Category Archives: East Asia

12 Data viz that show poverty’s biggest challenges


Here’s a collection of some of the best data visualizations on global literacy, mortality, birth rates and more that will help put some of the biggest issues surrounding poverty today into perspective. The good news: Extreme poverty is declining, and life expectancy and incomes on the whole are on the up and up. The bad news: We still have a lot of work to do!

1. Changes in Life Expectancies and Incomes

Hans Rosling’s Gapminder project has long been one of the best data visualization tools for understanding how poverty and welfare are changing. Countries’ life expectancies and incomes per person have increased significantly in the past two centuries. This is true for every single country of the world, though needless to say there are some countries that have developed more rapidly than others. Notice how in 1800 the world starts as a clump of consistent figures. But as time progresses, the inequality between countries increases.

2. The World’s Remaining Extreme Poor


Extreme poverty is most commonly referred to as those making under USD $1.25 a day. This statistic is most often brought up to address how there remain areas in the world where people suffer from extreme lack of resources, and are likely stuck in the poverty cycle.

According to a World Bank Report, the nation with by far the highest existence of extreme poverty is India, followed by China and then Nigeria. These are perhaps unexpected countries to encompass the majority of the remaining extreme poor, for they all have relatively high GDPs and boast concentrated sectors of rapid industrialization. Notice how the top ten nations listed are all in Asia and Africa.

3. The World’s Access to Energy


 Why focus on Africa? Because as you can see from the dark blue coloring, Sub-Saharan Africa is by far the region with the least access to energy. In 2010, the percentage of sub-Saharan African people who lacked proper access to energy was well over 50 percent. Limited or no access to energy has serious implications. Without energy to light up a house, heat a house, refrigerate food or recharge a phone, necessary steps towards improving education, income and health become much more difficult.

4. The Dwindling of Extreme Poverty


The Brookings Institute designed this graphic to show exactly how quickly the number of people living in extreme poverty in the world are disappearing. Starting in the early 2010s, figures turn to predictions of the future, with the green area demonstrating the worst case scenario for future levels of extreme poverty, and purple demonstrating the best. As evident, the number of people (in millions) that are living in extreme poverty is falling dramatically, and all predictions expect a continuation of that decline. Mean daily consumption here is measured in purchasing power parity to allow for a better comparison across nations and regions.

5. The World’s Literacy Rates

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What regions would you expect to have the highest or lowest literacy rates? What are the differences in men and women’s literacy rates? The graph above answers just these questions, showing how “industrialized countries” have near total literacy, where as the MENA and sub-Saharan African countries still have large sections of their population unable to read or write.

The gender gap in literary rates grows more and more apparent with lower total literacy rates. This visualization is merely one graph of a more interactive copulation of data measuring worldwide education by Gregor Aisch, a graphics editor for The New York Times. His additional graphics also depict school enrollment ratios since the Millenium Development Goals were implemented and expenditures on education versus the military.

6.  National Population Growth Rates


The world’s population is always changing drastically, with some countries growing rapidly and others shrinking in population size. The Washington Post created this map to show just which countries are growing faster and which have the most negative growth. There is indeed a trend of countries with higher GDPs growing slower or stagnating, while the poorest countries are often the ones growing most rapidly.

This is largely due to the remaining high fertility rates in developing countries even as mortality rates are falling, resulting in enormous population growth. Africa has the most countries with high growth, while Eastern Europe, Russia, and Japan all have shrinking populations.

7. Forecasts of Population Growth

This visualization is a little trickier to interpret, but it certainly shows how the world is changing. As can be seen at the bottom of the graphic, the majority of the most populous nations in 1950 were in Europe, with China and India sitting atop the list. Today, we see the South American nations of Brazil and Mexico enter the top 12 most populous nations, along with the African nation of Nigeria. The only European nation that remains is Russia.

The forecast for 2050, then, includes 3 African nations, no European nations, and India has replaced China on top. The regional percentage changes in population show how Africa and Asia are predicted to far and away lead the growth. According to the Economist and the ICEF Monitor, “more than half of the extra 2.4 billion people in 2050 will be African. India will swell to 1.6 billion people; it is on track to overtake China in 2028.” As Thomas Malthus can tell you, predictions on population can be tricky. But if the world’s growth rates were to continue as they are, the distribution of people in the world would be quite different from what we see today, and extraordinarily different from what we saw a half century ago.

