Eight Maps That Change Your Perception On Africa

Despite being the world’s second-largest continent, and home to nearly one-seventh of humanity, Africa remains woefully marginalized and misunderstood by most outsiders. The following maps from One.org help shine a light on the so called “dark continent”, highlighting everything from its sheer size to the major challenges it faces.

1. Where the world’s 7 billion live

National Geographic‘s map illustrates where and how the world lives. Not surprisingly, the areas with the highest income levels have greater life expectancy (77 for males, 83 for females compared to 58 and 60 in low income levels), access to improved sanitation (99 percent compared to 35 percent), among other human security factors. The need for development is critical in sub-Saharan Africa, where nearly 1 billion people live, many on $995 or less a year.

2. How the world would look if it were measured by its wealth, 2015

Using data from the World Bank Development Indicators, Global Finance‘s map shows us what the world will look like in 2015 – that is if it were inflated to the size of their economic wealth. Once again, the need to spur growth in Africa is not just evident, but necessary.

3. Now, the real size of Africa

If you’re like most, you know the African continent is pretty big. But how big? The infographic above, created by Kai Krause uses some of the largest countries in the world and even all of Eastern Europe as puzzle pieces within the grand continent of Africa.

4. Where the world’s 30 million slaves live

To quote Rajiv Narayan from Upworthy, “Sure 12 Years a Slave won an Oscar, but we all deserve to win Best Actor for pretending slavery doesn’t exist anymore.”

The map above, issued by the Walk Free Foundation stains the world map with reds representing concentrated slavery presence and lighter yellows for lower concentrations. The index considers estimated prevalence of modern slavery by population, child marriage, and human trafficking in and out of a country.

5. Global Vegetation

This view of the world’s vegetation presented by NASA clearly depicts the pastoral difference between North and South Africa. There is evidently opportunity for agriculture – in fact —it is twice as effective in reducing poverty as growth in other sectors. But there are other risks to consider in non-pastoral land. Check it out the following map…

6. World Water Risk 

When we say we have a global water crisis, we mean it. The World Resource Institute dedicated a mapping tool called Aqueduct to help companies, investors, governments, and the public understand the global water stress and risks. Notice the similarities with the previous map now? You should. While there is opportunity for agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa, North Africa and parts of South Africa face high risk of water scarcity.

7. Global Internet Usage

On a continent where only 7 percent of its inhabitants are online, this map is an eye-opening illustration of the digital divide. With the internet comes improved access to information, communication and ideas – and organizations need to make sure to bridge the gap. The good news is that Africa’s telecommunications market is one of the fastest in the world.

8. Energy Poverty

Last but not least, this snapshot of the world at night, stitched together with photos from NASA, contrasts with the little access to electricity in Africa compared to the global north. Energy poverty translates to poor health care, stifled economic growth, toxic fumes, limited or no education, and lack of safety.

As Africa continues to grow rapidly in both population and economic heft, it will no doubt loom ever larger in global affairs and global consciousness.

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Why we shouldn’t judge a country by its GDP

Eupraxsophy:

There is more to human progress and well-being than the sum value of a country’s goods and services. Instead of aiming for constant growth of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), governments, civil society groups, and economists should look to other, more meaningful metrics, as outlined by the Social Progress Imperative.

Originally posted on ideas.ted.com:

Gross Domestic Product has become the yardstick by which we measure a country’s success. But, says Michael Green, GDP isn’t the best way to measure a good society. His alternative? The Social Progress Index, which measures things like basic human needs and opportunity.

Analysts, reporters and big thinkers love to talk about Gross Domestic Product. Put simply, GDP, which tallies the value of all the goods and services produced by a country each year, has become the yardstick by which we measure a country’s success. But there’s a big, elephant-like problem with that: GDP only accounts for a country’s economic performance, not the happiness or well-being of its citizens. With GDP, if your richest 100 people get richer, your GDP rises … but most of your citizens are just as badly off as they were before.

