Journal Issue

Research: Some hope from latest data on world poverty

International Monetary Fund. External Relations Dept.
Published Date:
April 2005
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On April 17, the World Bank launched its World Development Indicators (WDI)— an annual compilation of data that tracks development trends. An important contribution of the WDI since 2000 has been to monitor progress toward the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) (see box, page 110).

Thanks to strong economic growth in China, India, and other Asian countries, the prognosis is good that the first MDG of halving the percentage of people living on less than $1 a day will be reached by 2015, according to the WDI. But a number of countries still face a huge challenge if they are to achieve this, and other, MDGs by the 2015 target date. Additional resources and sustained effort will be needed to reduce maternal and child deaths, boost primary school enrollments, and remove obstacles to greater numbers of girls going to school.

Four hundred million people were able to climb out of extreme poverty (living on less than $1 a day) between 1981 and 2001, reducing the world’s poorest to 1.1 billion people, or 21 percent of the developing world’s population, in 2001. But in sub-Saharan Africa, the number of extremely poor almost doubled over the same period, jumping from 164 million in 1981 to 313 million in 2001.”This level of deprivation should serve as an urgent call to action in this Year of Africa,” said François Bourguignon, the Bank’s Senior Vice President for Development Economics and Chief Economist, at the WDI̛s launch. “Reversing this trend,” he added, “will require higher rates of economic growth, with the benefits of growth reaching the poor.”

So far, 51 countries have achieved the goal of enrolling all eligible children in primary school, and based on rising enrollment rates, many others will follow suit. But progress has been slow in parts of Africa and Asia, and worldwide, over 100 million children remain out of school—almost 60 percent of them girls.

Only 33 countries are on track to attain the child mortality goal. Almost 11 million children in developing countries die before the age of five, most from readily preventable causes including acute respiratory infection, diarrhea, measles, and malaria. In sub-Saharan Africa, child mortality has fallen only marginally, from 187 deaths per thousand in 1990 to 171 deaths in 2003. Progress toward other health goals has been slow; effective strategies for reducing maternal mortality are well known but hard to implement; HIV/AIDS continues to spread; and malaria and tuberculosis still afflict millions.

Most regions are on track to meet the drinking water target, but only Latin America and East Asia are projected to reach the sanitation target. Poor sanitation and contaminated drinking water remain major sources of disease.

Further progress toward these goals depends on more rapid economic growth, a continued expansion of global trade, and increased aid to developing countries. Better statistics will also help. According to Shaida Badiee, Director of the World Bank Data Group, “building systems to gather and analyze statistics is an essential first step in staying on track to achieve the MDGs. They provide the road map without which the journey cannot begin, much less end with the success we all want”.

The 2005 World Development Indicators includes more than 800 indicators in 83 tables for 152 economies with populations of more than one million and 14 country groups, plus selected indicators for 56 other smaller economies. The report can be accessed on the World Bank’s website at http://

Laura Wallace


Sheila Meehan

Managing Editor

Christine Ebrahim-zadeh

Production Manager

Camilla Andersen

Jacqueline Irving

Conny Lotze

Assistant Editors

Maureen Burke

Lijun Li

Kelley McCollum

Editorial Assistants

Julio Prego

Graphic Artist

Graham Hacche

Senior Advisor

Prakash Loungani

Associate Editor

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