8. The Relative Sizes of Africa’s GDPs


Curious which nations in Africa are the richest? Above you can see by a simple size-graphic which countries are the wealthiest measured by GDP. The relative sizes of the squares show just how much wealthier South Africa is than the other countries, etc. But fair warning, this graphic shows nothing about each nation’s measure of inequality. To do that, the Gini coefficients, which are numbers between 0 and 1 that measure the inequality of an economy, would also need to be included. Though Nigeria has one of the highest GDPs in Africa, its Gini coefficient and inequality is actually fairly high because the vast majority of wealth is concentrated among a select few.

9. The World’s Birth Rate Statistics


As mentioned above, birth rates are so important because they are some of the best predictors of population growth rates, which in turn have implications for overall welfare. Notice a similarity in the top 12 countries with the highest number of children per woman? All of them except for Afghanistan and Timor-Leste are in Africa. On this link, you can also check out similar graphics on population, education, and energy.

10. The World’s Mortality Statistics


What is another important determinant of welfare and population growth? Certainly mortality rates. While this visualization is a bit of an assault of information, there are a couple important take-aways. On the left, check out the difference in developing countries and industrialized countries for mortailty rates of children under 5, for which the 2005 data is highlighted in green. Then on the bottom right you can see the 10 countries with the highest infant mortality rates, again all of which are in Africa except for Afghanistan.

11. Mapping Internet Against Population

This map is especially cool because not only does it show internet access by the location of IP addresses, but it geo-locates internet access against population size. This shows how huge population centers such as India may be lacking proper internet access (in blue), while other places like Australia and the central United States may have total access to the internet even with small populations (red).

 12. Demographics of a 100-Person World


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This might be the most simplistic graphic of the bunch, but it is also one of the most explanatory. If we were to imagine that the world’s population was comprised of just 100 people, holding constant the demographics that exist today, we can turn the percentage data of these demographics into hard numbers. This allows us to to see how if the world were made of 100 people, 60 of them would live in Asia, 17 of them would not be able to read, and 13 would not have access to clean water. That’s astounding!

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Piranhas, Super Powers, Ivory, South Sudan; LIL

Photograph by Rennett Stowe

Links I Liked:

In the Chris Blattman style I have decided to add to this blog the occasional posted links that I have found interesting, informative, or simply beautiful. And as always a photo from the natural world will be included at the top.

1. Borrowed from Blattman’s page: The Truth about Piranhas

2. Most Beautiful Villages from Around the World

3. Super Powers Illustrated Chart

4. China Destroys 6 Tons of Illegal Ivory

5. The Best Article on the Current Conflict in South Sudan that I have read thus far.


World Population Shifts, 1950 to 2050


The World Bank Dataviz blog (through the Economist) has produced yet another prediction graphic that has immediately become one of my favorites-


At the top is a percentage change forecast of population from present day up until 2050 by world region. Africa’s population change is spiking with its high fertility rates and decreasing child mortality rates, surpassing Asia with the population giants of India and China in rate of change. Europe, by this time, is expected to see negative population growth, as some northern European nations are already experiencing.

“The world in 1950 looked very different from how it does now. Europe was home to 22% of the world’s 2.5 billion people. Germany, Britain, Italy and France all counted among the 12 most populous countries. But strong economic growth in Asia coupled with high fertility rates in Africa have contributed to a big regional shift in the global population.”

Below the rate of change graph is a remarkable chart of the most populous nation within the 50 year intervals, color-coded by region. As would be assumed with the knowledge of the above graph, the blue of European nations quickly disappears as it is replaced by the yellow of Asia in the current year. Then the yellow is subsequently replaced by more of the red of Africa by 2050.

The world is changing. Rapidly. And it is important for people to understand where the trends of population are heading, for these trends predict where substantial development and social change is to take place. It would be best for the world to be a step ahead with these developments, as opposed to needing to shamefully catch up.

World Access to Energy


According to the Economist, worldwide Access to Energy has risen significantly in the past 20 years, with the greatest strides seen in East and South Asia. Roughly “1.7 billion people gained access to electricity, and 1.6 billion to modern fuels for household cooking between 1990 and 2010. The world’s population increased by a similar amount, so the proportion of those who have access to modern energy sources rose.” The great strides seen in the data taken from East Asia make sense with the rapid development that China in particular has been experiencing. That being said, the dark sections of blue and red in the visual below depict clearly that South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa still have large populations lacking both electricity and cooking fuels. 


