ReliefWeb API Provides Access to Historical and Real-Time Humanitarian Data

Janet Wagner, Data Journalist / Full Stack Developer
Apr. 22 2014, 08:04AM EDT

ReliefWeb, a specialized digital service of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), has announced the release of ReliefWeb API, which provides access to disaster-related data and humanitarian information collected by the UN.

Disaster Tracker prototype application

The Disaster Tracker prototype application uses the ReliefWeb API.

ReliefWeb provides disaster-related data and humanitarian information going back more than 17 years. ReliefWeb editors collect data around the clock from more than 4,000 global information sources. ProgrammableWeb reached out to Andrew Kobylinski, product marketing and communications officer at ReliefWeb, who explained how ReliefWeb content is curated and reviewed:

ReliefWeb is made up of over 550,000 pieces of humanitarian information dating back to 1971. This includes items such as reports, research, maps, news, analysis, assessments, manuals, and guidelines. What we do is search the web for humanitarian information and republish it in one location. We have a team of about 30 editors, who are located across the globe and work 24/7 to find, assess, review and post humanitarian content onto ReliefWeb.

The ReliefWeb API was created specifically for humanitarian developers, who can use the API to build innovative third-party applications for disaster relief organizations and the humanitarian community around the world.

The API provides programmatic access to the entire ReliefWeb database which includes reports, research, maps, news, analysis, etc. UN reports on major disasters that occurred in the 1980s can be accessed using the API. Jobs and training data is also available; however, the data that can be accessed starts at the year 2011. The ReliefWeb API also provides access to real-time humanitarian and disaster-related data for use in next-generation applications.

ReliefWeb, Development Seed and Phase2 were all involved in the development of the new ReliefWeb API. Phase2, a digital content strategy, design and technology firm, was charged with ensuring the ReliefWeb API's functionality. Phase2's responsibilities included adding automation in both testing and deployment, improving scalability and infrastructure, improving the API documentation, and other items related to developer experience. Adam Ross, software architect at Phase2, told ProgrammableWeb:

The ReliefWeb API is a thin application layer built on top of an ElasticSearch datastore. ElasticSearch provides amazing capabilities in complex data mining and exploration. The application layer on top provides a layer of glossy, positive user experience achieved by creating an intuitive, easy-to-use system that enables innovation. That "Developer Experience" is created with strong documentation, resource-oriented URIs, hypermedia flavor, JSON payloads, browser support and caching guidance.

Phase2 describes in detail the technological features of the new ReliefWeb API in a recent blog post.

Development Seed is a creative data visualization and mapping team that helps organizations use data to explain complex issues and make better decisions. Development Seed worked with ReliefWeb and Phase2 to help strategize development priorities and build a public rollout plan for promoting and priming usage of the ReliefWeb API. Development Seed also used the ReliefWeb API, along with filtered data from Twitter, to create an application that tracks the Ebola hemorrhagic fever outbreak in Guinea. The application is a simple disaster-tracking dashboard which is open source and can be forked on GitHub.

The Disaster Tracker application is listed on the ReliefWeb Labs site which provides tools and applications to help the humanitarian community. In addition to the Disaster Tracker application, ReliefWeb Labs features applications such as Content Trends, Interactive Maps, and Humanitarian Data Exchange.

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Earlier this month, the new ReliefWeb API was introduced to developers at the Drupal NYC Camp. Developers learned about the tactics used in designing and documenting the API, viewed an example application powered by the API, learned why Elastic Search was used over SOLR, and much more. Kobylinski says developers expressed a keen interest in the ReliefWeb API and "were impressed that they can access quality tagged content that is continuously updated and maintained." He also told ProgrammableWeb:

Developers also expressed keen interest in exploring trends from individual humanitarian topics such as gender. They were also keen on the opportunity to explore key word searches within content. These are endeavors which we have not yet attempted, so we are very delighted that the humanitarian developer community is interested in exploring these approaches and possibly building applications that could assist the humanitarian community."

For more information about ReliefWeb and the ReliefWeb API, visit ReliefWeb.int.

By Janet Wagner. Janet is a data journalist and full stack developer based in Toledo, Ohio. Her focus revolves around APIs, open data, data visualization and data-driven journalism. Follow her on Twitter, Google+ and LinkedIn.

Janet Wagner Janet is a data journalist and full stack developer based in Toledo, Ohio. Her focus revolves around APIs, open data, data visualization and data-driven journalism. Follow her on Twitter: @webcodepro and on Google+

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