That’s one of the reasons the team that I lead at the Social Progress…

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Scientists Kick Off Earth Day With Dire Warnings

According to The Guardian, a group of prominent scientists and economists known as the Earth League have issued a statement deliberately coinciding with Earth Day that warns that “three-quarters of known fossil fuel reserves must be kept in the ground if humanity is to avoid the worst effects of climate change” — in essence, we must stop what we are doing as soon as possible and start over.

In its “Earth statement”, the group said that three-quarters of known fossil fuel reserves must be left in the ground if warming was not to breach a rise of 2C, the “safety limit” agreed to by governments.

Johan Rockström, the statement’s lead author, said: “From a scientific perspective, 2015 is a decisive moment. The window to navigate ourselves free from a ‘beyond 2C future’ is barely open. It’s the last chance to navigate ourselves towards a desired future.

“It’s so frustrating, because it’s the choice of moving down a business-as-usual route with devastating outcomes for humanity and, at the same time, we have this almost unprecedented opportunity, we can transform the world economy to a fossil fuel-free one and moreover do it in a way that is security and health-wise more attractive”.

The statement says that failure by the world to act on climate change would bring is a one in 10 chance of temperatures rising by more than 6C by 2100, a level of risk that would be comparable with accepting 10,000 plane crashes daily worldwide.

Rockström said there was now enough scientific evidence that the world was approaching irreversible tipping points where the Earth’s system begins to accelerate the warming that man has already caused. Methane being released as permafrost thaws and melting ice meaning less solar energy reflected back into space are two examples.

“That’s the scientific nightmare”, Rockström said. “You don’t want the Earth to go from friend to foe … this could happen quite soon; we need to bend the curve on emissions over the next 10 to 15 years”.

To top it all off, the report also observed that very little progress has been made in this front, meaning that the incredible amount of economic, financial, and political changes required are unlikely to come into fruition any time soon.

The World’s Best Passports

Well, by best, I mean in terms of providing visa-free access (although you can see a discussion regarding stylistic and aesthetic appeal here).

As seasoned travellers know better than anyone, certain countries require you to obtain a visa in order to enter; this document is separate from a passport, which is issued by governments to certify the identity and nationality of an individual for international travel.

Thus, the most convenient and desirable passports are those that do not necessitate a visa for permission to enter another country; in essence, the nation that the passport represents has special privileges to come and go without needing to obtain any additional documents (the difficulty or ease of which varies from government to government)

Arton Capital, a financial advisory firm, has created a colorful and interactive “Passport Index” that ranks passports by how many countries they give you access to without a visa.

Here is a brief breakdown of the results by the Washington Post (Note that there are a total of 193 recognized countries (not including a dozen or so entities whose sovereignty or recognized independence is disputed):

The ranking puts the U.S. and U.K. passports first, giving access to 147 countries without an advanced visa. France, South Korea and Germany are second, with access to 145 countries, followed by Italy and Sweden in third; Denmark, Singapore, Finland, Japan, Luxembourg and the Netherlands in fourth; and Switzerland in fifth.

Advanced economies dominate the top of the list. Hong Kong comes in at 11, while Argentina and Israel are ranked 16th. Brazil ranks 17th, Mexico 22nd, the Russian Federation 35th, and China 45th.

The least desirable passports according to this ranking are from the Solomon Islands, Myanmar, South Sudan, Sao Tome and Principe and the Palestinian Territories. They rank in 80th place, giving access to just 20 countries each without an advance visa.

Perhaps it is not surprising that countries with the most economic and diplomatic heft on the world stage have managed to provide their citizens with the easiest means to travel.

Indeed, as the Post observes, whether or not a country’s citizens need visas to travel says a lot about the state’s influence or international likeability.

Countries that are allies often offer each others’ citizens a quick visa on arrival. For countries that are not so friendly, a visitor may have to provide entry and exit information, a letter of invitation, and even list all of the clubs they belonged to in high school — as well as paying a hefty fee.

Indeed, it is not unusual for nationals of one country to seek the citizenship of another country, if only because it may help open door to other countries that might not otherwise be as accessible.

