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 indicatorsthis 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 poortheir experiences, priorities, and
recommendationswould 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 decadeimpressive gains were made in East Asia before the crisis hit,
but have been partly reversed, and little if any progress took place elsewhereand 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 peoples 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.