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FEATURE STORY August 11, 2020

Djibouti’s Data Collection Efforts: How Information Helps Tackle Poverty

A farmer carries a bundle of crops in Djibouti

A farmer carries a bundle of crops in Djibouti. Photo: © EU/ECHO/Martin Karimi

Four years ago, the Government of Djibouti launched Vision 2035, a target to improve living standards for the country’s people over the next two decades. A country in the Horn of Africa, Djibouti has a rocky, arid landscape that has driven the vast majority of people to cities. More than 35 percent of the country lives in poverty, and about 21 percent in extreme poverty, including nomadic Djiboutians and others who live in extreme rural poverty.

Where to start? And where to focus resources? Census data was outdated, surveyors needed better training, and respondents were often uncomfortable answering questions. The government has undertaken national surveys on household consumption, expenditures, and the labor market since 1996, but none of them incorporated the most recent methodologies. And none attempted to survey the country’s nomads.

The World Bank worked with Djibouti’s Directorate for Statistics and Demographic Studies (DISED) to poll 4,474 households across the country in 2017. Using methodologies developed by DISED with the World Bank, surveyors visited each household two to three times. More than half of those surveyed lived in urban areas, mirroring the makeup of the population as a whole.

Armed with a 37-page series of questions on digital tablets, surveyors knocked on doors, pulled back the flaps of tents, and sat for hours – often in blistering heat – speaking to mothers, fathers, children, and members of large families. They collected data on what people buy and eat; what sort of home they live in; their education, health, employment, and history of migration.

Surveyors counted how many cattle people have, looked at their water sources, and asked detailed questions about their regular expenses, sources of income, and how they weather financial and health shocks. They talked to people about their perceptions of poverty, governance, and access to services. They collected details about whether people read and where and how they used the bathroom.

The vast collection of data showed large challenges and positive trends. Djibouti has a large gap between the average annual spending of the richest Djiboutians ($3,775) and the poorest ($228). The survey showed improvements in education levels, due in part to an increase in the number of public primary schools, from 84 in 2005 to 136 in 2017. The literacy rate in the country is just 53 percent, but it is significantly higher among those aged 15 to 24. 

Extreme poverty is concentrated in rural areas: just 15 percent of Djibouti’s people live outside urban areas, but they make up more than half the country’s extreme poor. In rural areas, 41 percent of 15- to 24-year-olds did not receive any education, compared to 16 percent in Djibouti City. 

The data provides a roadmap for the Government of Djibouti to determine where to invest resources and concentrate efforts. The World Bank plans to continue working with DISED, starting with the country’s next census. “Instead of developing policies out of thin air, from word of mouth, this data set is able to provide them actual estimates to understand what the problems are,” World Bank economist Vibhuti Mendiratta said. “This is essential to tackle poverty anywhere.”