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Wednesday, 26th January 2011

Poverty in Numbers: The Changing State of Global Poverty from 2005 to 2015

Poverty in Numbers: The Changing State of Global Poverty from 2005 to 2015

Source:  Brookings Institution

Poverty reduction lies at the core of the global development challenge. For the international development community, this objective serves not only as a source of motivation, but as a defining theme across its work. Many of the world’s most prominent aid organizations cite poverty reduction as their overarching goal.

But while our common goal of poverty reduction is never disputed, we find it remarkably difficult to measure whether it is happening, and if so how fast. This is especially the case when it comes to producing global poverty data, as the challenges of national poverty data collection are multiplied several times over and then further compounded by the tricky—and unsatisfactory—business of converting national results into internationally comparable terms. Official global poverty estimates are only rarely produced, and when they do appear, they are out of date by the time they are published. Thus, when world leaders met in September 2010 to assess progress toward reaching the Millennium Development Goal of halving global poverty, they had to rely on poverty data from 2005. This, somewhat ironically, was the year of the last summit on the MDGs; the purpose of the 2010 meeting was ostensibly to review what had been accomplished in the intervening five years.

This problem is serious. The international development community cannot be held accountable for poverty reduction without a clear sense of the scale of the problem and an understanding of where poverty is most prevalent. Moreover, tracking global poverty is not just a niche issue but a matter of global interest. For instance, the G-20 has affirmed that the reduction of global poverty is integral to its Framework for Strong, Sustainable and Balanced Growth. While it may be easy for skeptics to dismiss global estimates as an indulgence for statisticians who excel in plucking numbers out of thin air, or bureaucrats who are overly concerned with messaging, the reality is that having a decent grasp on global poverty figures matters.

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