For more on how the World Bank has used open data since 2010, see:

[2]    For more on the Integrated Geospatial Information Framework, see:

[3]    For more on some World Bank work in using and providing geospatial technologies to countries, see:

[4]    For more on the Esri and World Bank partnerships, see:

[5]    For more on how the World Bank is trying to assist Sierra Leone in better developing land use policy using geospatial data, see:

[6]    For more on the World Bank report in 2016, see:


Photo of author
About the author
Mark Altaweel
Mark Altaweel is a Reader in Near Eastern Archaeology at the Institute of Archaeology, University College London, having held previous appointments and joint appointments at the University of Chicago, University of Alaska, and Argonne National Laboratory. Mark has an undergraduate degree in Anthropology and Masters and PhD degrees from the University of Chicago’s Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations.