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Online Atlas and Book Depict Globe’s Greatest Development Challenges

Available in: Español, Français, 中文, العربية

March 23, 2007—Imagine clearly seeing where the world’s malnourished children live, where children don’t go to school, where women are largely absent from the workforce, and which countries are most responsible for greenhouse gas emissions.

A new World Bank book, the Atlas of Global Development: A Visual Guide to the World’s Greatest Challenges, and a website, the Online Atlas of the Millennium Development Goals, Building a Better World, make it easy to visualize these and other trends by translating data into user-friendly maps designed to convey some of the world’s greatest development challenges to a lay audience, says Santiago Pombo from the Bank’s Office of the Publisher.

Both the website and print officially launch April 3 at InfoShop, the Bank’s bookstore in Washington, DC.

“Data are very difficult to understand and visualize if you don’t have the story behind it,” Pombo explains. “Only very specialized people understand long-term tendencies just looking at the data.”

“But if you represent data graphically, you can see the differences between regions, and between countries within regions. You can see where the problems really are, and you can see the extreme differences in the world.”

The maps are derived from the Bank’s World Development Indicators (WDI) database, which houses the most widely used, official development data from the World Bank and other international agencies. 

Both the book and website depict progress toward meeting the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that nations agreed to achieve by 2015. The goals range from halving world poverty to halting the spread of AIDS to providing universal primary education.

The online atlas, developed in partnership with Dutch company Mapping Worlds, tells the story of the MDGs through 16 color-coded maps (two per MDG) designed to quickly show concentrations of poverty, disease, and other critical development issues.

Each map is rescalable, meaning users can resize them to see which countries—and how many people—are most seriously affected by each development issue.

“The resizing gives you the human dimension and tells you where is the biggest share of the problem,” says Eric Swanson of the Bank’s Development Data Group (DECDG), which maintains the WDI database.

Each map also features “short, very simple but very powerful text,” that helps users “get the story immediately,” adds Pombo.

“Over the last few years, we have tried different ways to communicate the progress on the MDGs,” says Swanson. “We are always asking ourselves, ‘How can we make the data tell a development story.”

The purpose of the online atlas, he says, is to “make development more accessible to people.”

The 144-page print Atlas of Global Development (US$19.95), a collaboration with publisher Harper Collins, also covers such economic concerns as investment, trade, governance and aid, as well as, water resources, arable land, urbanization, migration, and life expectancy, to name a few of the 34 maps.

The book has been published by the Bank since 1966, but the latest edition--the 37th.—is twice as big and covers a broader range of topics than its predecessors. Text, photos, graphs, and tables complement the maps and help provide a comprehensive view of development, says Swanson.

Previously the atlas was primarily geared toward the development community, but, like the MDG Atlas website, the new edition is expected to “reach new audiences, especially students and the general public interested in development issues,” Pombo says.

To that end, the Bank’s Office of the Publisher is working with Harper Collins to reach the academic market for high school and university students, and to distribute the atlas to major book stores.

The Bank’s publishing and research departments also anticipate putting more interactive development maps online in future, says Pombo.

“We have the best database in the world on economic development. The Bank is known for the quality of its data. So we will develop these new technologies to convey different development messages” in various sectors, such as the environment, human development or private sector development, Pombo says.


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