Read Full Report

Date:  March 29, 2007

Contacts:  Vanee Vines, Senior Media Relations Officer

Sarah Morocco, Media Relations Assistant

Office of News and Public Information

202-334-2138; e-mail <>




Publication Announcement

Improvements In Population Data Needed 
To Support Humanitarian Relief And Development Efforts

Every year, millions of people worldwide are displaced because of natural or industrial disasters or social upheaval.  Reliable data on the
numbers, characteristics, and locations of these displaced populations can bolster humanitarian relief efforts and subsequent recovery programs.  Conversely, the absence of such information can hinder the prompt delivery of aid and impact the survival and recovery of affected groups.  Using sound methods for creating these data sets is important in both industrialized and developing nations, but resource-poor countries especially face large challenges in collecting and using their own national, regional, and local population data to respond to calamities or plan development initiatives. 


Solid data help policymakers and others determine how much and what type of aid is needed and where to direct it.  However, without a strong organizational and political desire to maintain and use the information, or adequate training, many population data sets will go unused or be outdated when they are needed most.  National governments and relief organizations around the world should value this kind of information and train relevant practitioners in their own countries to successfully apply it in times of crisis and in any development planning, says a new report from the National Research Council. 


Political instability, organizational difficulties, and a lack of resources in many developing nations have precluded the collection and use of reliable census data.  There is a clear need for more international resources to help train professionals in these countries to maintain their national population databases and conduct censuses and regular population surveys, the report says.  Furthermore, national statistical offices should be integrated into each country's preparedness and response team for national emergencies.  Disaster relief agencies should likewise reinforce ties to the offices.  The point is to marshal knowledge and information technology, and coordinate initiatives at all levels, to make positive differences.


Standards should be set for the types and amount of information that countries should collect and share with emergency responders and relief agencies, the report says.  Creating a central, worldwide archive for local and regional population data, using templates available through existing archives, would also help authorities deal more effectively with humanitarian crises.  At the same time, appropriate safeguards would be necessary to maintain the confidentiality of data. 


The U.S. government should coordinate and centralize its efforts to improve the use and distribution of these data for disaster response and development, the report adds.  With expertise in population studies and demography, the U.S. Census Bureau could play a lead role in this area, working to enhance statistical estimates of at-risk global populations and to raise the quality of data that informs America's humanitarian efforts and reconstruction programs.  In addition to supporting the federal government's global relief measures, the Census Bureau's expanded duties could include training geographers and foreign demographers to improve data collection, analysis, and distribution in their own countries.  The bureau also should have an active research program in estimating populations at risk.


The study was sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, U.S. Agency for International Development, U.S. Census Bureau, NASA, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  The National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and National Research Council make up the National Academies.  They are private, nonprofit institutions that provide science, technology, and health policy advice under a congressional charter.  The Research Council is the principal operating agency of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering.  A committee roster follows.


Copies of Tools and Methods for Estimating Populations at Risk from Natural Disasters and Complex Humanitarian Crises will be available from the National Academies Press; tel. 202-334-3313 or 1-800-624-6242 or order on the Internet at  Reporters may obtain a copy from the Office of News and Public Information (contacts listed above).


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[ This announcement and the report are available at ]



Division on Earth and Life Studies

Board on Earth Sciences and Resources


Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education

Committee on Population


Committee on the Effective Use of Data, Methodologies, and Technologies

to Estimate Sub-national Populations at Risk

Susan L. Cutter (chair)
Carolina Distinguished Professor and Director of the Hazards Research Lab
Department of Geography
University of South Carolina

Margaret Arnold

Head of ProVention Consortium
International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies


Deborah Balk

Associate Professor

Baruch School of Public Affairs, and

Acting Associate Director

Institute for Demographic Research

City University of New York

New York City

Barbara Boyle Torrey
Visiting Scholar
Population Reference Bureau
Washington, D.C.

Bela Hovy
Head of Statistics
Populations Division
United Nations
New York City

Mei-Po Kwan
Distinguished Professor
Social and Behavioral Sciences
Ohio State University


David R. Rain
Assistant Professor of Geography
George Washington University
Washington, D.C.

Jonathan D. Mayer
Epidemiology, Geography, and International Health
University of Washington, and
Clinical Consultant
Tropical Medicine and Infectious Disease Service
University of Washington Medical Center

Havidán Rodríguez

Vice Provost for Academic Affairs and Professor of


University of Delaware, and

Core Faculty Member

Disaster Research Center

Newark, Del.

B.L. Turner II*
Milton P. and Alice C. Higgins Professor of Environment and Society, and
Director, Graduate School of Geography
Clark University
Worcester, Mass.

John. R. Weeks
Professor of Geography, and
Director, International Population Center
San Diego State University
San Diego

Tukufu Zuberi
Lasry Family Endowed Professor of Race Relations, and
Director, Center for African Studies
University of Pennsylvania




Elizabeth Eide

Study Director


* Member, National Academy of Sciences