An international group has introduced a method of linking anonymised data from cell phones and satellite imagery data to prepare high resolution maps to measure poverty.
The scientists, headed by WorldPop at the University of Southampton and the Flowminder Foundation, have worked with the Telenor Research and cell phone company Grameenphone to analyse rates of poverty and its distribution across Bangladesh, to analyse an assortment of information relating to mobile phone usage.
The group identified that by linking mobile data and geospatial information from satellites, they were able to manufacture poverty predictions that are comparable with those prepared from conventional sources, but with the significant advantages. Head author Dr Jessica Steele says, “Census and household surveys are usually employed as data sources to estimate rates of poverty, but they are not regularly updated. For instance, censuses only take place every ten years and in less income countries, surveys can be patchy.
“The benefit of employing mobile phone data is that it offers us with information, which is regularly updated, can be interrogated in a range of ways and can track alterations on an on-going basis. Coupled with satellite information that has similar features, it can offer a much more dynamic view of poverty and its geographic spread.”
Every time a person employs mobile it sends information to a receiving tower and offers a suitable location of where they are. It also comprises data about levels of data usage, numbers of texts sent, times calls were made and their overall duration. It can disclose how much and how far people are travelling, as well as the sort of phone they are using, that is basic mobile device, or smart phone.
The type of anonymized information helps build a picture of poverty. For instance, monthly credit consumption of mobiles, and the proportion of people in an area employing them, can indicate household access to financial resources while movements on cell phones and their use of networks offer information on individual’s economic opportunities.
Similarly, remote sensing from satellites can indicate the living conditions of communities. Scientists in WorldPop have, for numerous years, undertaken research on how data on rainfall, vegetation and temperature information about agricultural productivity, while how far individual live from cities and roads and whether they can light their houses may reflect an access to community markets and information.
Dr Steele says, “Satellite data can offer us with amazing information about living conditions in rural regions, but in tightly packed areas it is more difficult. It is the reverse for mobiles, contrasted with the countryside where cell receiving towers can be thinly spread.”
The scientists identify that few of the very poorest in society may not own a mobile, but even taking this into account, they were able to recognize distinct differences between low income informal settlements and richer areas.
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