New high-resolution population data developed in a joint effort by Facebook, CIESIN, and the World Bank will help us understand better how people are distributed in many countries throughout the world. The High Resolution Settlement Layer data are part of a major effort by Facebook’s Connectivity Lab to develop technologies to connect people in rural areas to the Internet. Better knowledge about patterns of rural settlement will help optimize the deployment of different communication platforms, including cell networks, high-altitude drones and satellite-based connectivity.
State-of-the-art computer visioning techniques developed by Facebook identified buildings from high-resolution commercial satellite images—the same type of imagery made available via publicly accessible mapping services. CIESIN then combined this information with census data to generate population estimates and worked with Facebook to validate the results.
Data are now available for five countries: Ghana, Haiti, Malawi, South Africa and Sri Lanka, with data for additional countries expected to be released in the coming months.
We are making the data public now because learning how human settlements are distributed across the landscape—e.g., in clusters, along roads or waterways, or scattered widely—has valuable applications beyond the implementation of communication technologies. For example, more accurate understanding of where people live is critical to designing public infrastructure, responding to disasters, improving access to markets, managing natural resources and promoting sustainable development. Feedback on the new data and their applications is welcome.