Declan Butler, reporter This is the personal blog of Declan Butler, a senior reporter at Nature. All views expressed here are mine, and not those of Nature. Contact me at

October 1, 2006

Stunning, and important, new GIS maps of Poverty

Filed under: GIS — admin @ 9:41 pm

Columbia University’s Center for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN) released 28 September an important set of new GIS data related to poverty; the project homepage is here. Most of the data are also available as shapefiles — after getting to this page, click “global” or “national” to get them (with comprehensive metadata) — and so allows one to analyse the data against other relevant datasets.

The CIESIN datasets provide global views of indicators such as infant mortality and hunger, with some surprizing results:

Excerpt re hunger:

“Unlike the global infant mortality map, this map suggests that children in parts of South Asia are faring as poorly or worse than their counterparts in Africa. In South Asia, areas of highest hunger correspond to some of the areas of highest population density. However, nowhere in the Americas comes close to the highest levels of hunger in the Eastern hemisphere, at least at the levels mapped.”

But what’s really interesting are the within country studies, providing exceptional data on several variables.

See for example, Ecuador:


“These maps highlight not only that urban areas are the loci of population concentrations, but also of the more affluent areas. They further show that high-poverty parroquias (parishes) are numerous, more spatially distributed, and of much lower population densities, on average. Although not all of Ecuador’s poorest parroquias are found at high elevations, here
is nevertheless a strong association: Of the lowest-poverty parroquias (those in brown shading), no non-urban ones are found at elevations above 2000 meters. In contrast, of the high-poverty parroquias (those in blue shading) almost half (47 percent) are found at elevations above 2000 meters, and nearly two-thirds are above 1000 meters.”

I won’t go into the many other within-country examples here, but you can find them by downloading the entire pdf Atlas here — it’s almost 30MB, so right click and save to disk, but it is well worth the read.

I’ve made a few quick exports of the global maps to Google Earth — these are raw exports, so too big, often 2- 5 Mb — I haven’t had time to reduce their size — so allow time for download, if you want to wiew them. You can find my global hunger map here, and the global infant mortality rate map here. I’ve also exported to GE just one of CIESIN’s finer maps — a detailed distribution map of poverty in Palestine:
[UPDATE: now there is a network link to smaller files by CIESIN, which are easier to download]


“In West Bank and Gaza, poverty rates are shown to be lowest in the region near Jerusalem. With few exceptions, poverty rates increase as one moves farther from this hub of economic activity. Rates are very high in remote Gaza, as well as along the eastern and southern borders of the territory.

My GE maps do not provide much added-value over the original maps, as they are straight overlays, with no extra metadata etc, but I thought they might help showcase these maps, and at least provide another platform to view the CIESIN data. Most importantly, the underlying GIS data made freely available by CIESIN allows any GIS professional to build upon them by integrating other data.

These CIESIN maps are important, and provide a basis for using GIS to better inform policy decisions in new ways.

CIESIN pdf map of infant mortality

Google Earth version

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