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This monograph is part of a series of reports that explain and illustrate methods for applying spatial analysis techniques to investigate poverty and environment links worldwide. Analysing population distribution in relation to poverty and environmental factors is increasingly recognized as a valuable element in decision-making processes related to development issues. Accurately mapping and assessing vulnerable populations can provide a solid basis for recommendations on how best to reduce poverty and improve living conditions in developing countries.

In this report, the various definitions of the terms ‘urban’ and ‘rural’ are reviewed, along with data from the United Nations and other sources, and various georeferenced sources are assessed for their usefulness to the geospatial analysis of population distribution. The report examines two widely used global georeferenced population datasets, reviews recent methodological developments for distinguishing urban and rural populations spatially and presents a method for creating an urban mask and determining variations in the distribution of urban and rural population, by pixel. The report concludes with a brief discussion of unresolved issues and future challenges. Finally, the Annex details a method for estimating global population distribution to the year 2015 using data from over 375 000 subnational units.

Mapping global urban and rural population distributions
by Mirella Salvatore, Francesca Pozzi, Ergin Ataman, Barbara Huddleston and Mario Bloise

88 pages, 9 figures, 7 tables, 13 maps

Environment and Natural Resources Series, No. 24 - FAO, Rome, 2005

Population, urban, rural, vulnerability, GIS, mapping

This series replaces the following:

Environment and Energy Series
Remote Sensing Centre Series
Agrometeorology Working Paper

A list of documents published in the above series and other information can be found at the Web site:


The authors have benefited from the advice and input of Jippe Hoogeveen, Emelie Healy and Michela Marinelli.

The authors would like to thank Deborah Dukes, Barbara De Filippis and Reuben Sessa for editing; Claudia Tonini and Marta Scapellati for the layout of the document.

This report was prepared as part of the FAO Poverty Mapping Project (GCP/INT/ 761/NOR), which was funded by the Government of Norway.

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