Making Visible the Invisible: Nighttime Lights Data and the Closing of the Human Rights Information Gap
War, poverty, geographical remoteness and political isolation all contribute to unreliable or non-existent data for developing regions of the world. As a consequence, research within these areas has been hampered by an abject lack of data in underdeveloped regions. The satellite-based nighttime lights data introduced here may hold the potential to overcome this problem by providing a proxy measure for large numbers of variables dealing with second and third generation human rights issues. The images presented here represent some of the newest forms of data available to social science investigations and those interested in human rights studies, and are already being used to estimate national and sub-national socioeconomic variables, such as gross domestic product (GDP), income and wealth per capita, population density, urban development, and even CO2 emissions. Beyond its usefulness in these areas, nighttime lights images may also yet reveal embedded information about population growth, mortality rates, migration, subnational poverty rates and infant mortality. The following “Notes from the Field” is a photo-essay geared toward a general audience of practitioners and academics, and is meant to introduce to these audiences a new form of proxy data in the hopes that it will be more widely used by the human rights community in such a way that it can begin to fill-in what has been called an "information gap" on human rights data for some regions of the world.