Aside from being a nifty guide, the Passport Index also has a nice aesthetic quality to it, as you can view what each passport looks like in terms of color and design. There is also something neat about organizing the world’s passports by color (red, green, blue, and black).

The World’s Twenty Largest Economies By 2030

Citing data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (which apparently conducts macroeconomic studies and projections), Bloomberg Business shows the twenty countries that will have the largest economies in the world in just fifteen years time.

An assessment of the data:

The U.S. will just barely remain the global leader, with $24.8 trillion in annual output. The gray bar represents the $16.8 trillion gross domestic product projected for 2015, and the green bar shows how much bigger the economy is expected to be 15 years from now. The country, worth 25 percent of the world economy in 2006 and 23 percent in 2015, will see its share decline to 20 percent.

India, ranked eighth for 2015, will climb past Brazil, the United Kingdom, France, Germany and Japan to take third place in the world ranking. The International Monetary Fund calls India “the bright spot in the global landscape.” The country will have the largest workforce in the world within the next 15 years, the IMF notes, and among the youngest.

Other nations won’t be so lucky, particularly among developed economies. Japan, which was a roaring economy until its asset bubble burst in the early 1990s, has already slogged through decades of stagnation and will likely continue to see very little growth over the next 15 years. That will push Japan down a spot in the rankings by 2030, according to the USDA estimates.

Japan is “an important lesson in how quickly you can downshift your status of what a structure of an economy delivers,” said Bruce Kasman, JPMorgan’s chief economist.

France will slide three spots, while Italy drops two.

In the overall ranking, Jamaica will surrender the most ground, bumping down 13 places to 136. Countries with the biggest advances — like Uganda, which will climb 18 spots to rank 91 — are concentrated in Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

Some caveats:

“There are lots of uncertainties,” said Kasman. “Whether China grows at 4 percent or 6 percent matters an awful lot for where it looks like it’s going to be in the global economy. Whether India grows at 3 percent or 8 percent — these are huge differences when you compound them over long periods of time.”

The USDA is not the only — and hardly the most widely-followed — ranking of global economic growth, though it does offer the advantage of particularly long-term outlooks. The International Monetary Fund’s economic outlook only projects out two years. Look out for it later this month.

For a projection that goes another twenty years beyond the USDA’s, here are the biggest economies by 2050, accoriding to the World Bank and Goldman Sachs:

Future Powers

Keep in mind that all these studies are based on Gross Domestic Product (GDP), which has its limitations and is only one of several ways to measure an economy (albeit the most widely utilized).

Finally, here are the twenty fastest-growing countries of 2015, also courtesy of Bloomberg. 

Needless to say, there will be interesting times ahead, as economic power, and with it global influence, diffuses across an increasingly multipolar world.

What are your thoughts?

The Cities With The Worst Traffic

Next time you find yourself stuck in a traffic, be grateful if you are not in Istanbul, Turkey: according to a recent study reported in CNN, that city has the worst traffic in the world, at 125 hours annually!

This is based on research by TomTom, the GPS maker, which took 9 trillion measurements from its widely used products to gather the data. So the results are likely pretty accurate.

The runners up were Moscow and St. Petersburg, both in Russia; Mexico City, one of the largest metropolitan areas in the world; Chongqing, China, another massive and fast-growing city; Recife, Brazil; Bucharest, Romania; Rio De Janeiro; Shenzhen, China; and finally – and unsurprisingly – Los Angeles.

The pattern shows that most of the worst affected areas are populous, sprawling, and fast-growing metropolises in the developing world; in other words, places adjusting to more economic and population growth, which together put more cars on the road.

As urbanization rates continue, and contemporaneously more people owning cars, cities across the world — especially newer ones — will have to find ways to improve infrastructure, public transportation, or planning to accommodate the growth in traffic. Congestion is not only an inconvenience, but it contributes to a lot of psychological stress, eats into personal time (and thus mental wellness), and contributes to pollution.

