Monday, October 26, 2020
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Darkness as poverty


A REPORT we got from the Hindustan Times via the TNS (Tribune News Service) tells of economists at the University of Oxford having “developed a new and ‘largely accurate’ method to measure global poverty using satellite data that shows places in the world where people have no night-time access to lights.”

“Researchers,” says the report, “analyzed two separate data sets from satellites: the first showed images of all areas of the world that light up at night, and the second estimated population using images of roads, buildings and other signs of human habitation.

“Both satellites covered every square kilometer around the world, accounting for 100 million data points every year. By combining the two data sets into one, the researchers identified places in the world where populations have no nighttime lights. They find this largely accurately identifies people in poverty after comparing it with more than 600,000 household surveys.


“The satellite-based study is faster, cheaper and has better coverage than the surveys typically used for measuring poverty, the university said on Friday (July 29).”

“ ‘Our measure is one of rural poverty. In poor, highly populated, dense countries like India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, the poor tend to be urban, rather than rural,’ Samuel Wills of the department of economics told HT.

“ ‘For example, when we compared our lights measure to household surveys in Bangladesh, we found that we could only accurately identify 39% of people as above or below the World Bank poverty line. Sixty-one percent of households surveyed were classified as poor, but lived in lit areas. I think a similar trend holds for India.’ ”

The study, says the report, also showed that oil booms increase inequality and do not benefit the rural poor. The benefits of oil discoveries and high oil prices appear to be limited to towns and cities, which become more illuminated, a factor that the researchers use as a proxy for greater economic activity. There is no evidence of a trickle-down effect of wealth, as the areas where the rural poor live remained unlit through a decade of high oil prices (in 2003 – 2013).

From this study, we Filipinos should consider ourselves lucky. According to World Bank figures about access to electricity in 2012 (apparently the latest available), 84.6 percent of the world population had access to electricity. If at least one-third of these people really do have bright nights, then at least 22 percent of the world’s population is made up of non-poor people.

Also in 2012, the World Bank found that 87 percent of the Philippine population had access to electricity. Our numbers exceed the world average. If at least 50 percent of this WB figure really has electric lights at night, then some 43.75 of our population—about 44 million Filipinos—are non-poor by the Oxford team’s standards.

This is a less happy percentage than the government’s poverty statistics for 2014. The government uses an individual income of P10,534 per year as the point below which a person should be counted as poor. More than one-fourth, per data from the National Statistical Coordination Board, or 25.8 percent of the population, fell below the poverty line in the first half of 2014. This figure is 4 percent more than the poverty figure for the same period in 2013. (Which, by the way, gives the lie to the past BS Aquino regime’s claim that poverty had been declining` ever since Aquino became President.)

But the government data would mean that about 75 percent of our people or 75 million Filipinos are not poor.

We hope this piece has been illuminating to government officials concerned with combating our country’s massive poverty.


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