Researchers show maps can be powerful tools in fighting poverty

New 'Poverty Atlas' reveals critical insights into relationship between geography and poverty

To increase awareness and promote usage of geographic information system applications in development strategies, the Center for International Earth Science Information Network and the World Bank have produced "Where the Poor Are: An Atlas of Poverty," a series of maps detailing spatially referenced data on hunger, child mortality, income poverty and other related indicators at the global, regional, national and local scales.

The maps included in "Where the Poor Are" show how advances in data collection and technology can be used to put poverty-related indicators into meaningful visual context. The book includes maps on the global and continental distribution of infant mortality and hunger, the distribution of resource inequality in five sub-Saharan countries, and poverty rates in Viet Nam, Nicaragua and Bolivia, to name just a few. According to Marc Levy, Associate Director for Science Applications at CIESIN, these maps and data sets help broaden the understanding of the relationship between poverty and geography--beyond the more common urban-rural framework. "The revolutionary advances in poverty mapping have made it possible to be precise about things we used to only generalize about," says Levy. "Connections between poverty and climatic conditions, soil fertility, exposure to natural disasters, access to transportation networks, and other important drivers, are beginning to come into sharp relief."

Maps can be practical instruments that provide a foundation by which efforts to tackle the root cases of poverty can be made more efficient and effective. Still, few decision makers have fully realized the potential of maps to enhance poverty-reduction and infrastructure investment strategies at various levels. In 2005, the United Nations Millennium Project Huger Task Force commissioned two maps--one on the spatial distribution of child malnutrition and the other on hunger, both of which are included in the Atlas--showing subnational data on these factors. These maps were critical in developing a framework of recommendations for the Task Force on ending hunger, and helped guide the selection of the first villages involved in the Millennium Villages Project, an initiative to scale-up an end to poverty in rural communities.

Experts at CIESIN and the World Bank hope that the Atlas will raise awareness of poverty maps' potential, and inspire further progress in their development and use. "This Atlas marks a milestone in an ongoing process," said Shaida Badiee, Director of the World Bank's Development Data Group. "We are just beginning to discover the many innovative ways poverty mapping can be used to design, monitor and evaluate development programs."


Where the Poor Are: An Atlas of Poverty is a product of the Poverty Mapping Project at CIESIN, with support from The World Bank Japan Policy and Human Resource Development Fund. The project involved a close collaboration with the Development Economics Data Group and the Development Economics Research Group at the World Bank and colleagues at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), the Population Council, the State University of New York at Albany, and ORC-Macro.

For more information, and to download the maps featured in this atlas and other maps, spatial data, and/or tabular data, visit:

The Center for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN), a member of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, works at the intersection of the social, natural, and information sciences. Scientists at CIESIN specialize in online data and information management, spatial data integration and training, and interdisciplinary research related to human interactions in the environment. CIESIN researchers seek to provide data that informs scientific, public and private decision-makers worldwide. For more information, visit

The Japan Policy and Human Resource Development (PHRD) Fund is one of the World Bank's largest sources of grant funds available to developing countries. Its aim is to enable the poorest countries to acquire international technical expertise and promote capacity building, helping them to formulate their own policy reforms and investment programs in support of poverty reduction and socio-economic growth. For more information about the Japan PHRD MDG Research and Data project see

The Earth Institute at Columbia University is the world's leading academic center for the integrated study of the Earth, its environment and society. The Earth Institute builds upon excellence in the core disciplines--earth sciences, biological sciences, engineering sciences, social sciences and health sciences--and stresses cross-disciplinary approaches to complex problems. Through research, training and global partnerships, The Earth Institute mobilizes science and technology to advance sustainable development, while placing special emphasis on the needs of the world's poor. For more information, visit

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 30 Apr 2016
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