Prisons of the World

The New York Times highlights prisons around the world that take a unique and often wildly different approach to dealing with convicts. The samples from Bolivia, India, and even Saudi Arabia are most interesting in their apparently humane and constructive approach (though any research showing efficacy is lacking).

1. San Pedro Prison, Bolivia

The prison’s only goal is to prevent escape. There are no guards inside the walls. Its 1,500 inmates must purchase or rent their cells, according to their means; they govern their own community, complete with markets for food, clothes and drugs. Wives and children often stay inside, and there are two nurseries within the prison.

2. Ezeiza Penitentiary Complex, Argentina

Despite underground movement-detection cables, remotely controlled doors and extensive video surveillance, 13 inmates managed to escape at once from the maximum-security facility in August 2013 through a tunnel. In all, roughly 100 inmates escaped from Argentine prisons in 2013, most likely aided by corrupt staff.

3. Pollsmoor Prison, South Africa

An elaborately structured prison gang called the Numbers Gang — and its subgangs, the 26s, 27s and 28s — plagues the overcrowded Pollsmoor. The Numbers have operated for decades throughout South African prisons, with baroque hierarchies and rituals; its power is so widespread that years of attempts to eradicate the gang have failed.

4. Al-Ha’ir Prison, Saudi Arabia

Though Saudi Arabia is routinely criticized for public floggings, executions and suspected use of torture, this high-security prison for inmates under terrorism charges is known for its high level of comfort. It offers welfare payments for families and a hotel for extended family visits — all intended to entice dissidents to recommit to society.

5. Tihar Jail, India

The largest prison complex in South Asia, Tihar encompasses nine high-security facilities with more than 11,000 inmates, despite an official capacity of 5,200. Nearly 25 percent are in for murder charges or convictions. Rehabilitation programs include art and music therapy, meditation and workshops for carpentry, baking and textiles.

6. Bang Kwang Prison, Thailand

Known as Big Tiger or the Bangkok Hilton, Bang Kwang holds death-row inmates and those with sentences longer than 25 years. Until 2013, it was common practice to weld metal shackles onto the legs of prisoners for years at a time; permanently for those condemned to death.

7. Petak Island Prison, Russia

Here, in total isolation on an island in Novozero Lake, 193 prisoners serve life sentences. Only two small wooden bridges connect the island to the mainland. Prisoners spend 22.5 hours a day in a small-group or single cell and the other 1.5 hours in an outdoor cage.

8. Qincheng Prison, China

This maximum-security prison holds many political prisoners who are accused of crimes against the state. According to several memoirs, prisoners are largely isolated from one another and identified only by number. More recently, it has become home to corrupt politicians, who are held in more luxurious conditions.

Here are how the nations of the G20, a group comprised of most of the world’s largest economies, pan out in three controversial approaches to punishment.

Tangentially related: a map of the world based on the number of people incarcerated.

The U.S. has some interesting bedfellows in criminal justice.

Articles of Interest: Mercenaries and Fragmented Forests

How private military contractors are changing the future of warfare…

The private military industry allows you to fight wars without having your own blood on the gambling table. And drones just do that as well. If you think about this as an arms-control issue, both [drones and private military companies] should be part of the same category, because they allow national governments to get involved in fighting without actually having citizens do it. And that creates moral hazard for policymakers, because it lowers the barriers of entry into conflict.

Technology allows [private armed groups] to punch above their weight class. And technology’s ever cheaper, ever more available, and so drones and other types of technologies—weapons systems, night-vision goggles—that’s all on the open market as well. So we’ve got an open market for force, swishing around with these markets of technologies. Supply and demand are going to find each other, and that allows a very small group of people to do some big damage.

Forests are fragmenting, at great cost to biodiversity…

[M]ore than 70% of remaining forest is within just 1km (about 0.6 miles) of an edge, while a 100 metre stroll from an edge would enable you to reach 20% of global forests … In Europe and the U.S., the vast majority of forest is within 1km of an edge – some of the most “remote” areas in these regions are a stones throw from human activity.

If you want remote forests on a large scale you’ll have to head to the Amazon, the Congo, or to a lesser degree, central and far eastern Russia, central Borneo and Papua New Guinea.

