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Mapping Natural Resources & Poverty


Mapping Natural Resources & Poverty

World Bank Article: How Can Poverty Mapping Support Development in Bhutan?

As my plane glides over the lush, green forest on the side of the mountains and descends into the narrow valley where the airport is located, I start to feel ...happy? Yes, happiness is the motto of the country of Bhutan—which is actually a kingdom. Interestingly, Bhutan is known for its development philosophy of Gross National Happiness.

While working to finalize the poverty mapping work that our World Bank team has been collaborating on with Bhutan’s National Statistics Bureau (NSB) and the Gross National Happiness Commission (GNHC), I realized that I am happy not just because I have had the opportunity to be in such a beautiful place, but also as I have had the chance to work with some highly dedicated, capable (and yes, happy!) civil servants.

The poverty-mapping exercise in Bhutan was carried out by a joint team of staff members from the NSB and the World Bank. The team uses a “Small Area Estimation” method developed by Elbers et al. (2003) . This method uses both the 2005 Population Census and the 2007 household living standard survey (BLSS) to produce reliable poverty estimates at lower levels of disaggregation than existing survey data permits. In the case of Bhutan, the team managed to come up with reliable poverty estimates at the sub-district (known as Gewog in Bhutan) level .This work was also supported in part by AusAID through the South Asia Policy Facility for Decentralization and Service Delivery. 

The Bhutanese team has worked hard to master this new technique. Here’s how Mr. Faizuddin Ahmed, a poverty consultant based in Dhaka Office, described the effort in training the team from Bhutan. “... I want to mention three names of NSB staff ... Mr. Phub, Ms Neema and Ms. Tshering. They participated in a training workshop on poverty mapping. In that training workshop, they were imparted hands-on training starting from data preparation to simulation work of poverty mapping applying the Small Area Estimation (SAE) technique. I should admit that after the training, they were fully capable of doing poverty mapping works themselves. I am very happy about their performances in the training course.” 

Learning about spatial aspect of poverty 

We can learn more from the poverty map by compare it with other maps such as maps of transport networks, locations of public service centers, and market access. Using the poverty map may also help identify the investments necessary to lift such areas out of poverty. For example, we can put the poverty map side by side with a map of market accessibility indicator and learn about the pattern.


Looking at the two maps, one can see a correlation between poverty and accessibility. In general, poor areas tend to have low access to markets and poor connection to road networks. For example, the poorest dzongkhags in the South have very little access to road networks and markets. On the other hand, areas in western Bhutan that are highly connected to markets also have the lowest poverty levels. It is also worth noting that the maps only show correlations, and not causal relationships.

Remote areas are not necessarily always poor. For example, the remote sub-district of Lunana in the far north appears to be quite well off. This seems to defy conventional wisdom given that the area is high up in the mountains and can only be reached after 9 days of intense trekking from the district headquarter. And that district headquarter is not even connected to any roads!

It turns out that the local yak herders in Luana supplement their income by collecting a type of fungus called Cordyceps. In English, it is commonly known as caterpillar fungus. Its Chinese name easily translates to “winter worm summer grass,” and it is considered a medicinal mushroom in traditional Chinese medicine. Cordyceps commands top dollars in China; a kilogram of the fungus can fetch as much as $15,000! The fact that there is a sparse population where Cordyceps is found is of great benefit to the local residents, especially because a special permit ensures that only the local population is allowed to collect Cordyceps in the national park and that the harvest is sustainable.

What’s next? 

Poverty mapping can be used to improve the targeting of resources. A more disaggregated picture can help reveal pockets of poverty that might otherwise be overlooked, thereby potentially improving the design of targeted interventions. As of now, the GNHC has been using the poverty estimates at the Gewog level to allocate annual block grants. In the future, performance monitoring can also be improved with the availability of poverty maps that permit the tracking of poverty at the local level over multiple time periods.

The Bhutanese team is planning to apply the technique they recently learned to other indicators. What may be next for them could very well be… gross national happiness mapping.



For every dollar we invest in water and sanitation, there is a $4.3 return in costs.


For every dollar we invest in water and sanitation, there is a $4.3 return in costs.

