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17 statistics for World Statistics Day (and why we need to invest in them)

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Today’s celebration of World Statistics Day comes right after Sunday’s International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, last month’s UN General Assembly agreeing the Sustainable Development Goals and the launch of the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data.  

A common thread? Better data leads to better lives.

World Statistics Day celebrates the role of statistics, the institutions and individuals that produce them, and the impact they have in designing and monitoring the policies and services that can improve people’s wellbeing.

The World Bank’s commitment to improve statistics and fill data gaps 


There are some big gaps in country-level data - gaps in what we know. We consider this “data deprivation”  an overlooked dimension of poverty.  That’s why we’re working with our partners to identify priority investments to close these gaps.

The areas we’ll initially focus on include: ensuring universal civil registration of births and deaths; improving economic statistics; expanding the coverage of household surveys in the world’s poorest countries; and taking advantage of new technologies and data sources to improve data production and use.  

Statistics are vital. We’re working to make them better, so they can be used better. 

So without further ado, my colleages around the Bank have put together 17 statistics that stand out for them  - some you may know, some you may not, all of them related to the Sustainable Development Goals:

1) The global poverty rate is expected to fall below 10% in 2015 


The first SDG is about “ending poverty in all its forms everywhere ” and for me, it’s been the headline ambition of the whole SDG process. New data projects the global poverty rate falling below double digits for the first time this year.

2) The world needs to produce at least 50% more food by 2050 to feed a projected 9 billion people 


In order to meet SDG2’s ambition of ending hunger, we’ll need agricultural innovations that boost productivity, as well as better land and water management to meet the needs of a growing population.


3) 400 million people worldwide lack access to essential health services 



Essential health services are typically delivered through primary health care and SDG3’s focus on health and wellbeing aims to see universal health coverage and across the board reductions in preventable and treatable deaths.


4) 250 million primary school-aged children cannot read or write although many have been in school 



Many measures of education just focus on coverage, but SDG4 is all about a high quality education that’s accessible to all.



5) 90% of countries have at least one legal restriction for women seeking economic opportunities 

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The Women, Business and the Law study found that 155 out of 173 countries had at least one legal gender difference that restricted economic opportunities for women. SDG5 aims to achieve gender equality and to make such differences a relic of the past.


6) 2.4 billion people do not have access to toilets, and of these, 946 million still defecate in the open   



Poor sanitation is linked to transmission of diseases  such as cholera, diarrhoea, dysentery, hepatitis A, typhoid and polio. SDG6 seeks sustainable access to water and sanitation for all.


7) Globally, 1.1 billion people still don’t have access to electricity 


In some countries, less than 10% of the population has access to electricity. Considerable effort and investment will be needed to reach the ambitions of clean and affordable energy in  SDG7.


8.  In South Asia, 60% of working women are employed in the agricultural sector 


SDG8 aims for inclusive growth and and productive employment for both men and women.


9. Globally, about 1 in 1,000 people work in research and development (R&D) 


Innovation is a key part of SDG9 and will require smart investment in technology development, research and innovation in developing countries.

10) Only 1/3 of the world’s poor are covered by social safety nets. 

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Social safety nets aim to protect families from the impact of economic shocks, natural disasters, and other crises and are an important tool for meeting the SDG10 goal of reducing inequality.


11) Since 2009, over 50% of East Asia’s population has lived in cities 


Most of the world’s population already lives in cities, and by 2050, 70% of us will by city dwellers.  SDG11 aims to see these settlements be inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.


12) Global solid waste generation is projected to exceed 11 million tonnes per day by 2100 


  Without transformational changes in how we use and reuse materials , the amount of garbage humans throw away is rising fast and won't peak this century, SDG12 aims to move us to sustainable consumption and production patterns.

13) Climate change could cut crop yields by more than 25% 


Agriculture is crucial to economic growth, accounting for a large share of many economies. But agriculture-driven growth and poverty reduction, as well as food security are at risk: without the action envisioned by SDG13, a warming climate could cut crop yields by more than 25 percent.

14) About 1 billion people worldwide rely on seafood as a primary source of animal protein 

SDG14-Ghana-women fishers-photo by Andrea Borgarello for the World Bank TerrAfrica.jpg

   Along with being a food source, millions of jobs are linked to fisheries and SDG14 seeks to conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources.

15) Globally, 54 million people work in the forest sector 

SDG15-Martha Nhlongo and son in South Africa-Photo by Flore de Preneuf-PROFOR World Bank.jpg

In addition to formal and informal employment, it’s estimated that 12% of the world’s population collect and rely on wood or charcoal for fuel. SDG15 aims to protect terrestrial ecosystems, halting and reversing degradation and biodiversity loss.


16) Over 100 countries worldwide already have access to information laws 

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Transparency and accountability are a key part of SDG16 and while over 100 countries have access to information laws, many struggle to effectively implement them.

17) The USA alone needs over 1.5 million more data scientists, analysts and data-literate managers 



Data are a key part of SDG17. Hal Varian knows that statisticians have the “sexiest job” of this decade and a recent McKinsey study found that just in the USA, the gap in the number of people with the data skills the economy stands at over a million. These skills are important for our future - one of my favorite data scientists, Hilary Mason (in the picture above) was even named one of the 100 most creative people in business. While data scientists and statisticians are occasionally portrayed as warring tribes, we know that really, we’re all on the same side (especially on World Statistics Day!).  

I hope that some of the stats above have been illuminating, and if they have, remember, that in order to have a fact-based view of the world , every country needs data and data-literate citizens. Every country needs people with the skills to produce, analyse and communicate with data. 



Tariq Khokhar

Global Data Editor & Senior Data Scientist

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