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Poverty Trends and Voices of the Poor

"Poverty is like heat; you cannot see it; you can only feel it; so to know poverty you have to go through it."   Adaboya, Ghana.

Download the full text of the December 1999 Poverty Trends and Voices of the Poor Report (PDF file, 213KB).  To read the PDF file you need the free Adobe Acrobat Reader.

World Bank Warns Global Poverty Fight Failing: read the press release of the September 1999 Poverty Trends and Voices of the Poor.


Poverty is a multidimensional phenomenon, encompassing inability to satisfy basic needs, lack of control over resources, lack of education and skills, poor health, malnutrition, lack of shelter, poor access to water and sanitation, vulnerability to shocks, violence and crime, lack of political freedom and voice. So when we want to look at what happens to poverty, we look at a number of indicators—this is the approach taken also by the OECD and others in defining the indicators to track the International Development Goals (see Development Assistance Committee of the OECD, 1996, Shaping the 21st Century)—and listen to the voices of the poor. This note discusses new estimates of the extent of global income poverty and new evidence on social indicators by economic group, and reports on the finding of a major study on what poverty means to the poor.

The poor are the true poverty experts. In preparing its World Development Report 2000/01, which will be on the theme of poverty and development, the World Bank wanted to make sure the voices of the poor—their experiences, priorities, and recommendations—would be taken into account. The result was Consultations with the Poor which gathers the voices of 60,000 poor men and women from 60 countries. The study consists of two parts and was carried out in partnership with research institutes and NGOs. First, a review was conducted of over 75 participatory poverty studies conducted in the mid to late 1990's covering 40,000 poor people in 41 countries around the world. The second was a series of new studies in 23 countries covering 20,000 poor men and women.

The results emerging from both the new estimates and the Consultations with the poor study are strikingly similar. The numbers show little progress in reducing income poverty over the last decade—impressive gains were made in East Asia before the crisis hit, but have been partly reversed, and little if any progress took place elsewhere—and a large majority of poor people said they are worse off now, have fewer economic opportunities, and live with greater insecurity than in the past. Poor people describe repeatedly and in distressing detail what has only been glimpsed before, the psychological experience and impact of poverty.

Trends in social indicators show that, while there has been steady progress in average indicators of health and education, there are areas of worsening, and in all areas the income poor are systematically worse off than the non-poor. Poor people’s experiences with government institutions are largely negative, even when government programs were rated as important. Corruption, rudeness and poor quality services seemed to be the norm, whether in health care or in programs of social support. But the poor still greatly value government programs, and feel governments have important roles to play in their lives. The presence of NGOs in the various countries is uneven, but where they are at work their contributions are generally appreciated. The poor find their own local networks and institutions to be the most dependable. Gender relations are in troubled transition, with violence against women frequent.

Next: Income Poverty: The latest global numbers