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poverty maps

Putting poverty on the map

Kathleen Beegle's picture

The expansion of household surveys in Africa can now show us the number of poor people in most countries in the region. This data is a powerful tool for understanding the challenges of poverty reduction. Due to the costs and complexity of these surveys, the data usually does not show us estimates of poverty at “local” levels. That is, they provide limited sub-national poverty estimates.
For example, maybe we can measure district or regional poverty in Malawi and Tanzania from the surveys, but what is more challenging is estimating poverty across areas within the districts or regions (known as “traditional authorities” in Malawi and “wards” in Tanzania).
 
To address this shortfall, several years ago a research team from the World Bank developed a technique for combining household surveys with population census data, and poverty maps were born.  Poverty maps can be used to help governments and development partners not only monitor progress, but also plan how resources are allocated. These maps depend on having access to census data that is somewhat close in time to the household survey data.  But what if there is no recent census (they are usually done every 10 years) or the census data cannot be obtained? (I will resist naming and shaming any specific country): we are left with no map.  Can we fill in the knowledge gaps in our maps?