Mapping where the poor live

A key consideration in planning action to assist poor and hungry households is simply to have a good understanding of where they live and the characteristics of those locations. For the past 10 years, poverty researchers at the World Bank, IFPRI,and other organizations have worked with local analysts to produced detailed poverty maps for more than 30 countries. Such maps provide estimates of the incidence and severity of poverty for relatively small areas—such as at the subdistrict and evencommunity levels—and enable the user to better understand the spatial distribution of the poor and to investigate the relationship between poverty andother geographic factors.

Knowledge of where the poor and hungry live and of the manner in which those locations are connected (or not) to other locations can provide key insights for action to address poverty and hunger. In this brief, the poverty maps developed for Vietnam, Malawi, and Mozambique are used to demonstrate how a better understanding of the spatial distribution of the poor and hungry deepens awareness of how they live and provides a fuller appreciation of the challenges they face in seeking to live healthy and active lives and to realize their full human potential.

Policymakers and researchers are interested in the spatial distribution of poverty for several reasons. First, poverty maps synthesize a large amount of information on the spatial distribution of poverty in a format that is easy for the nontechnical reader to understand. Broad national or regional poverty measures may hide stark differences in welfare levels within a country or region. Detailed poverty maps provide a clearer picture of how poverty levels vary across a country. In time, as more countries develop a series of comparable small-area poverty maps for different years, an examination of trends in poverty at the local level will provide a better understanding of where poverty reduction strategies have and have not proven successful, prompting modifications so that the strategies can be made more effective.

Second, knowledge of these patterns facilitates the targeting of programs designed, at least in part,to reduce poverty. Many countries use some form of geographic targeting for government programs that provide the poor with services such as credit, food aid, input distribution, health care, and education.The efficiency and cost-effectiveness of many of these programs is enhanced by targeting them to areas where more of the poor reside.

Benson, Todd
Minot, Nicholas
Epprecht, Michael
Published date: 
International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI)
Series number: 
Special Edition
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