Taking the development economist’s viewpoint, we would hope that in the next twenty years there would be exceedingly few regions and populations who are still lacking energy access. The International Energy Agency estimates “that nearly $50 billion a year will be needed” to by 2030 achieve the UN’s goal of universal access to modern energy. In other words it is not likely. Nonetheless, all experts in the development field can agree that achieving such would be a major benefit to the local and regional economies, and we can hope that progress continues.

At the same time, however, if the world’s increasing population all gains access to energy that is manufactured from coal or oil, we will have more of the already serious problem of accelerated climate change, high carbon ppm, and drastically changing ecosystems on our hands. This is why initiatives supporting renewable energy products and markets are so vitally important to this issue. (Hint to social entrepreneurs needing inspiration for new ideas).

BRICS plan a Global Development Bank


BRICS, the coalition of developing countries made up of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa, is starting its own development bank to rival the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

There are questions to how successful this new alliance can be, however, for there are “serious questions about whether the member countries have enough in common and enough shared goals to function effectively as a counterweight to the West.” Many believe that these nations are not similar enough, and that, (perhaps like the U.N. Security Counsel), there will often be diverging interests among them.

Why do the BRICS countries feel the need to do this? For a long time, a portion of developing nations have felt resentful of the western-influenced World Bank and IMF. Latin America nations especially have attempted to free themselves from entangling agreements with these institutions, weary from the debt they were once caught up in during the 1970’s and 80’s. Even Argentina, once a poster child for World Bank loans, has decided that it would rather not enter into the same stipulated loan agreements, agreements like Jamaica got caught up in.

The same is true in some nations of Africa, though resent is notably less common. Though in some areas of the continent the World Bank is seen as a western, financially entrapping force, many governments and citizens understand the World Bank’s ultimate goals. BRICS nations lack this reputation on the continent. “France and the United States still have the highest rate of foreign investment in Africa. Despite China’s reputation for heavy investment in Africa, Malaysia has actually invested $2 billion more in Africa than China has.”

In my opinion, more nations focusing on development is by no means a bad thing. The BRICS may very possibly build up successful institutions. And even if they steal some of the Bretton Woods thunder, to have emerging developing nations create policies that help the least developed nations can be world-changing. Best possible scenario, the BRICS institutions eventually merge with the World Bank to create a more globally aware and unbiased organization. If all nations can keep their detrimental individual interests in check, global poverty could be seriously combatted. Naturally, this is idealistic. But still possible.

The World’s Children and their Valuables


Italian photographer Gabriele Galimberti traversed the globe to capture young children standing behind their most prized possessions. The goal of the collection is of course to accent the differences in the quantity and quality of toys found among regions of varying culture and wealth. The first photo, featuring Chiwa from Malawi, is undoubtedly my favorite. I have a soft spot for toy dinosaurs.

Here’s the original link.


Chiwa – Mchinji, Malawi


Stella – Montecchio, Italy


Pavel – Kiev, Ukraine


Arafa & Aisha – Bububu, Zanzibar


Cun Zi Yi – Chongqing, China


Bethsaida – Port au Prince, Haiti


Orly-Brownsville,Texas, USA


Botlhe – Maun, Botswana


Watcharapom – Bangkok, Thailand


Alessia – Castiglion Fiorentino, Italy


Norden – Massa, Morocco


Julia – Tirana, Albania


Keynor – Cahuita, Costa Rica


Shaira – Mumbai, India


Tangawizi – Keekorok, Kenya

Nuclear North Korea


North Korea has affirmed its nuclear testing and has officially threatened the United States, “saying that it would build up its capability of striking the United States after the United Nations’s expansion of sanctions against North Korea.”

The emphasis here is that it would be Kim Jong-Un’s first advanced military decision, and that if the D.P.R.K. was indeed to test its nuclear capabilities it would a symbol that Mr. Kim is following in his father’s footsteps. Although sometimes considered a blip on the radar in terms of foreign activity the United States government is tuned to, nuclear activity has made North Korea a nation to keep an eye on. This goes for the powerful East Asian states as well, and although China maintains a psuedo-alliance with the D.P.R.K., the Chinese government has shown its own concern of North Korean military capabilities.

Proliferation since the Cold War has remained one of the more heated international issues. Mr. Kim has stated that he will not backtrack on North Korea’s nuclear capabilities until, “the denuclearization of the world is realized.” Since there is little to no chance of this happening under a lack of a single world government, it is safe to assume that the D.P.R.K.’s weapons are here to stay barring foreign intervention. It’s safe to say that this is an option that powers are considering if the D.P.R.K. continues in the direction it is headed, which is to built up its military and threaten other world nations.

