World Bank for focus on world’s poorest topped by India

Washington, April 10: With close to one-third of the world’s extreme poor concentrated in India and another one-third in four more countries, a sharp focus on them will be central to ending extreme poverty, says a new World Bank paper.

The top five poorest countries – India (with 33 percent of the world’s poor), China (13 percent), Nigeria (7 percent), Bangladesh (6 percent) and the Democratic Republic of Congo (5 percent) – together are home to nearly 760 million of the world’s poor.

Adding another five countries — Indonesia, Pakistan, Tanzania, Ethiopia, and Kenya — would encompass almost 80 percent of the extreme poor.

Tackling poverty requires understanding where the greatest number of poor live, while at the same time also concentrating on where hardship is most pervasive, according to the World Bank paper “Prosperity for All”, released here Thursday.

This entails concerted efforts in countries where large numbers of the world’s 1.2 billion poor live, it says.

While economic growth remains vital for reducing poverty, growth has its limits, the paper said suggesting that countries need to complement efforts to enhance growth with policies that allocate more resources to the extreme poor.

“These resources can be distributed through the growth process itself, by promoting more inclusive growth, or through government programmes, such as conditional and direct cash transfers,” it said.

In addition, the paper notes, it is imperative not just to lift people out of extreme poverty; it is also important to make sure that, in the long run, they do not get stuck just above the extreme poverty line due to a lack of opportunities that might impede progress toward better livelihood.

Citing the example of India, the report notes that in recent years, new Information Communications Technologies (ICT) applications have created opportunities to re-engineer and upgrade traditional systems and to empower beneficiaries.

“India’s ambitious new programme” to provide its citizens and residents a unique, official identity, the UID (Universal Identity) “aims to improve the delivery of government services, reduce fraud and corruption, facilitate robust voting processes, and improve security”, it noted.

“Indeed, ICT has the potential to be a powerful tool in the fight against global poverty and in boosting shared prosperity,” the report said.

“However, the benefits are not automatic and our understanding of its impact is yet incomplete.”

“Economic growth has been vital for reducing extreme poverty and improving the lives of many poor people,” said World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim.

“Yet, even if all countries grow at the same rates as over the past 20 years, and if the income distribution remains unchanged, world poverty will only fall by 10 percent by 2030, from 17.7 percent in 2010.”

“This is simply not enough, and we need a laser like focus on making growth more inclusive and targeting more programmes to assist the poor directly if we’re going to end extreme poverty,” he said.

“It is a sad commentary on our prosperous world that over one billion people live in extreme poverty,” said Kaushik Basu, senior vice president and chief economist at the World Bank.

“It is a welcome call from the World Bank Group to not just mitigate poverty but bring it to closure and also to strive for a more equitable world,” he said.

“To achieve these ends we will need determination, but also ideas and innovation, for the ways of the economy can be strange.”

(Arun Kumar can be contacted at arun.kumar@ians.in)

IANS