This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 13th (it will be out in January 2020), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Saturday, December 7, 2013

The WorldPop Project

Demographic data for the entire world are most readily available from the United Nations Population Division, but they work almost exclusively at the national level. Trying to get some information at a more local level requires the combination of a variety of resources, including satellite imagery along with georeferenced census and survey data. LandScan (from Oak Ridge National Laboratory) and the Gridded Population of the World (from Columbia University) are two such attempts to do this. Now a group at the University of Southampton in the UK, headed up by geographer Andy Tatem, has launched a new website called WorldPop. 
The WorldPop project was initiated in October 2013 to combine the AfriPop, AsiaPop and AmeriPop population mapping projects. It aims to provide an open access archive of spatial demographic datasets for Central and South America, Africa and Asia to support development and health applications. The methods used are designed with full open access and operational application in mind, using transparent, fully documented and shareable methods to produce easily updatable maps with accompanying metadata.
Databases like these are especially important in times of emergency, as I and my colleagues noted a few years ago in a report for the National Research Council, and the WorldPop data were featured recently in a story about typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines.
Large-scale natural disasters such as typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines or the 2010 earthquake in Haiti can bring stark reminders of the importance of knowing how many people are living in which locations in order to rapidly assess and provide relief. These disasters have also shown that a range of existing datasets can be used to rapidly improve available information on where people live.
I have not yet had a chance to compare the different kinds of information available from WorldPop with the other databases, but the ability to compare among several different resources is itself a key element in improving our demographic knowledge about local places anywhere in the world.

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