Category Archives: North America

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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“Cowboy Capitalists” Depicts Lucrative African Situation


One of the most recent VICE NEWS episodes entitled “Cowboy Capitalists” follows the excitement of an American entrepreneur and his imported truck drivers as they fulfill a contract to bring U.N. construction vehicles from Johannesburg to Juba, South Sudan. The intrigue of the story lies in the mass of corruption and red tape that these men have to trudge through on the long journey north. At one point one of the trucks gets smashed by a drunk driver from behind, and the local police release the drunk while threatening to impound the truck. At another instance a truck was pulled over for being a meter too wide, and offloaded for almost a week under little or no regulation.


Throughout the journey, the drivers are constantly stopped and inspected by the police of the numerous nations they pass though, and they have to talk their way out of some sticky situations. All the way through they are also dealing with very worn, out-of-date machinery, and they need to constantly monitor and fix the mechanics of their trucks, including stuffing bananas into the axel for lubrication.


The story of the trip in itself is an interesting one, but perhaps not worth the long documentary. The message of the full length episode, however, is what really caught my interest. The name itself – ‘Cowboy Capitalists’ – gives a great impression of the attitudes that these entrepreneurs who are looking to make it big in the “unchartered continent” have. Ian Cox, the entrepreneur in charge of this contract who has spent many years working in Sudan and other nearby nations, shares his interpretation of the vast lands of Africa; they are unchartered territories for business development. In the true spirit of capitalism, and seeing themselves as modern day cowboys in the only wild west left in the world, these men have moved to Africa to strike it rich through sweat and hard work.

It is all highly romanticized and thoroughly interesting from an economic development lens. Deep down I hope that what becomes of such interactions are win-win relationships for local economies and the western cowboys, but my gut tells me otherwise.

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.

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

U.S. Pledges $60m to Syrian Opposition

The story of the United States pledging $60 million to the Syrian opposition controversially hit the newspapers last week. Previously it had been only food rations and medical supplies that the U.S. had been assisting the rebels with, and therefore this announcement marked a serious turning point for the United States’ perceived involvement in the conflict.

The problem that many conservatives and those restrained in foreign assistance policy have with this is that the United States is once again taking a position as a global police-power. Dating back to Monroe Doctrine and remaining true to the day, the United States has often taken on the responsibility of international humanitarian, disaster, and conflict problems. Many fear in this particular situation, however, that this pledge is the beginning of even greater U.S. involvement in the Syrian Civil War. “There is speculation that the Obama administration might expand its program of support to the Free Syrian Army to include nonlethal equipment if rebel fighters use the initial assistance effectively and do not allow any to fall into the hands of extremists.” While Bashar al-Assad is unquestionably a corrupt and dangerous leader, the real dispute lies in the rebels that the U.S. and other involved nations may be supporting. There are many rumors that the rebels are deeply infiltrated by terrorist groups such as Al-Qaeda, which would mean support would be clearly against U.S. interests.

It is a tough decision for a powerful nation to make when civil war is raging and people are being killed, and there will always be those who disagree with the actions taken. What is left to see is if the U.S.’s $60m drastically changes the situation in Syria, or if Secretary of State John Kerry will take any further actions. U.S. personnel involvement, by my estimation, is extremely improbable. Nonetheless, there are many critics of Secretary Kerry who believe that he may eventually order such action, (senators included).

The Numbers on US Aid


The combination of United States Aid, including USAID, the State Department, and military spending, amasses to roughly 50 billion dollars. This is about 1 percent of the US federal budget, “not 25 percent, as Americans routinely tell pollsters.”

PBS analyzed the numbers for 2010 in the chart above.
For reference, on Friday NRA chief Wayne LaPierre suggested that “with all the foreign aid, with all the money in the federal budget, we can’t afford to put a police officer in every school?” Well, Foreign Policy did the math, and this would cost $8 billion annually. That’s 16 percent of the total aid budget. Consider how many lives US foreign aid saves with their food security, conflict resolution, and healthcare programs. As FP states, “to a policymaker, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense” to follow through on Mr. LaPierre’s proposal.

Should Obama cut $8 billion in foreign aid to protect 20 American schoolchildren?

The Cure to AIDS: Bats?


In the heat of biologists and zoologists struggling to find the reason for the white-nose syndrome in bats, they have discovered something very interesting about the tiny, flying mammals. Some of the bats had been killed not by the infection, but instead by their own immune systems, which had become hyper-aggressive to combat the disease and had fought the bats’ own cells. This phenomenon of “cellular suicide” struck those examining the animals as similar to AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) in humans, and researchers have decided to do more studies on the connection. Something in the bats triggers “a mad army of white blood cells massed for a lethal attack,” and what AIDS researchers are hoping to discover is how the bats immune system can recognize the attack with no clear chemical signal. If this signal can be properly understood, it may lead to insights on how the human immune system functions as well.
Although very little progress is made on this research, and though there are drastic differences between the immune systems of humans and bats, this stuck out as a great discovery to hope for.