2016 was the hottest year on Earth since modern records began in 1880, and 16 of the 17 hottest years on record have occurred since 2001.
Tolstoy's War and Peace was the big data of its time. A memorable moment from the epic novel occurs when Prince Andrei awakens following a severe injury on the battlefield. He fears the worst but, "above him there was nothing but the sky, the lofty heavens, not clear, yet immeasurably lofty, with gray clouds slowly drifting across them. 'How quiet, solemn, and serene, not at all as it was when I was running.'" Time appears to slow down and the Prince sees life more lucidly than ever before as he discovers the potential for happiness within him.
In many ways the scene captures what we demand of big data—not the bustle of zillions of data points as confusing as the fog of war, but sharp, clear insights that bring the right information into relief and help us connect strands previously unseen. The question of whether this idea is achievable is the starting point of a paper about big data on trade and competitiveness just published by the World Bank Group. In it, we asked—can big data help policy makers see the world in ways they haven't before? Are decisions that are informed by the vast amounts of data that envelop us better than decisions based on traditional tools? We didn't want a story trumpeting the miracles of big data; we wanted instead to see the reality of big data in action, in its messiness and its splendor.
While stuck in I-66 traffic one morning, a colleague and I had a vigorous debate on the merits of open-source versus proprietary software. I was left with the realization of how much misinformation still persists about this particular subject.
This discussion prompted me to be more proactive about advocating for the adoption of open-source technology. I believe we are just beginning to explore the possibilities for these tools in reducing poverty and ensuring sustainable development.
- Sustainable Communities
Between now and 2050, Africa will add over 1 billion people to its population.
That’s a startling statement about something that’s 30 years in the future. One group with a record of making such long-range projections is demographers like Dr. John May with the Population Reference Bureau.
In our discussion with John, he explains that the growth and structure of populations is linked to one fundamental issue: mortality rates. When infant and child mortality rates decline, fertility rates also eventually decline and population growth slows down. And as life expectancies increase, the share of older people in a country’s population goes up.
But it turns out things are a bit more complicated than that, and there are large implications for public policy that are ultimately driven by demography.
Even when a region like Africa has declining fertility rates, “population momentum” means that countries will continue to grow. With this growth comes the need for better infrastructure, services, and crucially, jobs.
By one estimate, the global economy will need to add 600 million jobs over the next 10 years - mostly in Africa and Asia - just to keep up with young people entering the workforce.
So how is demography shaping our future, and how can we make it the future we want?
This episode of Between 2 Geeks is hosted by Tariq Khokhar & Raka Banerjee, and produced by Richard Miron. You can chat with us on twitter with the hashtag #Between2Geeks , listen to new episodes on the World Bank Soundcloud Channel and subscribe to “World Bank’s Podcasts” in your podcast app or on iTunes.
Nearly 1.1 billion people or 15 percent of the world’s population had no access to electricity in 2014. Nearly half were in rural areas of Sub-Saharan Africa, and nearly a third were rural dwellers in South Asia. In all, 86 percent of people without electricity lived in rural areas, where providing infrastructure is more challenging. Read more in the Global Tracking Framework and their 2017 report on progress towards sustainable energy.
I find data to be a great way of getting into a subject.
Take forests for example. Making this map about where forests have been lost and gained since 1990 led me down a wonderful rabbit hole of learning about China’s successful reforestation programs, how forests support people’s livelihoods, the definitions of what counts as a forest (hint: it’s not just “a bunch of trees”), and how organizations use a variety of sources from nationals surveys to satellite imagery to produce this data.
Not only is there a story behind every number, but numbers can help to tell the story of development.
We’ve got a great lineup of guests, and discuss topics including Africa’s “demographic dividend” - how population structures are shaping the future of the region; a new risk insurance mechanism designed to help stop pandemics like the 2014 West African Ebola outbreak; and how metadata from cell phone networks can be used to estimate measures of migration and poverty.
Just like the forest map, I’ve found each episode to be a peek into the rabbit hole of a new subject - I’ve learned how to better communicate about uncertainty, the economics of large scale renewable energy systems, and what the future of how data is produced and used may look like.
We’ve really enjoyed making the first series of this podcast and we hope you’ll tune in. The opening episode will be available on Tuesday April 4th - it’ll be posted here on The Data Blog, on the World Bank’s SoundCloud channel, and you can subscribe to “World Bank’s Podcasts” in your podcast app or on iTunes.
In this era of alternative facts, the use of high-quality data to set the record straight is more important than ever. In Africa, there has been a pressing need to revisit the conventional wisdom on the region’s agriculture. However, relevant data—where available—have long been outdated and inadequate.
With this in mind, the World Bank’s Africa Chief Economist Office and its partners initiated the Agriculture in Africa– Telling Facts from Myths project. It explores the validity of the conventions surrounding Africa’s agriculture and its farmers’ livelihoods that experts and policymakers considered as self-evident truths. The impact of such stylized facts cannot be underestimated. They shape the policy debates and drive research agendas
Now, a Special Issue of Food Policy brings together 12 open-access articles based on the project, drawing mainly on data from the first rounds (2009–2012) of the nationally representative Living Standards Measurement Study-Integrated Surveys on Agriculture (LSMS-ISA). Four innovative features of the LSMS-ISA data—integration, individualization, ICT use, and intertemporal tracking—allowed for a more refined insight into African agriculture and rural livelihoods.
In most regions of the world, over 70 percent of freshwater is used for agriculture. By 2050, feeding a planet of 9 billion people will require an estimated 50 percent increase in agricultural production and a 15 percent increase in water withdrawals.
Over the last 25 years Brazil lost around half a million square kilometers of forest - around the same area that China gained. Since 1990, the growing demand for forest products and for agricultural land has contributed to an average annual loss of 50,000 square kilometers of forest globally - an area the size of Costa Rica. Read more in "Five forest figures for the International Day of Forests."
The fragile and conflict situations in which the World Bank Group supports development programs are seen as a top and increasingly urgent strategic priority for the institution and donors, and the Bank Group is increasing attention and focus there (note the WBG’s paper “The Forward Look”). The statistics related to fragile situations are staggering. Two billion people live in countries where development outcomes are affected by fragility, conflict and violence. Nearly fifty percent of the global poor is predicted to be living in fragile and conflict affected situations by 2030. Terrorism incidents have increased and forced displacement is a global crisis.
The WBG pays close attention to what its key stakeholders in client countries think about development and the work of the Bank through its Country Opinion Survey program - a mandated survey effort that assesses the views of influential across the Bank’s client countries annually (40+ countries/year on three year cycles). By keeping ‘ears to the ground’ it can understand what the institution’s key stakeholders think about their own development situations, the Bank’s work within this context, and how the Bank can increase its value in these increasingly difficult and complicated situations. The data below reflects opinions from more than one thousand opinion leaders in FCV countries.