The battle against Ebola rages on  in parts of West Africa, and the world remains transfixed by the deadly virus. Yet with all the attention focused on Ebola, more common — and preventable — diseases such as sepsis and diarrhea, which are often caused by lack of access to potable water, continue to destroy lives by the thousands around the world. Those who are hit the hardest? Pregnant women and children. According to the World Health Organization, diarrhea kills 760,000 children under the age of five each year globally. A recent article in The Telegraph highlights how the shortage of clean water in Tanzania has forced clinics to make use of contaminated water dug up from riverbeds. When, for example, Aisha Mkude went into labor with her fourth child, her first son, relatives had to bring water in cans to the clinic. The water was used to wash Aisha and her newborn, plus her clothes and the  bedsheets. Her baby died just one week later from an umbilical cord infection, most likely contracted from the contaminated water. This is just one case of many:. It’s reported that a mere 44% of delivery facilities in Tanzania have access to clean water. As the article states, for every 1,000 children born in Tanzania, 21 die in the first month of life, or 39,000 per year. Most of these deaths can be attributed to sepsis, diarrhea, and infection. 

“Not all of the sick have Ebola,” says Dr. Fallah, “It’s a complex paradox. On the one hand, you’re trying to stay alive in an epidemic. On the other hand, my fear is that we’re going to see a great increase in deaths from common, preventable diseases.”

Dr. Fallah, who studied public health and epidemiology at Harvard, grew up in West Point, a township of Monrovia, the capital of Liberia. West Point is home to 75,000 people. But there are four public toilets. People are forced to defecate on the beach.

This is a lesson for all of us. For every dollar we invest in water and sanitation, we save  $4.3 in healthcare costs. According to Dr. Fallah, the Ebola epidemic could have been extinguished months ago if we had focused resources on preventing the spread of the disease. “Not until an American doctor became infected—not until it became an international threat—did they mount an effective response,” he says. “If we had invested one-tenth of what we’re investing now back in July, when there were just a few hundred cases, this epidemic could have been stopped.”  

The people of West Point, along with 2.5 billion other people around the world, don’t have access to basic sanitation. Ebola is not the only disease prone to explosive outbreak. More than 3.4 million people die each year from contaminated water and hygiene-related complications. 

How do we stop waterborne illness and deadly epidemics such as Ebola? Part of the answer lies in communication and tracing the sources of disease. Dr. Fallah is working with the CDC to collect data and GPS information to map the travel and transmission of disease. Hot spots are constantly moving, and doctors need to be able to locate those hot spots and determine what those people need in real time. As for Ebola, Dr. Fallah has hope: , “If we can find 100 percent of the contacts, we can break the transmission.”

To read more about Dr. Fallah, check out this article from the Harvard School of Public Health.


Ebola 2014


Ebola 2014

As the death toll tops 1,000 people, certain questions about the Ebola virus outbreak begin to arise: What exactly is Ebola? How is it contracted? How does it compare to past outbreaks? What can be done to prevent further spread of the deadly virus?

Close tabs are being kept on the status of the recent Ebola outbreak in Central and West Africa and it seems there is a new article posted on the subject every couple of hours. As of today, the death toll has risen to roughly 1,000 people while the number of infected cases nears 2,000. The outbreak originated in Guinea, but has spread to numerous neighboring countries including Sierra Leone, Nigeria, and Liberia. In the past week, the World Health Organization has declared that it would be ethical to offer unproven Ebola vaccines and medicines as the outbreak has become so severe. To read more on the most recent updates and what countries like Canada are doing to help, click here.

So what exactly is the Ebola virus and how does one contract it? The short answer is that it is a zoonotic disease, meaning it is spread from animal to human through close contact. The host is thought to be the fruit bat, a very common species in Central and West Africa. The long answer can be read and examined by clicking on one or both of the following links:

WHO: Ebola virus disease

The Ebola Outbreak: ‘A Dress Rehearsal For The Next Big One’

Finally, how does this outbreak compare to outbreaks in the past? It is easy to see that the 2014 Ebola outbreak has the highest death toll of any outbreak in recorded history, however it is not the most fatal. Why so? To read more on this comparison as well as others, click here.