The World Bank has finally published the revised poverty figures for 1981-2005, introducing a higher poverty line, $1.25 a day instead of $1. At first the results are a little confusing. And so is the title of the study:

The Developing World is Poorer Than We Thought, But No Less Successful in the Fight Against Poverty

Here is a nice summary, if you don’t want to read the whole thing.

If you take a closer look, the main findings haven’t changed much:

“- The % below $1.25 a day was halved, falling from 52% to 26% over 1981-2005.

– The trend decline in the aggregate poverty rate was one % point per year.

– Number of poor fell by 500 million, from 1.9 billion to 1.4 billion.

– At this rate, the developing world as a whole is on track for attaining the first Millennium Development Goal of halving the 1990 poverty rate by 2015.”

To draw conclusions about the root causes for these successes, it is very important to look at the regional differences. Globalised East Asia has made impressing progress, especially China:

“- Dramatic progress in East Asia. Looking back to the early 1980s, East Asia was the region with the highest incidence of poverty in the world, with almost 80% living below $1.25 a day in 1981. By 2005 this had fallen to 18%.


– There are 600 million fewer people living in poverty by this standard in China alone, though progress in China has been uneven over time.

– In the developing world outside China, the $1.25 poverty rate has fallen from 40% to 29% over 1981-2005, though not enough to bring down the total number of poor, which has stayed at around 1.2 billion.”

But Africa has been marginalized:

“- $1.25 a day poverty rate for Africa has shown no sustained downward trend over the whole period; starting and ending the period at 50%. The number of poor has almost doubled in Africa over 1981-2005, from 200 million to 380 million.”

The big question seems to be: How do we get Africa on the Asian track?

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