Project Name: Where are the Poor? Experiences with the Development and use of Poverty Maps

Authors: Norbert Henninger and Mathilde Snel, World Resources Institute



Question 1:


Reasons for the Study:

This study was undertaken as part of the larger goal to eliminate poverty. Through the use of maps, the authors of the study aimed to compile information on the locations of poverty. Specifically, the results of this study emphasize the importance of the spatial dimensions of poverty, with respect to illuminating how pockets of poverty can go unrecognized in areas of greater wealth and the conditions of natural resources and infrastructure that can help reduce poverty. The study covers fourteen case studies from across the world, six of which are shown mapped in the final report.


Time Period:

Although the majority of the study was researched and written in 2001, the various case studies make use of maps from 1970 to 2000.


Origin of Data:

Each case study utilizes data from different sources. Some sources include the International Food Policy Research Institute, the United States Geological Survey, the Instituto Geographico Nacional de Guatemala, the World Bank, Statistics South Africa, and the World Food Program.


Geographic Extent of Study Area:

The study consists of case studies in the following countries: Brazil, Ecuador, Guatemala, Jamaica, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, Burkina Faso, Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, South Africa, Cambodia and Vietnam. Of these, Brazil, Ecuador, Guatemala, South Africa, Vietnam, and Cambodia are depicted spatially in the report. However, each study breaks up its focus country into regions or municipalities in order to look at higher-resolution data.


Analytic Technology Used:

Although it was not specific in the program, the study used GIS to complete its research.


Analysis Performed:

In each case study, the analysis varied. In the Brazil-focused one, two sets of three maps were constructed, showing a temporal change in poverty from 1970 to 1991. The two sets used differing resolutions, showing poverty much more widely dispersed at the municipal level than at the state level. The Vietnam case study compared the percent of individuals in poverty on the provincial level to that of the percent of individuals from an ethnic minority. Differing from these, the Guatemala case study compares the locations of asphalt and non-asphalt roads to the locations of increased poverty. The case study on South African used poverty data and health data on a municipal level to show how cholera had spread from poor regions to other poor regions. Finally, the Cambodian case study compares data on poor communes obtained before 2001 with data taken after, once better qualitative analysis methods had been established. In many places, the locations of high poverty areas are completely different.


Results of the Research:

The study resulted in confirming the authors’ initial claims that poverty maps are essential in showing how much the resolution of a map matters. For instance, in the Brazil case study, much more poverty aid could have been given to an entire state that appeared to need it based on one resolution, while it could have been much more effectively distributed had the policy-makers used a higher-resolution map. Additionally, the results of some of the studies, such as the South African study on cholera and the Guatemalan study on asphalt roads, have led to government policies on regional health plans and road construction, respectively.


  Question 2:

  1. Think about the issues or research questions addressed in the project, and why the spatial/geographic aspects in the project are significant (assuming they are). Could the project be accomplished without mapping or spatial analysis?

I would think it extremely unlikely that this project could be attempted without spatial analysis. Maps are essential to several of the main goals of the study, including demonstrating the difference between mapping poverty at a regional level and mapping it at a local level. Additionally, the report was done so as to provide a resource for policy makers. Here, especially, spatial analysis is extremely important to convey which exact regions need aid, much more so than a written report.


  1. What further questions would you like to see explored in a project like this? Are these questions spatial or non-spatial? Explain.

I think it would be interesting to continue the study’s goal of producing poverty maps at increased resolutions. I think it would be very valuable to see maps comparing regional levels of poverty to that of smaller units, such as cities or even neighborhoods. Although I imagine this kind of analysis has likely been done for many cities in the industrialized world, it would likely be very valuable to policy makers in developing countries to see how poverty is distributed in their cities. Additionally, developing better qualitative techniques in regions (as demonstrated in the Cambodia case study) can lead to revised mapping of areas in poverty. Redoing these studies with new qualitative data could lead to different conclusions, culminating in more effective policy measures.