Poverty from Space: Using High-Resolution Satellite Imagery for Estimating Economic Well-Being

36 Pages Posted: 20 Dec 2017 Last revised: 27 Apr 2018

See all articles by Ryan Engstrom

Ryan Engstrom

George Washington University - Department of Geography

Jonathan Samuel Hersh

Chapman University - The George L. Argyros School of Business & Economics

David Locke Newhouse

World Bank

Date Written: December 19, 2017

Abstract

Can features extracted from high spatial resolution satellite imagery accurately estimate poverty and economic well-being? This paper investigates this question by extracting object and texture features from satellite images of Sri Lanka, which are used to estimate poverty rates and average log consumption for 1,291 administrative units (Grama Niladhari divisions). The features that were extracted include the number and density of buildings, prevalence of shadows, number of cars, density and length of roads, type of agriculture, roof material, and a suite of texture and spectral features calculated using a nonoverlapping box approach. A simple linear regression model, using only these inputs as explanatory variables, explains nearly 60 percent of poverty headcount rates and average log consumption. In comparison, models built using night-time lights explain only 15 percent of the variation in poverty or income. The predictions remain accurate when restricting the sample to poorer Gram Niladhari divisions. Two sample applications, extrapolating predictions into adjacent areas and estimating local area poverty using an artificially reduced census, confirm the out-of-sample predictive capabilities.

Keywords: Inequality, Food Security, Railways Transport, Transport Services

Suggested Citation

Engstrom, Ryan and Hersh, Jonathan Samuel and Newhouse, David Locke, Poverty from Space: Using High-Resolution Satellite Imagery for Estimating Economic Well-Being (December 19, 2017). World Bank Policy Research Working Paper No. 8284, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3090770

Ryan Engstrom (Contact Author)

George Washington University - Department of Geography ( email )

1922 F St., NW
Washington
DC 20052
United States

Jonathan Samuel Hersh

Chapman University - The George L. Argyros School of Business & Economics ( email )

333 N. Glassell
Orange, CA 92866
United States

HOME PAGE: http://jonathan-hersh.com

David Locke Newhouse

World Bank ( email )

1818 H Street, NW
Washington, DC 20433
United States

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Downloads
264
Abstract Views
957
rank
160,785
PlumX Metrics