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What Open Data Can Do for Africa's Growing Population

Luda Bujoreanu's picture


Cross posted from the IC4D Blog

Back in June I rushed to take a front seat at one of the World Bank conference rooms to hear Dr. Hans Rosling speak. We had met years ago in Moldova, and just like last time, his talk was sharp, funny and full of “aha” moments.

He unveiled what the future holds: the global population will almost double by 2100, with Africa—a continent where I have worked for the last five years—leading in explosive population growth between 2015 and 2050.

Today, African governments struggle to deliver basic services to their people—including and particularly to the very poor and marginalized—across sectors, most notably health, sanitation, and education. Food security is likewise a crucial issue for the region, as are so many others: environmental sustainability, disaster risk management, economic development and others.

The future of the world’s population in 4 charts

Tariq Khokhar's picture
Also available in: العربية | 中文 | Français | Español

Last week, the UN released updated population figures and projections. I just had a chance to go through them and the great key findings document (PDF, 1MB) that accompanies them.

But before I dive in, how accurate are these projections? What kind of track record do UN demographers have? The most comprehensive answer I could find was Nico Keilman’s 2001 paper which Hans Rosling refers to in this video. He notes that in 1958, when the UN projected the population in 2000 to be ~6 Billion (it was then 42 years into the future) they ended up being out by less than 5%. The short answer is: these projections are pretty good.

OK, back to the new data released in 2015: here are some of the trends that stand out for me. Note that I’m using the UN’s regional groupings rather than the World Bank’s

1) The world’s population is projected to reach 11.2 billion in 2100


There are 7.3 billion people alive today and while the world’s population continues to grow, it’s growing more slowly than in the past. We can expect to see an additional billion people added over the next 15 years, and about a billion more 10 years later, reaching a total population of 9.7 billion in 2050.

Data Lab Link Roundup: Dat goes Beta, visualizing machine learning, a clinical trial simulator, the Hadleyverse, and a standard deviation puzzle

Tariq Khokhar's picture

Here are some things that caught our attention last week:

What are trade blocs and how do two of Latin America’s largest compare?

Saulo Teodoro Ferreira's picture
Also available in: Español | Français

Trade blocs are intergovernmental agreements intended to bring economic benefits to their members by reducing barriers to trade.

Some well known trade blocs include the European Union, NAFTA and the African Union. Through encouraging foreign direct investment, increasing competition, and boosting exports, trade blocs can have numerous benefits for their members.

In Latin America, Mercosur and the more recently formed Pacific Alliance blocs together represent about 93 percent of the region's GDP at 2014 market prices. Who participates in these trade blocs and how do they compare?

Size, membership and performance of Mercosur and The Pacific Alliance

​The Pacific Alliance is a Latin American trade bloc formed in 2011 among Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru. Together the four countries have a combined population of about 221.3 million and GDP of $2.1 trillion. The Southern Common Market (Mercosur) created in 1991, includes Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Venezuela. Together the five Mercosur countries have 285.0 million inhabitants and GDP of $3.5 trillion.

One of the areas intended to benefit from these agreements, trade within the blocs, accounts for about 4 percent of the Pacific Alliance's total trade and about 14 percent in Mercosur.

Data Lab Link Roundup: Worm wars, csvkit, machine learning platforms, Jeep hacking, and a $12 satellite imagery receiver

Tariq Khokhar's picture

Here are some things that caught our attention last week:

  • Matt Gray points out that American NOAA Weather Satellites transmit pictures via FM radio at 137MHz. Which, as Matt demonstrates, means you could use a $12 USB dongle and a laptop to receive and decode images from space.

  • “Worm Wars” may sound like an unlikely Summer blockbuster, but the debate surrounding a recent re-analysis of Edward Miguel and Michael Kremer’s 2004 deworming study has been making headlines in development circles. It provides an excellent argument for publishing data and methods alongside all research (bravo to the authors for doing so) and I’d recommend Ben Goldacre’s excellent overview of the issue, Chris Blattman’s take on it, and World Bank colleague Berk Ozler’s review of the reanalysis as well.

  • Chrysler issued a recall of about 1.4M vehicles after hackers / researchers managed to take control of a Jeep over the internet. It turns out it was possible to remotely hack the “Uconnect” system in these cars just by knowing the vehicle’s IP address. This is *really* alarming and while there are some legislative options on the table, it’s a sobering reminder that security engineering needs to be at the heart of internet connected devices, and that Commander Adama was, as usual, right.

  • Machine learning is a part of modern computer science and statistics and deals with getting systems to make and improve on predictions based on data. Commoditized machine learning platforms are starting to get pretty good, and lett you quickly try out and visualize various models. Check out Microsoft’s Azure Machine Learning, BigML, IBM Watson Analytics and Amazon Machine Learning.

  • If you’re familiar with unix-like command line tools and work with CSV files, I’d highly recommend checking out CSVKit. It’s a set of utilities for displaying, manipulating and analysing CSV files. Three years after discovering it, CSVKit and Open Refine are two of my most used “data-wrangling” tools.. And if you’re not familiar with command-line tools, CSVKit is a great place to start!

