India, a new global report says, is home to 319 million of the so-called poorest of the poor in the world, or those living below the dollar-a-day poverty line.
The report, called The World’s Most Deprived, authored by five economists at the International Food Policy Research Institute (Ifpri) based in Washington, DC, also found that South Asia has the largest concentration of the world’s poorest.
Coping with deprivation:A slum at New Seemapuri in New Delhi. India has failed to match the decline in poverty that some countries were able to achieve, according to a new global report.
This is because it failed to match the decline in poverty that other regions were able to achieve.
Global poverty, the report says, declined from 1,248 million people to 969 million between 1990 and 2004; over the same period, only 33 million people managed to increase their consumption to more than a dollar a day in South Asia. As a result, South Asia’s share of poverty jumped from 39% to 47%.
At 446 million, South Asia’s share of the world’s poorest is thus higher than the 31% for sub-Saharan Africa, says the report, which is based on field surveys conducted in early 2000s (in India it uses the National Sample Survey data for over 119,000 households).
The report argues that though the global Millennium Development Goal of cutting poverty by half to 2015 would be met, regions will have to focus on the poorest, those who earn below $0.50 (about Rs20) and consume less than 1,600 calories a day.
“This also indicates the presence of poverty traps, in some parts of India and widely in sub-Saharan Africa. These are conditions from which the poorest cannot come out without outside help,” lead author and senior researcher at Ifpri, Akhter U. Ahmed, said.
What is common among the poorest, says Ahmed, is that they are all usually hungry and malnourished despite spending over 65% on food, and they are less educated, mostly landless and belong to excluded groups. In India, he says, “Scheduled castes and tribes are more likely to be poor than any other groups.”
The report divides the poorest in three groups: subjacent poor ($0.75-1 per day), median poor ($0.5-0.75) and ultra poor (less than $0.50).
About 162 million people worldwide are ultra poor; the number for India is 14 million. This contrasts with the recent report by the Arjun Sengupta-headed National Commission for Enterprises in Unorganized Sector (NCEUS), which said that nearly 860 million Indians earned Rs20 a day. NCEUS member K.P. Kannan said, “Our estimates conform to the $2-a-day poverty line, where we have taken into account the purchasing power parity dollar (a PPP dollar equals Rs10).” India’s national poverty line equals an income worth Rs12 a day.
In India, Ahmed said, “Poverty just below $1 a day (unlike in East Asia and the Pacific) has fallen faster than poverty below 50 cents a day, suggesting that income growth benefited most those just below the line.”
According to the report, 190 million Indians earned between Rs30 and Rs40 a day and 106 million earned between Rs20 and Rs30 a day.
However, Abusaleh Shariff, chief economist at the New Delhi-based think tank National Council of Applied Economic Research, questions estimation of poverty from survey data, which he says are not found in many countries. Secondly, he says, poverty measures vary from country to country and “if you apply India’s measures to China’s poverty, the latter may not have any poverty at all.” However, he agrees that even though poverty is declining, “the absolute numbers still remain at 300 million or so”.
Similarly, Suresh Tendulkar, chairman of the National Statistical Commission, which is looking at improving the current measurements norms for poverty in India, said, “These are good for comparing and finding uniformity in global studies.”
Shariff instead suggests a focus on human development indicators such as early childhood deaths. The report says India has the highest number of such deaths in the world.