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U.S. Air Force

How to track poverty from space

How to track poverty from space

You can get a pretty good idea of a country’s wealth by seeing how much it shines at night — just compare the intense brightness of China and South Korea to the dark mass of North Korea that’s sandwiched between them.

But nighttime lights don’t tell you which neighborhoods or villages within a large region are merely poor and which are home to people living in abject poverty. That’s the level of detail policymakers need when they decide where to deploy their economic development programs.

You could get that detail by sending legions of survey-takers into crowded slums and sparsely...