Free online reports, tools are valuable geography resources

By IKU KAWACHI

To many journalists, human geography may seem like a discipline that has little bearing on the stories that they churn out on a day-to-day basis.

But reporting on global issues such as urbanization, poverty, water scarcity and infectious diseases requires a holistic understanding of geography across different regions. Not only that, it requires access to a plethora of resources with the data necessary to paint an accurate picture of a certain issue, whether it be malaria in Kenya or declining birth rates in rural Russia.

Those given such an assignment may initially be at a loss as to where to begin, scouring the Internet aimlessly and collecting disjointed tidbits from various Web sites. What many don’t realize is that the United Nations (UN) and its programs and agencies actually have excellent online repositories of such information.

The core aims of the United Nations, founded in 1945 following the end of World War II, are to “maintain international peace and security, develop friendly relations among nations and promote social progress, better living standards and human rights.” With almost every sovereign state in the world an active member of the UN, nobody is better equipped to conduct research and produce reports on human geography issues.

The United Nations Human Settlement Programme (“UN-HABITAT”) is one example of an agency that has a wealth of online information that may be useful to journalists. Their annual State of the World’s Cities report, downloadable in PDF format, is considered one of the most reputable and up-to-date publications on urban studies in the world. In fact, their “Press Kits” section has an abundance of such materials, such as the more specialized Building Prosperity – Housing and Economic Development and State of Asian Cities reports.

Ask any reasonably tech-savvy geographer, though, and there’s a good chance they’d also point you to the Web site of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), another development agency that focuses specifically on population issues. They, too, publish annual State of World Population reports that are available free of charge in PDF, each year providing an in-depth look at a different subset of population issues. (The 2010 report focused on women’s issues in ravaged and politically unstable regions.)

Lastly, for those seeking data on topics a little closer to home, Mapping the Measure of America, designed by Rosten Woo and Zachary Watson for the non-profit Social Science Research Council, is a highly intuitive, visually appealing interactive feature that maps health, education, and income across the United States. It’s a project you could easily find yourself spending hours immersed in, even if you have no prior knowledge of human development issues.

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