#03 2020

South African Risk and Vulnerability Atlas releases new portal

By Dr Claire Davis-Reddy, Data Science Manager, SAEON uLwazi Node

The world is facing a number of complex global challenges. These include changes in the climate system as well as changes in biophysical and human systems such as urbanisation, deforestation, biodiversity loss and, more recently, the rise of pandemics.

Creating an enabling environment for communities, governments and sectors to respond to global change risks is critical to ensure future resilience. One essential component of responding to global change is open access to data in a format that is suitable for use (i.e. decision-ready).

South African Risk and Vulnerability Atlas*

The South African Risk and Vulnerability Atlas (SARVA) is in its third phase of development and a new portal was released in April 2020 – sarva.saeon.ac.za.

The aim of SARVA is to profile the vulnerability of local municipalities and proactively provide information to strengthen the ability of the people of South Africa to cope with a range of natural and anthropogenic hazards, including climate change, biodiversity loss and epidemics. SARVA will achieve this by providing open access to decision-ready data and translating the data and risk maps into a digestible narrative for decision-makers using a range of decision-support tools which include curated spatial data collections, indicator dashboards, infographics and a searchable atlas.

Researched blog reports on current topics

SARVA features several researched interactive reports on current topics including Covid-19 Preparedness Indicators. The purpose of these is to showcase datasets that can be used as indicators of important challenges being faced by South Africa. Upcoming examples include a review of the socio-economic impact of natural disasters.

Views of the Covid-19 Preparedness Indicators have reached more than 130 000, demonstrating the potential power of SAEON’s open access data to assist in planning initiatives both for Covid-19 and beyond (Picture: unsplash)

SARVA relies on infrastructure already developed by SAEON for the rapid development of decision-support systems based on properly published, standardised global change datasets. The platform combines multidisciplinary datasets from a range of organisations in a single point of access (demography, health, climate and global change drivers, among others).

Datasets published through SAEON’s Open Data Platform can be given a Digital Object Identifier which allows data providers to track downloads and citations through DataCite. SAEON’s repository is available at https://search.datacite.org/repositories/nrf.saeon.

SARVA is an open science portal that provides access to a growing collection of decision-ready data, dashboards, infographics and maps. The team is continually working on providing access to spatial and non-spatial data on global change hazards facing South Africa.


The features of SARVA 3 include:

  • An online searchable database that holds more than 500 different geospatial datasets at national, provincial, district and local study site scale.
  • Interactive infographics linked to curated data collections to assist in the translation of data from a variety of different sources into a consistent set of key messages on the vulnerability of communities.
  • Value-added products and tools including indicator dashboards that are organised according to the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
  • A District Municipality Risk Profiler that showcases exposure and vulnerability to a range of different hazards beyond that of climate change. This tool aims to assist in the implementation of the District Coordination Model.
  • The development of a federated data-processing platform to assist in coping with sensitive data and ensuring the protection of privacy.
  • The provision of data infrastructure and ICT services (e.g. SAEON has 300 TB of mirrored storage in three locations) for the storage, distribution, monitoring and curation of global change datasets.

Discover collections of curated data, interactive visualisations and dashboards on the major challenges facing South Africa.

User groups

SARVA serves different user groups requiring access to data.  These range from decision-makers to domain experts and the research community. SARVA can also serve technical software development teams who would like to reuse components developed by SAEON.

The content is driven by the data that SAEON has access to and which is openly provided by data providers and custodians. The ability to highlight key gaps in data as well as data access and availability will be vitally important to the users.

The SARVA portal is a living atlas and will be updated as new data are made available and as new tools and services are developed by SAEON.

*  SAEON is the lead agency and implementer of the South African Risk and Vulnerability Atlas, an initiative of the Department of Science and Innovation.

Facts and figures related to SDG 3: Good health and well-being