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- A nighttime view of Europe and North Africa is seen in a global composite assembled from data acquired by the Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership (Suomi NPP) satellite in 2012 and released by NASA Oct. 2, 2014. (VOA)

The fight against poverty is getting help from a new direction: up.

Satellite imagery is helping researchers map areas of extreme poverty. It may help officials identify faster and more accurately when development policies and programs are working, and when they aren’t.


Eliminating extreme poverty by 2030 is the first of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals adopted by the United Nations in 2015.

Experts usually measure poverty by using census data and household surveys. But these tools are expensive, time-consuming and labor-intensive. Countries typically do them only once every several years.

On the other hand, satellites map the entire surface of the globe at high resolution every several days. The imagery is getting better and cheaper as a growing number of public and private satellite networks go into service.


By column, four different convolutional filters (which identify, from left to right, features corresponding to urban areas, nonurban areas, water, and roads) in the convolutional neural network model used for extracting features. (Source – Sciencemag.org)

What satellites see

Researchers have used the brightness of lights in nighttime photos to estimate a region’s economic activity. Others have applied machine learning to identify richer and poorer villages from satellite imagery. Another group sorted wealthy and impoverished villages and neighborhoods based on building density and vegetation cover.

A new study takes the most detailed look to date. Within a single village, it distinguished the poorest individual households from their wealthier neighbors with 62 percent accuracy.

The study focuses on Sauri, a village in rural Kenya that was part of the Millennium Villages Project, a large-scale poverty alleviation experiment. Detailed information on each household’s income and assets was collected in 2005.

In satellite images of the village, researchers measured the size of each dwelling and studied the agricultural land surrounding it.

Not surprisingly, smaller homes generally housed poorer people.

Interestingly, the researchers also found that poorer households tended to have more bare farm fields in September. In this part of Kenya, that usually means farmers are preparing the land for a second crop.


Turkana people carry water near Lodwar, in Turkana County, Kenya. VOA

That’s a risky undertaking, said University of Edinburgh geographer and study lead author Gary Watmough, because the late-season rains fail up to half the time in this region.

“Generally, [late-season planting] is only done by the poorer households because it’s a necessity,” he said. “They either don’t have enough land or they need to have that insurance, just in case something else goes wrong.”

Satellite imagery also found poorer households’ fields were growing crops for shorter periods of time.

“When we looked back into our field data, we could see that often poorer households were actually not planting their crops in their own fields as early as others,” Watmough said. “That was because they were contracting themselves out to plant other, wealthier households’ crops first.”

The money they earned went toward buying seeds. But that meant their own crops had less time to grow.

Exciting and a little scary

The study is a big step forward, demonstrating “the potential for satellite data to distinguish between the wealth of you and your neighbor,” said World Bank economist David Newhouse, who was not involved with the research. “Which is scary, a little bit, but also somewhat exciting.”

He suggested that privacy concerns would need to be addressed before it could be scaled up.

Also, the markers of poverty found in this area will not be the same everywhere. The approach would need to be tailored to different locations. And the system’s accuracy — 62 percent — is not great on its own.

“I think the science is pretty far ahead of the practical feasibility,” Newhouse said.


This image captured on Dec. 19, 2018, by a camera on the Osiris-Rex spacecraft shows the asteroid Bennu, top right, about 27 miles (43 kilometers) from the spacecraft, and the Earth and moon, bottom left, more than 70 million miles (110 million kilometers. VOA

It’s probably best not to rely solely on satellite data, experts say. The charity GiveDirectly used satellite images to target donations to people in villages with a high proportion of thatched roofs. These villages were considered worse off than those with more metal roofs.

But people figured it out. Some claimed to live in thatched-roof structures next to their metal-roofed houses in order to qualify for donations.

“This is really a way to use the data, but it’s also an example of how people can quickly game it,” said remote sensing expert Damien Jacques. GiveDirectly has since changed its methods.

There’s power, however, in combining satellite data and on-the-ground surveys.

“Using the two types of data, one that is cheap to collect and very frequently available to complement traditional data that are expensive to collect and not frequent, you can get the best of the two,” Jacques said.

And remote sensing data on its own can be helpful in places surveyors can’t go, such as Yemen or North Korea, or in the wake of disasters.

