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New NetHope Report: Facebook Data for Good population density maps and how they are helping the nonprofit sector

Population data is a common data type for non-profits, and Facebook’s high-resolution population density maps provide a competitive advantage.

July 9, 2021
Publicly available Facebook datasets are helping nonprofits plan and deliver their programs better.

In recognition of World Population Day 2021, NetHope has today released a report showing how Facebook’s high-resolution population density maps (also known as the high-resolution settlement layer or HRSL) are being used by NGOs to aid programs at a local and global level. The maps and demographic data are hosted on The United Nations Center for Humanitarian Data’s Humanitarian Data Exchange, and are freely accessible.

NetHope has been working with the Facebook Data for Good program to help the development, humanitarian, and conservation sectors learn about these high-resolution population density maps, understand their potential impact, and learn how they can be used in critical programs. This new report shares a range of case studies and highlights the potential for future impact and opportunities for improvement. Check out the NetHope User Feedback Report for the full details.

Population data is a common data type for non-profits, and Facebook’s high-resolution population density maps provide a competitive advantage. Created using satellite imagery, existing census data, and artificial intelligence, the detailed population data can be used at both village level and for global programming, and it is freely available to all. Because of this, the Facebook data is being used by a diverse group of organizations and is ultimately influencing program outputs.

These datasets have been used by large and small NGOs, including Saha Global, which has used them to identify, target, and implement programs in small, rural areas that would otherwise be hard to find. Saha Global, a nonprofit that focuses on providing clean water in northern Ghana, has used the maps to identify communities without access to safe water by loading them into Google Earth. They then scanned for small population clusters that had no water treatment facilities. This simple but effective technique has helped Saha Global identify 16 new locations for water treatment sites since 2018, serving roughly 7,000 people.

These datasets can also be used to help in disaster response – tracking the movement of people and identifying potential vulnerable communities. They were recently used by Direct Relief during the Hurricane Dorian response. Direct Relief used the high-resolution population density and demographic age data to estimate the demand for medical supplies. The Facebook data played an early but important role in response planning. They also used the data for situational awareness in the early stages of Cyclone Idai in Mozambique. The data subsequently contributed to epidemiologic modelling with researchers at Harvard University, Northwestern University, and the World Health Organization. The WHO went on to vaccinate 252,448 children, and the data may have played a role in this important effort.

Want to see Facebook’s high-resolution population density data in action? All the data can be accessed on the Humanitarian Data Exchange and is easily downloadable in two different formats (CSV and GeoTIFF). We encourage to you consider innovative ways in which this data could be used for your programming.

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