  • Finally, if you’ve not already seen it, check out the new homepage - it’s a beautiful example of mobile-friendly responsive design in action. It weighs in at 1.2Mb which these days is not too shabby, but for an overview of how not to design a fast, low-bandwidth responsive site, here’s one blogger’s take on The Verge.

MDG5: Despite progress, improving maternal health is still a challenge

Haruna Kashiwase's picture
Also available in: 中文 | العربية | Français | Español

This is the fifth in a series of posts on data related the Millennium Development Goals based on the 2015 Edition of World Development Indicators.

Millennium Development Goal 5  is to "Improve maternal health" and is measured against a target to “Reduce by three quarters, between 1990 and 2015, the maternal mortality ratio” and to “Achieve, by 2015, universal access to reproductive health”

In 2013, 99% of world’s 289,000 maternal deaths occurred in developing countries

Screen Shot 2015-07-14 at 1.00.17 PM.png

According to the WHO, every day, around 800 women lose their lives before, during, or after child delivery. In 2013, more than half of all maternal deaths occurred in Sub-Saharan Africa, and about a quarter occurred in South Asia.

However, countries in both South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa have made great progress in reducing the maternal mortality ratio. In South Asia it fell from 550 per 100,000 live births in 1990 to 190 in 2013, a drop of 65 percent. In Sub-Saharan Africa, where rates are more than double those of South Asia, they’ve also dropped by almost 50 percent over the same period.

These achievements are impressive, but progress in reducing maternal mortality ratios has been slower than the 75 percent reduction between 1990 and 2015 targeted by the MDGs. Aside from a handful of countries, no developing regions on average are likely to achieve the target. But the average annual rate of decline has accelerated from 1.1 percent over 1990–95 to 3.1 percent over 2005–13.

Data Lab Link Roundup: African undersea cables, fish volatility, AAAA, outlier detection, cold war maps and 100 interesting data sets

Tariq Khokhar's picture
Also available in: 中文

Here are some things that caught our attention last week.

  • If you’ve ever seen a map of Africa’s undersea cables, chances are it was made by Steve Song. He just released the July 2015 update of the map and I love this GIF of the map’s history since 2000.  Bonus question: do you know which of the cables was supported by the World Bank? This is literally the “physics of the internet”

MDG4: A dramatic decline in child mortality over the last 20 years

Dereje Ketema Wolde's picture
Also available in: 中文 | العربية | Français | Español

This is the fourth in a series of posts on data related the Millennium Development Goals based on the 2015 Edition of World Development Indicators.

Millennium Development Goal 4  is to "Reduce child mortality" and is measured against a target to “Reduce by two-thirds, between 1990 and 2015, the under-five mortality rate”. It includes indicators to measure the under-5 mortality rate, the infant mortality rate and the proportion of 1-year olds immunized against measles.

17,000 fewer children now die each day compared with 1990

Screen Shot 2015-05-19 at 12.12.43 PM.png

In 1990 13 million children died before their fifth birthday, by 1999 it was less than 10 million, and by 2013 it had fallen to just over 6 million. This means that at least 17,000 fewer children now die each day compared with 1990.

In 1990 the average under-five mortality rate for all developing countries was 99 deaths per 1,000 live births; in 2013 it had fallen to 50 or about half the 1990 rate. This is tremendous progress. But based on the current trend, developing countries as a whole are likely to fall short of the Millennium Development Goal target. Despite rapid improvements since 2000, child mortality rates in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia remain considerably higher than in the rest of the world


Data Lab Link Roundup: Data impacts, satellite economics, bitsquatting, a favorite number, giving trees email addresses and more...

Tariq Khokhar's picture

An example of a bit-error changing a URL as part of Artem Dinaburg's bitsquatting post  

Here are some (of the rather a lot of) things that caught our attention last week.

  • I’m a huge fan of creative open data /  civic engagement initiatives such as “Adopt a Hydrant”. Cities are in a unique position to experiment with this kind of approach, but when the City of Melbourne assigned trees with email addresses so citizens could report problems, citizens also took some time to pen little love letters to their favorite trees. This is my kind of Internet of Things.

On World Population Day, I'm older than 54% of the world's population. What about you?

Tariq Khokhar's picture
Also available in: 中文 | Español | Français | العربية


How do you fit into the global population distribution? via

I’m a huge fan of demography. I think it’s vital to understand the changing size, structure and distribution of the world’s population in order to make sense of pretty much any other trend - from poverty and inequality to urbanization and education.

Not only is population one of the most common denominators you’ll see in development statistics, it affects the decisions of individuals and policy makers on a daily basis. Where to buy a house? Where to invest in new public transport infrastructure or roads? How to plan social safety nets and welfare policies for the future?

But what about getting a personal perspective? How do you fit into the world’s population as a whole?

Using to find your place in the world

Something the data lab team has been working on, along with collaborators from around the world, is The World Population Project - an interactive tool you can find at

You enter your birthdate, sex, and country of birth, and you’re presented with a series of demographic statistics and visualizations. The chart at the top of the post shows my relative position it the World’s population (it’s effectively a population pyramid with no gender dimension) and the site then offers some other interesting perspectives on my life.