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Geospatial information is increasingly being used for understanding development issues and improving decision-making. The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and their 2015 targets for halving the proportions of people living with hunger and poverty, and improving living conditions in the sectors of education, gender, health and sanitation have heightened this awareness. This publication is one of a series under production by FAO to explore the use of high resolution georeferenced data and GIS-based analysis techniques in order to pinpoint the precise conditions underlying poverty and hunger in the world.

Rural poverty is often associated with vulnerability to environmental conditions and by relating population distribution to environmental characteristics the underlying causes of poverty can be better understood and addressed. Thus, population distribution is one of the key variables that, if carefully assessed and analysed, can help to target governmental interventions to reduce poverty and improve living conditions.

In this report, existing global georeferenced population datasets and their data sources are reviewed, and new methodologies that might provide a consistent way of distinguishing between urban and rural population and determining the spatial distribution of rural people are described. The terms ‘urban’ and ‘rural’ are defined and the quality of available population numbers is assessed. A method for estimating global population distribution in 2015 - the target date of the MDGs - using subnational data is also presented in the Annex.

We are confident that further exploration and application of GIS-based analysis techniques to deepen our understanding of the links between poverty and the environment will demonstrate the usefulness of the method, whilst being immediately applicable to the task of improving living conditions in vulnerable environments.

FAO is grateful to the Government of Norway for the encouragement and funding it has provided to the FAO Poverty Mapping project under which this study was carried out.

Jeffrey B. Tschirley

Chief, Environment and Natural Resources Service, FAO

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