Statistics: Changing lives through the power of data

October 20, 2020

Fredy Rodríguez y Margarita Vaca

October 20, 2020

What are statistics? What are they for?

In general, statistics are associated with numbers and methodological processes. However, these go way beyond, being a fundamental tool when it comes to planning and economical, social and political development of any territory. Statistics become essential inputs for decision-making in many aspects, including budget approvals and the creation of social programs; For example, the approval of school feeding programs for the well-being of students, which can avoid school dropouts and health problems.

Since 2015, every five years, World Statistics Day is celebrated on October 20th to recognize the importance of statistics and how they shape our societies and the power of data as a way to improve lives. For this reason, each country has a National Statistical System that seeks to strengthen the production of national statistics that guarantee their relevance, timeliness and quality in decision-making.

What are the ten fundamental principles of official statistics?

The United Nations Statistical Commission adopted the global fundamental principles of official statistics in 1994. In 2014, they were adopted by the United Nations General Assembly. These principles recognize the essential value of official statistics for national and international development, the need for quality information for the analysis and the adoption of robust regulations for sustainable development, peace and security. Likewise, it highlights the importance of access to information by each citizen for individual and collective decision-making.

SOURCE: United Nations, 2012


Some statistical information that 2020 has left us

  1. The current world population is 7.674 million, of which 62.25% are between the ages of 15 and 74 (World Bank, 2020)
  2. More than a million people have died due to the pandemic (Institute Jhons Hopkins, 2020)
  3. As of September 2020, nearly 579 million school-age children are still affected by school closings and are facing the reality of distance education (UNESCO, 2020)
  4. Around 2 billion workers worldwide are informally employed, representing 61% of the global workforce (ILO, 2020).
  5. During the second trimester of 2020, the decrease in the number of working hours worldwide was 14% equivalent to 400 million full-time jobs (ILO, 2020)
  6. The volume of world merchandise trade is expected to decline by 9.2% in 2020 (WTO, 2020)
  7. Global GDP growth is expected to be -4.4% in 2020 and 5.2% in 2021 (IMF, 2020)
  8. During the first trimester of 2020, international tourist arrivals fell by 65% ​​compared to 2019, which means 440 million international arrivals and US $ 460 billion in export earnings from international tourism (OUNWTO, 2020)
  9. In the first four months, global fossil CO2 emissions decreased 7.8% (Cornell University, 2020)
  10. Between the first and second trimester of 2020, the use of telecommuting solutions increased by 324%. Online working applications include:,,,, and (ECLAC, 2020)

The challenges of official statistics

Statistics allow us to understand social dynamics and formulate public policies that respond to people’s needs and ensure equal opportunities to develop their capacities both in the present and in the future. However, global dynamics, technological advances and the need for information to provide answers in real time have significant challenges to statistical production.

  • Timely and disaggregated data: The pandemic has highlighted the need for up-to-date and real-time statistics for all territories and for all population groups in order to have sufficient inputs for rapid but justified decision-making.
  • Non-traditional data sources: The incorporation of non-traditional data sources that allow both complementing official statistics and measuring gaps or issues that have not yet been addressed through quality frameworks and processes of statistical rigor. Non-traditional data sources such as satellite images or big data allow lower costs, greater data disaggregation and better information opportunity.
  • Quality: Official statistics must consider the quality attributes required to have solid and reliable statistics for decision making. Relevance, precision, timeliness and accessibility are essential for the consolidation of the adequate statistical process.
  • Impartiality and independence: The producers of official information, especially the National Statistical Offices, must have full technical independence for the development of statistics. There is a need for updated statistical laws or legislative mechanisms that provide institutional strength to produce quality information.

Case: 2016 Ecuador earthquake and public policies

SOURCE: The New York Times

Statistics support public policy decisions to respond to unexpected events. A clear example is the role played by National Statistical Offices and other government actors to identify and characterize natural disaster situations. The case of the earthquake in Ecuador in 2016 that affected six provinces and where the National Institute of Statistics and Censuses (INEC) of the country identified the need for statistics to evaluate the impact of the disaster.

INEC began the field operation one month after the earthquake seeking a response to three main elements: 1) damages, 2) losses and 3) additional costs, contributing with its technical experience in the gathering, processing and analysis of the information. The results made it possible to identify material and economic losses of the population of various economic sectors to be addressed by local and national decision makers.

The survey that resulted from the operation, in addition to being the database of the people affected by this natural disaster, became the starting point for the Unique Registry of Victims. This information was delivered to the Coordinating Ministry of Social Development to support the targeting of benefits, such as rental bonds, for people who had lost their homes. Source: INEC, 2017, Reconstruyendo las cifras luego del sismo (esp). 


Share This