On a global level one in ten people lives in extreme poverty. The figure emerges from the new World Bank report on world poverty, published on October 17 celebrating the 25th anniversary of the World Day against Poverty—established by the United Nations on December 22, 1992 —under the title “Poverty and Shared Prosperity Report 2018: Piecing Together the Poverty Puzzle.“
The data collected by the Washington,DC-based body reveals that in 2015 (the last year for which reliable data is available) 10% of the world’s population lived below the threshold of extreme poverty. This means that they were forced to live on less than $ 1.90 a day. Jim Yong Kim, president of the institute, pointed out in a press release that this is the best (lowest) rate ever recorded in history. In other words, from 1990 to 2015, extreme poverty dropped from 36% to 10% globally—an average rate of one percentage point on an annual basis, even if a deceleration was recorded in the two year period 2013-2015. In fact, from 2013 to 2015 the drop was only 0.6% on an annual basis and according to World Bank forecasts, extreme poverty will fall in the period 2015-2018 at an even slower pace, with a rate of less than 0.5% per year until reaching 8.6%.
In concrete figures, the decline implies that 735.9 million people in 2015 lived in extreme poverty, compared to 804.2 million in 2013 (or 11.2% of the world population). It also means that in the two-year period from 2013-2015 about 68 million inhabitants of the planet have managed to lift themselves up from the condition of extreme poverty, more or less equal to the population of countries like Thailand or the United Kingdom.
In almost all regions of the world, extreme poverty has declined, albeit in a non-homogeneous way.
The greatest decline occurred in South Asia, which includes two demographic giants: India (more than 1.3 billion inhabitants) and Bangladesh (164.7 million). In the macro-region, the number of people living on less than $ 1.9 a day fell in the period 2013-2015 by 58.1 million, from 274.5 million (16.2%) to 216.4 (12.4%).
In the same period, 25.9 million people recovered from extreme poverty in the macro-region of East Asia and the Pacific, down from 73.1 million (3.6%) to 47.2 million (2.3%).
The decrease in Latin America and the Caribbean was more modest, where 2.1 million inhabitants managed to escape extreme poverty, which still affected 25.9 million people in 2015 (compared to 28 million in 2013).
Paradoxical is the situation in Africa in the south of the Sahara, where the extreme poverty rate registered a decrease of 1.4% from 2013 to 2015, from 42.5% to 41.1%. But despite this, the number of people living in extreme conditions has increased in the region by 8.3 million in the period 2013-2015, or from 405.1 million to 413.3 million, so the report reveals.
Of the 27 countries in the world with the highest rates of extreme poverty, 26 are sub-Saharan. One of the explanations for this is the rapid demographic growth on the continent, defined as “unrestrained” by the Süddeutsche Zeitung (September 11). The situation in Nigeria is emblematic. Today it has about 191 million inhabitants and is the most populous country in the entire continent and the seventh in the world. According to an estimate provided by the United Nations, by the year 2050 the Nigerian population will surpass that of the United States and will become the third most populous country on the planet, after China and India. Nigeria is about to become (some say it is already) the country in the world with the largest number of inhabitants in extreme poverty; this is suggested by the projections of the World Bank. At least until 2015 it was India that led this unenviable ranking: the huge country was home to more than 170 million people below the threshold of $ 1.90 a day—that is, almost a quarter of the total number of extremely poor people across the globe.
The Impact of War and Political Instability
The World Bank’s report also sheds light on the impact of wars and situations of political instability. This is shown in particular by the situation in the Middle East and the region of North Africa (MENA). In the macro-region, the extreme poverty rate rose from 2.6% in 2013 to 5% in 2015, an increase of 2.4%—almost double. In concrete figures, this means that the number of people who have to get by with less than $1.90 a day has jumped in the region from 9.5 million to 18.6 million people, an increase of 8.1 million. The situation in the MENA reminds us, warns the World Bank, that the progress achieved in the past “cannot be taken for granted.” These huge increases, in sharp contrast with other regions, are caused by the conflict in Syria and the civil war (or perhaps best called war by proxy) in Yemen. In the latter country, located in the Arabian peninsula, violence has led to the “worst humanitarian crisis created by man in the world” affecting millions of people—writes the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). On the other hand, the Syrian crisis has caused about 6.7 million internally displaced persons and more than 5 million refugees.
This is also true for Sub-Saharan Africa, which in 2015 housed more than half of those living in extreme poverty: 413 million out of a total of 736 million. Moreover, more than half (54%) of people in so-called “fragile and conflict settings” (FCS) were living in Africa in the south of the Sahara in 2015. While in 2015 the poverty rate in 35 FCS countries was 35.9%, i.e. an increase of 1.5% compared to 2011 (34.4%), in the same year almost a quarter (23%) of all the poor lived in this category of nations. According to the World Bank, extreme poverty is increasingly associated with institutional fragility and conflict.
A Venti Caffe Latte from Starbucks
Extreme poverty is also a “disproportionately” rural phenomenon, in the sense that more than three quarters of the planet’s poor live in rural areas, the report suggests. It is also a female phenomenon: globally 104 women per 100 men live in poor households, a ratio that rises to 109 women per 100 men in South Asia, notes the text, which adds that children are two sometimes more at risk of living in poor households. The World Bank report also relates that in 2015 more than 85% of the poor lived in two regions of the globe: sub-Saharan Africa and southern Asia.
The other 15%, about 106 million poor people, lived in the other four regions examined by the report. While in 84 of the 164 countries monitored, the poverty rate has dropped below 3% today, it is likely that in sub-Saharan Africa it will remain in the double-digits up until 2030, the year in which the international community is supposed to achieve the sustainable development goals established by the United Nations, including that of “zero poverty.” It should be remembered that in Africa south of the Sahara, 84.5% of the population lives on less than $5.50 a day, which is more or less the price paid in New York City for a Venti Caffe Latte in Starbucks, as Kate Gibson observes on CBS News.
Below this threshold, considering the threshold of poverty in middle-upper income countries, lives almost half (about 46%) of the world’s population, or 3.4 billion, as stated in a World Bank press release. Slightly more than a quarter (26.2%), or 1.9 billion people, lives off of less than $3.20 a day—the poverty line in middle-low income countries, recalls the text. The path to achieve the goals set by the UN thus presents itself as still very difficult.