Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Developing an understanding of development!

Where am I??
Adelaide, Australia: S: 34º 55' E: 138º 36'

Investigating development geography through data visualisations

This posting is about WorldMapper and Gapminder, two excellent data visualisation sites that can be used to identify the stage of development of a country and/or region. Both of these sites have been around for over 6 years, but they continue to be amazing free and user friendly tools for students to study development geography. Development geography has been a popular classroom topic over the years and continues to live in the Australian Curriculum: Geography in:
Year 6: A diverse and connected world.
Year 10: Geographies of human well-being.

Development geography is a branch of geography with reference to the standard of living and quality of life of its human inhabitants. In development geography, geographers study spatial patterns in development. They try to identify development status of a country/region by looking at economic, political, social and development indicators.

Development indicators are numerical data on the characteristics of a place which can be associated with development of a country. They include:
  • Economic indicators include GNP (Gross National Product) per capita, unemployment rates, energy consumption and percentage of GNP in primary industries. Of these, GNP/per capita statistics are the most used as they measure the value of all the goods and services produced in a country, excluding those produced by foreign companies, hence measuring the economic and industrial development of the country. GDP per capita is also a useful data source.
  • Social indications include access to clean water and sanitation (which indicate the level of infrastructure developed in the country) and adult literacy rate, measuring the resources the government has to meet the needs of the people. Indicators such as cars/TV/radios per thousand may also be use as social indicators.
  • Demographic indicators include birth rate, death rate, life expectancy, natural increase and fertility rate and age structure. Health indicators include nutrition (calories per day, calories from protein, percentage of population with malnutrition), infant mortality and population per doctor (indicate the availability of healthcare and sanitation facilities in a country). The GDI (Gender-related Development Index) measures gender equality in a country in terms of life expectancy, literacy rates, school attendance and income
  • Environmental indicators include how much a country does for the environment. A more developed and wealthier country has the luxury to spend some of it's money on protecting the environment.
A useful overall indicator is HPI. The HPI (Human Poverty Index) is used to calculate the percentage of people in a country who live in relative poverty. In order to better differentiate the number of people in abnormally poor living conditions the HPI-1 is used in developing countries, and the HPI-2 is used in developed countries. The HPI-1 is calculated based on the percentage of people not expected to survive to 40, the adult illiteracy rate, the percentage of people without access to safe water, health services and the percentage of children under 5 who are underweight. The HPI-2 is calculated based on the percentage of people who do not survive to 60, the adult functional illiteracy rate and the percentage of people living below 50% of median personal disposable income.

With development geography there are a range of classifications of development (some quite contentious and ever-changing in popularity). The most popular are the classifications of:
  • Undeveloped/Underdeveloped/developing/less developed/developed
  • Rich and poor countries
  • The haves and have nots
  • High to low human development (based on the HPI)
  • 1st, 2nd and 3rd world (rather unpopular classification today)
  • The North/South divide (see below)

No matter what the classification, when we view the indicators it seems that countries group into various development categories in a consistent way.

Now for the two sites that help students identify the indicators:

* Worldmapper
Worldmapper is a collection of world maps called cartograms, where territories are re-sized on each map according to a chosen criteria. Criteria relevant to development include: demography, income, wealth, poverty, health, education, death exports etc.

* Gapminder
Gapminder is a great visualisation over time which plots on a dynamic graph a range of criteria (many being development indicators). There is also an excellent section for teachers with ideas on using the site.

A footnote on the contestability of the term development from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Developing_country  

There is criticism of the use of the term ‘developing country’. The term implies inferiority of a 'developing country' or 'undeveloped country' compared to a developed country, which many countries dislike. It assumes a desire to ‘develop’ along the traditional 'Western' model of economic development, which a few countries, such as Cuba and Bhutan, choose not to follow.

The term 'developing' implies mobility and does not acknowledge that development may be in decline or static in some countries, particularly in southern African states worst affected by HIV/AIDS. In such cases, the term developing country may be considered a euphemism. The term implies homogeneity between such countries, which vary widely. The term also implies homogeneity within such countries when wealth (and health) of the most and least affluent groups varies widely. Similarly, the term 'developed country' incorrectly implies a lack of continuing economic development/growth in more-developed countries.

In general, development entails a modern infrastructure (both physical and institutional), and a move away from low value added sectors such as agriculture and natural resource extraction. Developed countries, in comparison, usually have economic systems based on continuous, self-sustaining economic growth in the tertiary sector of the economy and quaternary sector of the economy and high material standards of living. However, there are notable exceptions, as some countries considered developed have a significant component of primary industries in their national economies, e.g., Norway, Canada, Australia. The USA and Western Europe have a very important agricultural sector, and are major players in international agricultural markets. Also, natural resource extraction can be a very profitable industry (high value added), e.g., oil extraction.

Interestingly, an alternative measurement of that has been suggested is that of Gross national happiness. Measuring the actual satisfaction of people as opposed to how money orientated a country is.

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