Accurate mapping of population distribution is essential for policy-making, urban planning, administration, and risk management in hazardous areas. In some countries, however, population data is not collected on a regular basis and is rarely available at a high spatial resolution. In this study, we proposed an approach to estimate the absolute number of inhabitants at the neighborhood level, combining data obtained through field work with high resolution remote sensing. The approach was tested on Ngazidja Island (Union of the Comoros). A detailed survey of neighborhoods at the level of individual dwellings, showed that the average number of inhabitants per dwelling was significantly different between buildings characterized by a different roof type. Firstly, high spatial resolution remotely sensed imagery was used to define the location of individual buildings, and second to determine the roof type for each building, using an object-based classification approach. Knowing the location of individual houses and their roof type, the number of inhabitants was estimated at the neighborhood level using the data on house occupancy of the field survey. To correct for misclassification bias in roof type discrimination, an inverse calibration approach was applied. To assess the impact of variations in average dwelling occupancy between neighborhoods on model outcome, a measure of the degree of confidence of population estimates was calculated. Validation using the leave-one-out approach showed low model bias, and a relative error at the neighborhood level of 17%. With the increasing availability of high resolution remotely sensed data, population estimation methods combining data from field surveys with remote sensing, as proposed in this study, hold great promise for systematic mapping of population distribution in areas where reliable census data are not available on a regular basis.
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