[B]y drawing together scientific evidence from seven long-term fragmentation experiments, Haddad and colleagues show that fragmentation reduces biodiversity by up to 75%. This exacerbates the extinction risk of millions of forest species, many of which we still don’t know much about.

The survival of large, carbon-rich trees – the building blocks of any intact forest ecosystem – is reduced in smaller and more isolated forest fragments. These patches thus fail to maintain viable populations, which over time are doomed – an “extinction debt” yet to be paid.

There is nothing wrong with technology in the classroom…

Students who have adapted to and now rely on using technology shouldn’t be cut off from this resource in the classroom. Many students use technological tools to overcome learning differences, to organize information, to engage in discussions that help them think through material. And they are more successful because of it. Some students with learning challenges have adapted to using technology without having to report a disability and announce that disability to their classmates or professors. Professors might not know that students in their classrooms are dealing with learning disabilities and are succeeding because of assistive technology. These students may not be registered with the “Office of Disability Services”, they might not be “diagnosed”, and have their learning differences medicalized — but then again, why should they have to in order to use the tools that help them?

Where the world’s economic elites live…

London is on top, besting New York City, which fell to fourth place. San Francisco, previously number four, has fallen out of the top 20 entirely. Singapore rises into the top 10, to number three, and Hong Kong is up three spots from 2013, to five. The top 10 also has two new European entrants: Frankfurt has the sixth most ultra-high-net individuals, and Paris has the seventh. Osaka, Beijing, and Zurich round out the top 10.

The dominance of Asian cities illustrates a larger trend. For the first time, Asia overtook North America as the region with the second-largest growth in ultra-high-net individuals. The wealthy in Asia also now hold more money overall than those in North America: $5.9 trillion compared to $5.5 trillion. However, Europe still reigns supreme, with the greatest growth in the number of super-rich and with the wealthiest super-rich overall. Europe’s high-net individuals hold $6.4 trillion.

[Adjusted for population,] smaller cities dominate. Geneva tops the list, with 144 super-rich individuals per 100,000 residents, followed by Swiss counterpart Zurich, with 71. Home to fabled Swiss banks, these cities have long been the favored locations of global plutocrats. As the table below shows, Singapore and Hong Kong retain their high placement, ranking third and fifth, respectively. London drops to eighth, New York to 19th, Paris to 24th and Tokyo to 32nd.

America And The Booming Global Arms Trade

Like every other industry in the 21st century, weapons manufacturing has become increasingly globalized, especially in a world of rising powers and subsequent anxieties about security, rivalry, and terrorism. Al Jazeera reports on the latest study by the well respected Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), which found that the arms trade has never been stronger:

SIPRI researchers Pieter D. Wezeman and Siemon T. Wezeman found that the “volume of international transfers of major weapons” between 2010 and 2014 was 16 percent higher than it had been in the prior four years.

The United States was the biggest exporter during that period, ahead of Russia and China. American weaponry accounted for 31 percent of all exports between 2010 and 2014, the study states.

“It is by far the largest exporter, and its exports are definitely increasing,” Siemon Wezeman told Al Jazeera. “It’s gaining on the main competitors. There are a number of reasons for that, of course. A very important one is that a number of markets where the U.S. is normally quite strong are gaining again, especially the Middle East.”

Perhaps it is unsurprising that the world’s wealthiest and most powerful nation would play a major role in the global weapons trade. Having far and above the largest and most technologically advanced military has helped cultivate and sustain a well-developed domestic sector for researching and producing all sorts of weapons of war, which can then seek more markets and profits abroad (especially as the U.S. has an interest in propping up particular states for geopolitical reasons).

Courtesy of SIPRI

Sure enough, the world’s former superpower — and some would say re-emerging global power — is not that far behind in supplying the world with weapons. Most of the remaining exporters are also major powers, although a few (namely Italy, Spain, and Ukraine) reflect the presence of one or two companies, rather than any international power projection.

