UN countries have committed themselves to halve extreme poverty by 2015, and new World Bank figures suggest that they are on course. But critics are more cautious.
kleines Dorf in Kambodscha
More than one billion people live off less than $1.25 a day. That might seem like far too many, but Martin Ravallion, who led the latest World Bank study on global poverty, argues that significant progress has been made. “In 2010, the global poverty rate, which means the share of people who have to live off less than $1.25 a day, was half of that in 1990,” he said.
The year 1990 serves as the base year for measuring progress in reaching the eight so-called millennium goals: reduction of poverty, hunger, and diseases and better access to education, health care, and development. These targets were agreed on in 2000 by the 147 United Nations member states.
The UN completed made its millenium goals in 2000
The poverty figures that the World Bank drew on for its latest study only went up to 2008, the latest available, but these statistics were apparently for Ravallion to announce that the first millennium development goal has been achieved.
Global fight against poverty
The overall target is to halve extreme poverty and hunger. For more than 20 years, the World Bank has been collecting data on the poorest people's income and spending power in order to compile reliable poverty statistics. According to Ravallion, the latest finding is that "it's the first time we've seen an overall reduction of extreme poverty in all six regions of the World Bank." For the first time, he stresses, figures have gone down even in Sub-Saharan Africa, and less than half the population are now statistically extremely poor.
China as the pioneer
Nicole Rippin, an expert on poverty with the German Development Institute (DIE), remains skeptical, particularly as far as the World Bank's general conclusion is concerned. Looking at 2008 figures, she says that "of the 620 million who have escaped extreme poverty since 1990, some 510 million people live in China." Therefore, she concludes, it's a regional, rather than a worldwide reduction in poverty.
According to Rippin, the World Bank report is flawed because it only takes into account statistical spending power, which, she says, is not relevant when addressing the first Millennium Development Goal: "The first Millennium Goal is actually made up of three sub-goals: the first is halving poverty, the second is productive full employment and humane working conditions for all, including women and young people. And the third sub-goal is halving the share of people suffering from hunger by 2015 compared to 1990 levels."
Figures cause debate
Many experts also question the definition of poverty these statistics are based on. A simple arbitrary monetary figure like $1.25 doesn't equal poverty, they say, adding that the crucial factors are access to food, education, and healthcare. Those who can supply themselves with food, for instance, may be better off with just one dollar a day than those who have more money at their disposal but have to starve because they can't afford the higher food prices.
With food prices continuing to rise worldwide since 2008, the number of undernourished people has only increased, adds Ludger Reuke from the NGO Germanwatch. Statistically speaking, poverty has been halved, he says, but the statistics are already outdated, especially because they don't take into account the financial crisis that started in 2008.
Goal missed again
This is why Reuke, a political scientist and anthropologist, criticizes the World Bank's estimate. "The 2010 figure is not correct because the number of people living in extreme poverty has since risen drastically," he says.
The World Bank does point out that the study is not based on the very latest data, but rather on 2008 figures, and Ravaillon adds, "Achieving the millennium goal still means that there are a billion people who have to live off less than $1.25 a day. And that's not acceptable.”
Author: Helle Jeppesen / nh
Editor: Ben Knight