Mapping the World’s Key Maritime Choke Points
Maritime transport is an essential part of international trade—approximately 80% of global merchandise is shipped via sea.
Because of its importance, commercial shipping relies on strategic trade routes to move goods efficiently. These waterways are used by thousands of vessels a year—but it’s not always smooth sailing. In fact, there are certain points along these routes that pose a risk to the whole system.
Here’s a look at the world’s most vulnerable maritime bottlenecks—also known as choke points—as identified by GIS.
What’s a Choke Point?
Choke points are strategic, narrow passages that connect two larger areas to one another. When it comes to maritime trade, these are typically straits or canals that see high volumes of traffic because of their optimal location.
Despite their convenience, these vital points pose several risks:
- Structural risks: As demonstrated in the recent Suez Canal blockage, ships can crash along the shore of a canal if the passage is too narrow, causing traffic jams that can last for days.
- Geopolitical risks: Because of their high traffic, choke points are particularly vulnerable to blockades or deliberate disruptions during times of political unrest.
The type and degree of risk varies, depending on location. Here’s a look at some of the biggest threats, at eight of the world’s major choke points.
Because of their high risk, alternatives for some of these key routes have been proposed in the past—for instance, in 2013 Nicaraguan Congress approved a $40 billion dollar project proposal to build a canal that was meant to rival the Panama Canal.
As of today, it has yet to materialize.
A Closer Look: Key Maritime Choke Points
Despite their vulnerabilities, these choke points remain critical waterways that facilitate international trade. Below, we dive into a few of the key areas to provide some context on just how important they are to global trade.
The Panama Canal
The Panama Canal is a lock-type canal that provides a shortcut for ships traveling between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. Ships sailing between the east and west coasts of the U.S. save over 8,000 nautical miles by using the canal—which roughly shortens their trip by 21 days.
In 2019, 252 million long tons of goods were transported through the Panama Canal, which generated over $2.6 billion in tolls.
The Suez Canal
The Suez Canal is an Egyptian waterway that connects Europe to Asia. Without this route, ships would need to sail around Africa, which would add approximately seven days to their trips. In 2019, nearly 19,000 vessels, and 1 billion tons of cargo, traveled through the Suez Canal.
In an effort to mitigate risk, the Egyptian government embarked on a major expansion project for the canal back in 2015. But, given the recent blockage caused by a Taiwanese container ship, it’s clear that the waterway is still vulnerable to obstruction.
The Strait of Malacca
At its smallest point, the Strait of Malacca is approximately 1.5 nautical miles, making it one of the world’s narrowest choke points. Despite its size, it’s one of Asia’s most critical waterways, since it provides a critical connection between China, India, and Southeast Asia. This choke point creates a risky situation for the 130,000 or so ships that visit the Port of Singapore each year.
The area is also known to have problems with piracy—in 2019, there were 30 piracy incidents, according to private information group ReCAAP ISC.
The Strait of Hormuz
Controlled by Iran, the Strait of Hormuz links the Persian Gulf to the Gulf of Oman, ultimately draining into the Arabian Sea. It’s a primary vein for the world’s oil supply, transporting approximately 21 million barrels per day.
Historically, it’s also been a site of regional conflict. For instance, tankers and commercial ships were attacked in that area during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s.
The Bab el-Mandeb Strait
The Bab el-Mandeb Strait is another primary waterway for the world’s oil and natural gas. Nestled between Africa and the Middle East, the critical route connects the Mediterranean Sea (via the Suez Canal) to the Indian Ocean.
Like the Strait of Malacca, it’s well known as a high-risk area for pirate attacks. In May 2020, a UK chemical tanker was attacked off the coast of Yemen–the ninth pirate attack in the area that year.
Due to the strategic nature of the region, there is a strong military presence in nearby Djibouti, including China’s first ever foreign military base.
Mapped: GDP per Capita Worldwide
GDP per capita is one of the best measures of a country’s standard of living. This map showcases the GDP per capita in every country globally.
Mapped: Visualizing GDP per Capita Worldwide
View the high-resolution of the infographic by clicking here.
GDP per capita has steadily risen globally over time, and in tandem, the standard of living worldwide has increased immensely.
This map using data from the IMF shows the GDP per capita (nominal) of nearly every country and territory in the world.
GDP per capita is one of the best measures of a country’s wealth as it provides an understanding of how each country’s citizens live on average, showing a representation of the quantity of goods and services created per person.
The Standard of Living Over Time
Looking at history, our standard of living has increased drastically. According to Our World in Data, from 1820 to 2018, the average global GDP per capita increased by almost 15x.
