Economy

Gallup study: 1 in 5 worldwide living in extreme poverty

China makes huge gains in eradicating extreme poverty, while Africa lags, according to Gallup data

A woman in Jiegu in northwestern China and all she has to eat, a bowl of barley, after an earthquake destroyed her home in April. Despite several devastating natural disasters, China has dramatically reduced its rate of extreme poverty since 2007.
FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty

More than 1 in 5 people worldwide live in extreme poverty — defined by the World Bank as living on less than $1.25 per day — according to self-reported household income data released by Gallup on Monday.

Analyzing data from 131 countries compiled from 2006 to 2012, Gallup found that a third of respondents get by on less than $2 per day — sobering news for the World Bank, which has declared an ambitious goal of slashing the global extreme-poverty rate to just 3 percent by 2030.

The rate is dramatically higher than the world average in sub-Saharan Africa, where 54% of respondents from 27 countries live in extreme poverty. In Burundi and Liberia, the proportion is almost 90 percent.

Analysts note that Gallup employed a unique methodology using self-reported income rather than the laborious calculations of daily consumption — calories consumed, utility costs — used by the World Bank.

“It’s a much cruder attempt to obtain these numbers, and yet the results seem broadly in the same range,” said Laurence Chandy, a fellow in the Global Economy and Development program at the Brookings Institution. “So it seems that we can assume rough and ready estimates through a much less laborious process.”

By boiling down a household’s poverty to a single question, Chandy told Al Jazeera, Gallup might also have identified a relatively accurate method for charting progress in the global fight against poverty that can be reproduced quickly.

While more nuanced or technological methods can provide much-needed texture to information about global poverty — one particularly innovative measure involves looking at satellite imagery and counting streetlights as a proxy for a community’s relative wealth — a one-question survey can be deployed quickly and easily even in the poorest countries, which are sometimes surveyed only once a decade.

Gallup map
Gallup 2013

Gallup also applied the same methodology to wealthy regions of the world rather than focusing only on underdeveloped areas. Though having among the lowest rates of extreme poverty in the world, the United States, Canada, and Europe all had at least 1 percent living on less than $1.25.

But Africa remains the major stumbling block to the World Bank’s ambitious goal, despite dropping rates of extreme poverty on the continent. The 10 countries included in the Gallup study with the highest proportion of residents living on less than $1.25 per day are all in Africa.

And many of the continent’s poor are living well below the $1.25 threshold, at less than 70 cents per day.

Estimates indicate that Africa would need to halve its extreme-poverty rate by 2030 if the world is to hit the 3 percent mark.

But there is good news coming out of China, where Gallup has been surveying 2,000 residents every year since 2007. In six years, the percentage of people there living in extreme poverty has plummeted to 6 percent, from 26 percent, according to the latest data.

The world’s most populous country has achieved double — and very inclusive — economic growth, bolstered by sound economic management at the national level and the introduction of a viable social safety net, better education and more expansive health care. Large-scale urbanization has redistributed a large percentage of previously rural residents to cities, where they are more productive in industrial jobs.

“China’s been responsible for a lot of the global progress,” Chandy said. “It has really been an example to a lot of developing countries about how extreme poverty can be reduced, within a generation, from where a majority are living in extreme poverty to a minimum.”

Al Jazeera

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