A lost decade in the fight against poverty

Haitian children look for valuables
in a garbage dump in Port-au-Prince.
(Photo: Logan Abassi/UN)

The first decade of the 21st century was a lost decade in the fight against poverty, in spite of the excellent performance of the emerging economies, said Roberto Bissio, coordinator of Social Watch, on the eve of the international days on hunger and poverty.

Social Watch, a network of citizen organizations monitoring social policies around the world, launched today a Basic Capabilities Index (BCI) derived from well-being indicators which shows very slow progress in the last twenty years. This index contradicts the assessment of the World Bank, according to which extreme poverty would have halved around the world between 1980 and 2005.

“By looking at basic well-being indicators like malnutrition, child delivery and primary education instead of focusing on income, the BCI is closer to reality than the one-dollar-a-day line of the World Bank,” claimed Bissio. The world average inhabitants doubled their income from 4.079 dollars in 1990 to 9.116 dollars in 2011, but the world Basic Capabilities Index barely increased in these twenty years from 79.3 to 87.1 points. A slowdown was registered during the first decade of the 21st century, when the index moved up three points, while progress amounted to five points between 1990 and 2000.

The index computed by Social Watch merges mortality among children under five, which relates strongly with malnutrition, the proportion of births attended by skilled health personnel, and primary education data.

The figures do not allow yet to assess the whole impact of the crisis that started in 2008, since social indicators are gathered and published much slower than the economic numbers. Yet, Social Watch member organizations have already verified in their own countries that the world’s most vulnerable sectors are indeed the ones carrying the largest burden of austerity measures. 

Before the crisis, gross income was growing fast while progress in education, health and nutrition was advancing slowly. If industrialized countries enter into a prolonged period of stagnation or recession, the situation of the most vulnerable sectors at global level can only become worse.

The countries holding the top positions in the list according to BCI values this year are Japan, Norway, Netherlands, Switzerland and Iceland. The worst ranked countries are all in Africa: Chad, Sierra Leone, Niger, Somalia and Guinea Bissau.

More information:

The Basic Capabilities Index 2011 (in xls format)
The Basic Capabilities Index 2011 (in pdf format)
BCI trends by region, 1990, 2000 & 2011
BCI trends, 1990 to 2011 – Slowing down
See the ICB in a interactive map