(This is part one of our two-part poverty data update. Read part two here.)
You might know that last week saw the launch of the Global Goals for Sustainable Development: the world’s 15-year action plan for eradicating poverty, fighting inequality and protecting our planet. It’s the biggest promise the world has ever made to itself, and it felt like a truly inspirational moment. If we rise to the challenge, in 15 years’ time, no girl, boy, woman, or man will face desperate daily survival below the extreme poverty line. We can be the generation that achieves that.
Fast forward a few days and we have a great piece of breaking news to further galvanize our efforts in realizing this future. Yesterday, the World Bank released its latest official extreme poverty estimates – showing that the proportion of people worldwide living in extreme poverty declined by 65% between 1990 and 2012, to 12.8%. This represents 1.1 billion people lifted out of extreme poverty in that time and puts us two-thirds of the way towards finishing the job.
The new data release had good news for sub-Saharan Africa too. Since 1990, there has been a 24% decline in the proportion of people in the region living in extreme poverty. And what’s really exciting, in 2012 for the first time in 25 years, we saw the beginnings of a dip in the absolute number of extreme poor in sub-Saharan Africa: dropping 5 million between 2011 and 2012. Until now, population growth has meant that the absolute number of extreme poor has been rising year-on-year in sub-Saharan Africa, even though the proportion in the total population has been declining. If 2012 truly marks the start of a new trajectory of decline, it could have huge implications.
But we cannot be complacent. There are still over 900 million people facing extreme poverty globally on a daily basis. The final third of the way will be the toughest part of the challenge yet. Many of those who remain in extreme poverty are among the most vulnerable and marginalised groups in society. An increasing proportion of them – 43% in 2012, up from just 14% back in 1990 – are in sub-Saharan Africa, where the majority of least developed countries and fragile states are located. Thirty-eight of the 49 countries in the region are either LDCs or fragile states, or both, with often very limited public revenues and private funding to invest in growth-boosting infrastructure and poverty-busting public services such as health and education.
Poverty tends to be much deeper in sub-Saharan Africa – which means people do not live just below the poverty line, but often far below it. Compared to all other regions, so far, Africa’s economic growth has translated the least well into poverty reduction. Put bluntly: current projections show that it will require unprecedented effort to get many sub-Saharan African countries to the zero zone. It is achievable, but only if we accelerate the progress we’ve seen thus far and hold leaders to account for delivering on their promises.
Finally, there was one other important update in the World Bank’s release yesterday: the extreme poverty line has been raised to $1.90 a day, up from $1.25 a day. This vital adjustment keeps the yardstick relevant for today’s world: the update accounts for inflation, so that the real standard of living it represents remains the same. You can read more about this in part two of our poverty data update.
It might sound dull, but this statistical adjustment to the poverty line highlights a much bigger issue: Without high-quality data, we are continually hamstrung in our efforts to achieve sustainable development, especially for the poorest. Data underpins evidence to help us to understand and map out people’s needs, which in turn informs smart policymaking. ‘High-quality’ data means accurate and reliable, open and transparent, timely (you may have noticed that the current poverty statistics are subject to a three-year time lag!) and disaggregated – so that we can track progress for different groups and make sure we are reaching the most vulnerable and marginalized, including girls and women, as we tackle that last third of the journey to end extreme poverty.
To drive this much-needed data revolution, ONE is part of the new Global Partnership for Sustainable Development, a partnership of more than 70 members comprising governments, businesses and civil society organizations, which was officially launched alongside the Global Goals in New York last week. The Global Partnership will help build statistical capacity in developing countries, secure new investments in creating good data and opening it up for public use, and bring together communities who all have an interest in generating, sharing and using high-quality data for sustainable development.
So let’s celebrate the incredible 65% decline in extreme poverty these new figures reveal, and let’s welcome the fact that we are now equipped with a more accurate baseline for measuring future progress in fighting poverty. But let’s also remember that the toughest part of the challenge remains, and it will demand from us that we solve the data crisis that currently hampers our efforts to reach the very poorest. Now that’s something that should get us shocked, angry and more determined than ever to be the “great generation” that puts an end to the injustice of extreme poverty for good.