POVERTY OF DIFFERENT KINDS
Income is the common way
of measuring poverty, but poverty has many dimensions. The poor
are deprived of services, resources and opportunities as well as
money. Their limited resources are inefficiently deployed. Energy,
water, and food all cost more per unit consumed-paradoxically,
poverty is expensive for the poor.
People's health, education, gender relations and degree of
social inclusion all promote or diminish their well-being and help
to determine the prevalence of poverty. Escaping poverty depends
on improving personal capacities and increasing access to a variety
of resources, institutions and support mechanisms.
Economic growth will not by itself end poverty. The assumptions
that wealth will "trickle down" to the poor, or that "a rising
tide lifts all boats" are convenient, but do not always correspond
to experience, especially in the poorest countries and among
the poorest people. Ending extreme poverty calls for commitment
to the task, and specific action directed to it.
Table 1: Population living onless than a dollar a day
(at 1993 purchasing power parity)
|E. Europe/Central Asia||0.2||1.1||3.7||17.6|
|Middle East/N. Africa||4.3||9.3||2.1||6.0|
|Source: World Bank|
INCOME POVERTY The global economy has grown steadily over
the past three decades, but broad improvements can mask important
differences from region to region, from country to country, or
within countries. A large share of estimated global reductions
in poverty, for example, is the result of economic growth in China.
Income poverty persists, and in many places is deepening.
Based on expenditure measures, the proportion of the population
in developing countries living on less than $1 a day decreased
from 28.3 per cent in 1987 to 23.4 per cent in 1998. The percentages
reflect population growth; absolute numbers have remained
relatively stable at about 1.2 billion.
The reduction has been uneven across regions (Table 1). The
most dramatic reductions have taken place in East Asia, mainly
China. The most dramatic increase has been in Eastern Europe and
Central Asia. There were net additions to the number of poor in
both South Asia and Africa. Modest gains in poverty reduction were
made in the Middle East and Latin America.
The concept of income poverty has recently been extended
to include economic vulnerability, describing households or individuals
pushed into permanent poverty by temporary spells of
unemployment, ill health or other misfortune.
Figure 1: Income per capita by region, 1975-1995.
(In 1990 U.S. dollars)
Click here to enlarge image
Source: Compiled by Nationale Institute of Public Health and the Environment (RIVM), the Netherlands, from Wolrd Bank and UN Data.
INCOME INEQUALITY Apart from
considerations of human rights, justice and equity,
inequality within and among nations contributes to political
unrest and drives migration in search of more favourable
conditions (1). It
also affects general levels of health. Life expectancies
are lower in societies with greater inequality. Both
the level of available resources and the equity of their
distribution contribute to a society's health.
By most measures the gap between
rich and poor, globally and within countries, has been
growing (2). The
difference in per capita income between the world's
wealthiest 20 per cent and the poorest 20 per cent was
30 to 1 in 1960; this ratio jumped to 78 to 1 in 1994,
and decreased slightly to 74 to 1 in 1999 (3).
FURTHER DIMENSIONS There
is a distinction between lack of income and lack of
capacity (4). Poor
people acutely feel their powerlessness and insecurity,
their vulnerability and lack of dignity. Rather than
taking decisions for themselves, they are subject to
the decisions of others in nearly all aspects of their
lives. Their lack of education or technical skills holds
them back. Poor health may mean that employment is erratic
and low-paid. Their very poverty excludes them from
the means of escaping it. Their attempts even to supply
basic needs meet persistent obstacles, economic or social,
obdurate or whimsical, legal or customary. Violence
is an ever-present threat, especially to women.
The poorest use what resources they have, and considerable
resourcefulness, in their struggle to survive. For the poor, innovation
means risk, and risk can be fatal. Helping them improve
their capacities calls for imagination as well as compassion.