On a similar note, if anyone out there ever finds a decent picture of a Chollima, I would love one for the next blog post.

The Hyperbole of the Chinese Perspective

Why the emphasis on China? Because China has become, “one of a small number of countries that have significant national interests in every part of the world and that command the attention… of every other country and every international organization.” For all of the Pacific Rim and perhaps even for the United States, China is the most important nation to pay close attention to. It seems determined to expand both its physical and influential power in its region, and by having the largest economy, population, and military in East Asia, nearby states are getting increasingly concerned. Already China has flexed its muscles in relations with Japan over the Diaoyu islands, the Philippines over disputed fishing waters, Tibet, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and the list goes on. And because of this ‘aggressive behavior,’ many political scientists, China specialists, and Congressmen argue that China has a certain negative perception of what the Unites States thinks of all this. How China Sees America by Andrew Nathan and Andrew Scobell covers one opinion of how the Chinese perceive the Unites States [see cartoon below]. The article would make it seem as if China has intense distrust; distrust not only of the United States but of many and most large foreign governments.
So how legitimate is this opinion of distrust? It stems from the fact that we have two countries with grossly different governmental structures. The United States prides itself on the transparency of its government, while China has a history of working in the shadows and sees little wrong with doing so. This inherently makes the United States suspicious of China’s cloaked decisions. And because of the Chinese belief that governments are genuinely secretive, they tend not to trust the openly expressed American statements. Thus this idea that the U.S. is (secretively) secret is often what the Chinese are accused of believing.

How true is this? Only the Chinese government could tell you for sure. There is little doubt that  China often takes what foreign superpowers say with a grain of salt. But then again they deserve to, for the United States, the E.U., and Japan all have a histories of suddenly altering policies. At the same time, however, the idea that Beijing is writhing its hands in frustration, attempting to decipher what foreign governments are secretly up to is a fallacy. Especially with Secretary Clinton at the helm and now that President Obama has been re-elected, the Chinese are more comfortable believing what the United States openly says. Yes there are tensions over Taiwan, currency manipulations, and job exporting. But relations these days are generally improving, and though the Chinese do not trust the United States to align with Chinese interests, they are more confident that what the United States and other powers state to the international community is the political truth.

China’s presence in Africa

There have been times where China has followed the U.S. and Europe’s priorities in Africa, such as enabling UN peacekeeping and development, and providing modest disaster relief funds. But China is also selling arms to unstable and autocratic, militant nations such as Sudan, Somalia, and Zimbabwe. So why the seemingly counter-effective strategies? Because China still does what is in its best interest. China’s security policy is not focused on the developing world, it is still caught up with Russia, the United States, and the EU. Thus on the international level China often follows Western agendas, including offering aid or UN military assistance. But let’s not forget, China has an agenda too. Africa is developing quickly with many contracts opening up to foreign providers. It has lots of oil reserves, and numerous other natural intermediate resources that China is looking for. And China is willing to negotiate with any sort of government, while most of the Western world only legitimately recognizes democracies. Because China’s first priority is not on transitioning Africa’s authoritative regimes or ending civil wars in Africa, it can freely operate in ways that are harmful to citizens of African nations but benefit the Chinese economy.

At a conference in Ottawa, Canada, David H. Shinn gave the following briefing on China’s security issues in Africa. Shinn just recently finished a book on China-Africa relations entitled China and Africa: A Century of Engagement. From an international affairs perspective,iIt is interesting to see how this pairing of a strong, communist government and a largely dependent, resource-heavy continent will interact in the future, and who the relationship will ultimately benefit.

China’s Green Steps

China, after a meeting in Brussels with with European Union’s Development Coordinator, has agreed to plans that will cut its carbon emission through a three step process. As China has been rapidly modernizing, it has been simultaneous catching up the United States as the largest global polluter and emitter of greenhouse gases. The EU, which has been the most forward thinking in terms of keeping the planet sustainable, is growing worried about the rising populations and urbanization of India and China, and thus making policies that control some of these countries’ energy production. China is nowhere near the U.S. in terms of energy consumed per person, (a person in the United States still uses 30x more energy than one than India), but its main problem is energy efficiency. China still uses 5-10 galleons of oil to make the same amount of energy that the U.S. makes with 1 galleon.
Hopefully this agreement with the EU is one of many future steps China will take to turn the most populous nation more sustainable. But we have yet to see true evidence that the Chinese government is anywhere near as concerned about clean energy than they are about their economy, meaning they will still rather produce and export goods at minimal cost rather than spend money trying to reduce emissions.