Gargi Parsai

NEW DELHI: A new global study says that despite much progress in poverty reduction worldwide, a substantial number of the world’s poorest people are being left behind.

“Business as usual won’t do,” says the report entitled, ‘The World’s Most Deprived: Characteristics and Causes of Extreme Poverty and Hunger’ by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). It finds that 162 million of the world’s poorest people — the “ultra poor”— survive on less than 50 cents a day. If concentrated in a single nation, they would comprise the world’s seventh most populous country.

“About one billion people today live on less than a dollar a day,” Akhter Ahmed, the lead author of the report said in a global telephone conference in which The Hindu participated. “However, this number masks a multitude of people living in varying degrees of poverty — all of them poor, but as this research shows, some even more desperately poor than others”

The study is the first to use household poverty data from 1990 to 2004 to look below the dollar-a-day poverty line and examine who the poorest people are, where they live, and how they have fared over time. Three categories of poverty in Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, and Sub-Saharan Africa are examined in the study. These comprise the ‘subjacent poor’ (those living on between $0.75 and $1 a day), ‘medial poor’ (those living on between $0.50 and $0.75 a day), and ‘ultra poor’ (those living on less than $0.50 a day).

The daily challenges faced by the ultra poor can over time lead to poverty traps — from which individuals or groups cannot emerge without outside assistance. The report identifies three common causes of poverty traps: inability of poor families to invest in the education of their children; limited access to credit for those with few assets; and reduced productivity due to malnutrition.

“New and different action is urgently needed to improve the livelihoods of the world’s poorest people. Measures to promote pro-poor growth need to be combined with action for social protection,” said Joachim von Braun, IFPRI director general.

The report is a follow-up on IFPRI’s international conference, “Taking Action for the World’s Poor and Hungry People,” in Beijing last month. It states that the very poorest people have benefited the least from substantial reduction in poverty around the world during the past 15 years. If the decline had been equal in all three categories of poverty, the number of ultra poor people would have fallen by nearly 4 per cent; in reality, it declined by less than 2 per cent, or less than half the expected rate.

Across developing regions, poverty reduction has differed markedly. East Asia and the Pacific experienced a substantial reduction in the number of people living at all levels of poverty, including the poorest. In South Asia, there has been a significant decrease in the number of people living on less than 50 cents a day, while poor people living closer to the dollar-a-day line fared much better.

However, ultra poverty rates have fallen only minimally in Sub-Saharan Africa, and the region is currently home to three-quarters of the world’s poorest people.