Literacy rates, access to vaccines, and basic education have also improved our quality of life, while things like child mortality rates and poverty have all decreased.
For example, in 1990, 1.9 billion people lived in extreme poverty, which was 36% of the world’s population at the time. Over the last 30 years, the number has been steadily decreasing — by 2030, an estimated 479 million people will be living in extreme poverty, which according to UN population estimates, will represent only 6% of the population.
That said, economic inequality between different regions is still prevalent. In fact, the richest country today (in terms of nominal GDP per capita), Luxembourg, is over 471x more wealthy than the poorest, Burundi.
Here’s a look at the 10 countries with the highest GDP per capita in 2021:
However, not all citizens in Luxembourg are extremely wealthy. In fact:
- 29% of people spend over 40% of their income on housing costs
- 31% would be at risk of falling into poverty if they had to forgo 3 months of income
The cost of living is expensive in Luxembourg — but the standard of living in terms of goods and services produced is the highest in the world. Additionally, only 4% of the population reports low life satisfaction.
Emerging Economies and Developing Countries
Although we have never lived in a more prosperous period, and poverty rates have been declining overall, this year global extreme poverty rose for the first time in over two decades.
About 120 million additional people are living in poverty as a result of the pandemic, with the total expected to rise to about 150 million by the end of 2021.
Many of the poorest countries in the world are also considered Least Developed Countries (LDCs) by the UN. In these countries, more than 75% of the population live below the poverty line.
Here’s a look at the 10 countries with the lowest GDP per capita:
Life in these countries offers a stark contrast compared to the top 10. Here’s a glance at the quality of life in the poorest country, Burundi:
- 80% of the population works in agriculture
- 1 in 3 Burundians are in need of urgent humanitarian assistance
- Average households spend up to two-thirds of their income on food
However, many of the world’s poorest countries can also be classified as emerging markets with immense economic potential in the future.
In fact, China has seen the opportunity in emerging economies. Their confidence in these regions is best exemplified in the Belt and Road initiative which has funneled massive investments into infrastructure projects across multiple African countries.
Continually Raising the Bar
Prosperity is a very recent reality only characterizing the last couple hundred years. In pre-modern societies, the average person was living in conditions that would be considered extreme poverty by today’s standards.
Overall, the standard of living for everyone today is immensely improved compared to even recent history, and some countries will be experiencing rapid economic growth in the future.
GDP per Capita in 2021: Full Dataset
|Country||GDP per Capita (Nominal, 2021, USD)|
|🇺🇸 United States||$66,144|
|Hong Kong SAR||$47,990|
|United Arab Emirates||$32,686|
|Taiwan Province of China||$28,890|
|Trinidad and Tobago||$16,622|
|Saint Kitts and Nevis||$16,491|
|Antigua and Barbuda||$14,748|
|Saint Vincent and the Grenadines||$7,401|
|Bosnia and Herzegovina||$6,536|
|West Bank and Gaza||$3,060|
|Papua New Guinea||$2,596|
|Congo, Republic of||$2,271|
|São Tomé and Príncipe||$2,133|
|Central African Republic||$522|
|Congo, Dem. Rep. of the||$478|
|South Sudan, Republic of||$323|
Editor’s note: Readers have rightly pointed out that Monaco is one of the world’s richest countries in GDP per capita (nominal) terms. This is true, but the IMF dataset excludes Monaco and lists it as “No data” each year. As a result, it is excluded from the visualization(s) above.
Ranked: The Most Innovative Companies in 2021
In today’s fast-paced market, companies have to be innovative constantly. Here’s a look at the top 50 most innovative companies in 2021.
Ranked: the Top 50 Most Innovative Companies in 2021
This year has been rife with pandemic-induced changes that have shifted corporate priorities—and yet, innovation has remained a top concern among corporations worldwide.
Using data from the annual ranking done by Boston Consulting Group (BCG) using a poll of 1,600 global innovation professionals, this graphic ranks the top 50 most innovative companies in 2021.
We’ll dig into a few of the leading companies, along with their innovative practices, below.
Most Innovative Companies: A Breakdown of the Leaderboard
To create the top 50 innovative company ranking, BCG uses four variables:
- Global “Mindshare”: The number of votes from all innovation executives.
- Industry Peer Review: The number of votes from executives in a company’s industry.
- Industry Disruption: A diversity index to measure votes across industries.
- Value Creation: Total share return.