As for the main drivers of this industry:

Middle Eastern states such as the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Israel accounted for about one-third of American exports. But American weapons manufacturers also shipped a significant chunk of their output to Asia and Oceania, in particular Korea and Australia. Wezeman also cited India as a “new market for the U.S.,” and a source of growth.

India, in fact, has dramatically increased importation of foreign arms, bringing in 140 percent more weaponry between 2010 and 2014 than it had between 2005 and 2009. The country now leads in arms imports, followed by Saudi Arabia, China, and the United Arab Emirates.

And if you think Americans’ declining interest in propping up an ever-more expensive and bloated military will help things, on the contrary: private sector manufacturers are only more likely to make up the difference for fewer domestic purchases abroad:

“The USA has long seen arms exports as a major foreign policy and security tool, but in recent years exports are increasingly needed to help the U.S. arms industry maintain production levels at a time of decreasing U.S. military expenditure,” said Fleurant in a statement accompanying the SIPRI report.

According to Wezeman, the United States government has an interest in maintaining those production levels because some of the revenue from exports goes into research and development.

“Without exports, the U.S. arms industry would survive,” he said. “It’s just that for the U.S. government, R&D would become more expensive because nobody’s sharing the burden with them.”

The export market for American arms manufacturers will likely grow “from 5 to 10 percent of their total output to 25 or 30 percent, maybe more,” he said.

Below is a graph showing the 65-year trend in major weapons transfers internationally.

SIPRI

The Confederates of Brazil

Nostalgia for the “Old South” is alive and well not just in the southern United States but, in of all place, Brazil (and to a lesser degree other parts of Latin America). That is because thousands of Confederates opted to leave the country to continue keeping their culture and practices alive in places where slave-based agriculture persisted.

As an interesting piece at Vice reports, the legacy of these southern transplants persists to this day:

For miles around the graveyard, unfiltered sun beat down on sugarcane fields planted by the thousands of Confederates who had rejected Reconstruction and fled the United States in the wake of the Civil War—a voluntary exile that American history has more or less erased. Their scattered diaspora has gathered annually for the past 25 years. The party they throw, which receives funding from the local government, is the family reunion of the Confederados, one of the last remaining enclaves of the children of the unreconstructed South.

Almost everyone had come to the festa dressed as an American—in jeans and boots, Johnny Cash T-shirts and camouflage. Visitors haggled at a booth stocked with Southern paraphernalia: aprons, quilts, commemorative glasses, a used copy of The Autobiography of Malcolm X. An amplified voice called the crowds to pull their chairs up to the main stage—an enormous concrete slab with a flag painted across it and the words XXVI FESTA CONFEDERADA emblazoned at its top. The mayor of the nearby town Santa Bárbara d’Oeste surveyed his assembled constituents and welcomed the state representatives in attendance. “It’s the first time I have the honor being here as mayor,” he beamed, leaning over the microphone as descendants in homemade hoop skirts and sewn Confederate grays standing behind him hoisted flags up long, thin wooden poles. “But I’ve been here many times as a spectator, a fan.” The banners of São Paulo, Brazil, Texas, the United States, and the Confederacy flapped languidly in the breeze. “North American immigration has helped build our region, has helped build Santa Bárbara d’Oeste, has helped build the city of Americana,” he proclaimed. “That’s what we celebrate today.”

By and large, the thousands of Texans and Alabamans and Georgians who sailed to Cuba and Mexico and Brazil failed. They folded into cities and set up doomed plantations on rain-forest plots. But not the town of Americana. Led by an Alabaman colonel, its settlers introduced cotton and turned the town into an industrial textile powerhouse. For generations their children spoke English with a drawl. Today the city of 200,000 boasts Latin America’s largest cowboy-rodeo arena. The festa brings it great pride

It is a long and intriguing read, which also touches upon Brazil’s struggle to come to terms with its own history of slavery (which was outlawed only in 1888) and its continued fight against the practice of de facto slavery, which mostly involves the invisible migrant workers from neighboring Bolivia, Peru, and Paraguay (a familiar problem in America).