Good news for developing countries: In February, the World Bank released its most recent figures on global poverty and showed stunning progress in the number of people living in extreme poverty (less than $1.25 per day) around the world. Since 1981 the global poverty headcount ratio (the percentage of the world’s population living in extreme poverty) has been rapidly declining. And since the mid-1990s, the absolute number of people living in extreme poverty also has been falling. Between 1993 and 2008, the share of world’s population living in extreme poverty fell from 41% to 22%. The total number declined from 1.9 billion to 1.3 billion people, a fall of nearly one-third in just 15 years.
The new data show that the pace of poverty declines has been accelerating, plus something new and striking: For the first time ever, between 2005 and 2008 the absolute number of people living in extreme poverty declined in all major developing regions, including sub-Saharan Africa.
The story is basically the same across all three of the most widely used poverty lines ($1.00/day, $1.25/day and $2.00/day) – across all three, both the share and total number of people living in poverty are falling around the world.
Among USAID’s major partner countries, these trends are no less impressive. In the 21 countries that have received more than $1 billion in cumulative USAID assistance from 1993 to 2008 (excluding Afghanistan, where complete data are unavailable), the number of people living on less than $1.25 fell over that period by 136 million.
For those that claim that efforts to reduce global poverty are foundering, these data show just the opposite: global poverty is falling more rapidly than at any time in history, and progress is much more than just an Asian phenomenon. The World Bank concluded that the first Millennium Development Goal – to cut poverty in half between 1990 and 2015 – was achieved in 2010, five years ahead of the target. The credit for these gains goes to the leaders and the citizens of the countries involved, but USAID can take pride in playing an important supporting role.