For the second year in a row, Apple claims the top spot on this list. Here’s a look at the full ranking for 2021:
|Company||Industry||HQ||Change from 2020|
|3||Amazon||Consumer Goods||🇺🇸 U.S.||--|
|5||Tesla||Transport & Energy||🇺🇸 U.S.||+6|
|6||Samsung||Technology||🇰🇷 South Korea||-1|
|9||Sony||Consumer Goods||🇯🇵 Japan||--|
|12||LG Electronics||Consumer Goods||🇰🇷 South Korea||+6|
|14||Alibaba||Consumer Goods||🇨🇳 China||-7|
|17||Cisco Systems||Technology||🇺🇸 U.S.||-5|
|18||Target||Consumer Goods||🇺🇸 U.S.||+4|
|19||HP Inc.||Technology||🇺🇸 U.S.||-4|
|20||Johnson & Johnson||Healthcare||🇺🇸 U.S.||+6|
|21||Toyota||Transport & Energy||🇯🇵 Japan||+20|
|23||Walmart||Consumer Goods||🇺🇸 U.S.||-10|
|24||Nike||Consumer Goods||🇺🇸 U.S.||-8|
|25||Lenovo||Technology||🇭🇰 Hong Kong SAR||Return|
|26||Tencent||Consumer Goods||🇨🇳 China||-12|
|27||Procter & Gamble||Consumer Goods||🇺🇸 U.S.||+12|
|28||Coca-Cola||Consumer Goods||🇺🇸 U.S.||+20|
|29||Abbott Labs||Healthcare||🇺🇸 U.S.||New|
|30||Bosch||Transport & Energy||🇩🇪 Germany||+3|
|32||Ikea||Consumer Goods||🇳🇱 Netherlands||Return|
|33||Fast Retailing||Consumer Goods||🇯🇵 Japan||Return|
|34||Adidas||Consumer Goods||🇩🇪 Germany||Return|
|35||Merck & Co.||Healthcare||🇺🇸 U.S.||Return|
|37||Ebay||Consumer Goods||🇺🇸 U.S.||Return|
|38||PepsiCo||Consumer Goods||🇺🇸 U.S.||Return|
|39||Hyundai||Transport & Energy||🇰🇷 South Korea||Return|
|41||Inditex||Consumer Goods||🇪🇸 Spain||Return|
|44||Disney||Media & Telecomms||🇺🇸 U.S.||Return|
|45||Mitsubishi||Transport & Energy||🇯🇵 Japan||New|
|46||Comcast||Media & Telecomms||🇺🇸 U.S.||New|
|47||GE||Transport & Energy||🇺🇸 U.S.||Return|
One company worth touching on is Pfizer, a returnee from previous years that ranked 10th in this year’s ranking. It’s no surprise that Pfizer made the list, considering its instrumental role in the fight against COVID-19. In partnership with BioNTech, Pfizer produced a COVID-19 vaccine in less than a year. This is impressive considering that, historically, vaccine development could take up to a decade to complete.
Pfizer is just one of four COVID-19 vaccine producers to appear on the list this year—Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, and AstraZeneca also made the cut.
Meanwhile, in a completely different industry, Toyota snagged the 21st spot on this year’s list, up 20 places compared to the rankings in the previous year. This massive jump can be signified by the company’s recent $400 million investment into a company set to build flying electric cars.
While we often think of R&D and innovation as being synonymous, the former is just one innovation technique that’s helped companies earn a spot on the list. Other companies have innovated in different ways, like streamlining processes to increase efficiency.
For instance, in 2021, Coca-Cola performed an analysis of their beverage portfolio and ended up cutting their brand list in half, from 400 to 200 global brands. This ability to pare down and pivot could be a reason behind its 20 rank increase from 2020.
Innovation Creates Value
As this year’s ranking indicates, innovation comes in many forms. But, while there’s no one-size-fits-all approach, there is one fairly consistent innovation trend—the link between innovation and value.
In fact, according to historical data from BCG, the correlation between value and innovation has grown even stronger over the last two decades.
For example, in 2020, a portfolio that was theoretically invested in BCG’s most innovative companies would have performed 17% better than the MSCI World Index—which wasn’t the case back in 2005.
And yet, despite innovation’s value, many companies can’t reap the benefits that innovation offers because they aren’t ready to scale their innovative practices.
The Innovation Readiness Gap
BCG uses several metrics to gauge a company’s “innovation readiness,” such as the strength of its talent and culture, its organization ecosystems, and its ability to track performance.
According to BCG’s analysis, only 20% of companies surveyed were ready to scale on innovation.
What’s holding companies back from reaching their innovation potential? The most significant gap seems to be in what BCG calls innovation practices—things like project management or the ability to execute an idea that’s both efficient and consistent with an overarching strategy.
To overcome this obstacle, BCG says companies need to foster a “one-team mentality” to increase interdepartmental collaboration and align team incentives, so everyone is working towards the same goal.
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