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But it’s not clear that changes in poverty are visible from space. That’s something Watmough and colleagues will be investigating. They have survey data from Sauri from 2005 and 2008. The next step is to look for differences in the imagery.

“Nobody has ever looked at how poverty has changed over a time period and looked at how a satellite image has changed over that same time period,” he said. (VOA)


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Dia Mirza champions sustainable fashion

Actor and environmental activist, Dia Mirza, who is also the National Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) was showstopper for Indian designers Abraham & Thakore at the recently held LFW X FDCI event. The designer duo who are pioneers of slow fashion and sustainability in the Indian fashion landscape showcased a timeless sustainable collection.

IANSlife spoke with Mirza on sustainable choices when it comes to fashion.

Read Excerpts:

Q: Did you enjoy the on-ground fashion event and the energy that came with the physical show and appearance?
A: Yes absolutely. It was just so refreshing and wonderful to finally be back from a virtual audience. Last year we did a digital show and the energy was just not there, this is an interactive experience and we draw so much from real people.

Q: The outfit that was chosen for you, how did it complement your style?
A: It's a garment that I think involves and is reflective of what I stand for, I deeply care about sustainability and I love the fact that the garment has been made with repurposed material, used and created with a hundred per cent post-consumer bottles, and made by the waste generated from the pieces of fabric that we discard while creating other garments. So it was a very special garment that really and truly celebrated repurposing and reusing and upcycling.

Dia Mirza is an Indian model, actress, producer, and social worker who predominantly works in Hindi films. Mirza won the title of Miss Asia Pacific International in 2000. IANSlife spoke with Mirza on sustainable choices when it comes to fashion. | Wikimedia Commons

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Photo by Wikimedia Commons

Delhi to get new QR-based driving livenses and registration certificates.

In a step towards digitisation of the system, Delhi Transport Department will soon issue QR based Smart cards for driving licenses (DLs) and registration certificates (RCs).

As per a statement, the new driving licence will have an advanced microchip with features like Quick Response (QR) code and Near Field Communication (NFC). The new RC will have the owner's name printed on the front while the microchip and the QR code would be embedded at the back of the card.

The cards earlier had embedded chips, but chip reader machines were not available in the required quantity with both the Delhi Traffic Police and the Enforcement Wing of the Transport Department. Moreover, chips were designed and implemented by the states concerned, which resulted in difficulties in reading the chip and retrieving information, especially in case of defaulters.

"Now with the QR based smart card, this issue is resolved. This will enable unification in linking and validating one's information to smart cards with Sarathi and Vahan, the two web-based databases of all driving licenses and vehicle registrations," the release added.

The QR is also being implemented nationwide, the QR code reader is easily procurable and will do away with the requirement of any manual intervention altogether. The new cards will also allow two specific materials for their card manufacturing -- PolyVinyl Chloride or PVC, or PolyCarbonate which is slightly more expensive but more durable. (Card Size - 85.6mm x 54.02 mm; Thickness minimum 0.7 mm)

An October 2018 notification of the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH) had made changes to the Driving License and Registration Certificate. The new Smart card based DL and RC, will have chip based/ QR code based recognition system. At the same time, documents such as driving license or registration certificates in electronic formats on DigiLockers and mParivahan were also made valid in place of physical documents and treated at par with original documents.

The QR code also has an added advantage of acting as a safety feature on the smart card. The department will be able to retain records and penalties of the DL holder for up to 10 years on the VAHAN database as soon as a driver/ owner's Smart card is confiscated. The new DLs will also help the government in maintaining records of differently-abled drivers, any modifications made to the vehicles, emission standards and the person's declaration to donate organs. (IANS/JB)

Keywords: Delhi, Driving License, Registration License, Digitisation.


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In this handout photo provided by Sotheby's Auction House, the auction for Banksy's "Love is the Bin" takes place in London, Oct. 14, 2021

LONDON — A work by British street artist Banksy that sensationally shredded itself just after it sold at auction three years ago fetched almost 18.6 million pounds ($25.4 million) on Thursday — a record for the artist, and close to 20 times its pre-shredded price.

"Love is in the Bin" was offered by Sotheby's in London, with a presale estimate of 4 million pounds to 6 million pounds ($5.5 million to $8.2 million).

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