Sometimes, looking at the big picture can help make a difference in the world – literally. Satellites can now tell us which countries have more poor areas and which have richer areas.
They reveal the brightly-lit, rich areas like South Korea or Japan, in contrast to the dim North Korea. North Korea lies between the two prosperous regions of China and South Korea.
These night lights don’t show which neighborhoods or villages are poor and which are extremely poor. Those kinds of details are in the hands of politicians and banks, which sometimes decide to help poor areas through economical programs.
Data put together from the thousands of satellites orbiting Earth can be interpreted to show crop conditions on farms, deforestation or poverty in remote areas of the planet.
A team of experts from Stanford University created an algorithm which can correlate satellite images to recognize signs of poverty. It looks at road conditions, buildings, crops, and terrain. So far, the team used the algorithm to correctly identify the economic climate in five African countries. The findings were published in the journal Science.
At first, scientists were faced with a problem. The satellites provided millions of images and huge amounts of information. This huge quantity of images and information had to be sorted through to extract useful statistics and data.
Figuring out how to extract only the necessary information could give a boost to worldwide efforts to analyze and curb poverty. In parts of the developing world, international organizations like the World Bank are starting to use satellite surveillance to collect information, rather than go from house to house. This method saves time and money.
In countries like North Korea, satellites offer a valuable insight into the economic activity which takes place in these isolated areas.
Satellites help scientists observe details which are sometimes overlooked by national surveys.
In places like Africa, this information is essential to understand the day to day lives of the people who live there. In such poor areas, there is often little or no information available at a national level, so researchers and policymakers have to rely on satellites.
The software counts how many cars there are, looks at the height and shape of buildings and measures agricultural activity in remote villages.
Image Source – Earthzine