Estimating global economic well-being with unlit settlements

Ian McCallum, Christopher Conrad Maximillian Kyba, Juan Carlos Laso Bayas, Moltchanova Elena, Cooper Matt, Jesus Crespo Cuaresma, Shonali Pachauri, Linda See, Olga Danylo, Inian Moorthy, Myroslava Lesiv, Kimberly Baugh, Christopher D. Elvidge, Martin Hofer, Steffen Fritz

Publication: Scientific journalJournal articlepeer-review


It is well established that nighttime radiance, measured from satellites, correlates with economic prosperity across the globe. In developing countries, areas with low levels of detected radiance generally indicate limited development – with unlit areas typically being disregarded. Here we combine satellite nighttime lights and the world settlement footprint for the year 2015 to show that 19% of the total settlement footprint of the planet had no detectable artificial radiance associated with it. The majority of unlit settlement footprints are found in Africa (39%), rising to 65% if we consider only rural settlement areas, along with numerous countries in the Middle East and Asia. Significant areas of unlit settlements are also located in some developed countries. For 49 countries spread across Africa, Asia and the Americas we are able to predict and map the wealth class obtained from ~2,400,000 geo-located households based upon the percent of unlit settlements, with an overall accuracy of 87%.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2459
JournalNature Communications
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2022

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