Sunday, November 11, 2007

The Ultra Poor

A new report by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) , The World's Most Deprived: Characteristics and Causes of Extreme Poverty and Hunger, finds that 162 million of the world's poorest people - the "ultra poor" - survive on less than 50 cents a day. If concentrated in a single nation, they would comprise the world's seventh most populous country.

"About one billion people today live on less than a dollar a day," said Akhter Ahmed, IFPRI senior research fellow and lead author of the report.

Three categories of poverty in Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, and Sub-Saharan Africa are examined in the study: subjacent poor (those living on between $0.75 and $1 a day), medial poor (those living on between $0.50 and $0.75 a day), and ultra poor (those living on less than $0.50 a day).

The report finds that the very poorest people have benefited the least from substantial reductions in poverty around the world during the past 15 years. Ultra poverty rates have fallen only minimally in Sub-Saharan Africa, and the region is currently home to three-quarters of the world's poorest people.

The poorest people typically belong to socially excluded groups, live in remote rural areas with little access to roads, markets, education, and health services, and have few assets. Households living in ultra poverty are on average four times less likely to have electricity than households living above the dollar-a-day line, and the poorest adults, men and women alike, are significantly less likely to have access to education.

The daily challenges faced by the ultra poor can over time lead to poverty traps - conditions from which individuals or groups cannot emerge without outside assistance. The report identifies three common causes of poverty traps: inability of poor families to invest in the education of their children; limited access to credit for those with few assets; and reduced productivity due to malnutrition. In the poorest households, children are less likely to go to school and have fewer chances for a more secure future. Poverty and hunger inherited at birth, or resulting from unexpected events, can also persist for years. These circumstances - particularly serious illness - explain the descent of many households into extreme poverty. Additionally, the exclusion of certain groups, such as ethnic minorities, disadvantaged castes and tribes, and those suffering from ill-health and disability, prevents much-needed access to resources and markets and increases the likelihood of poverty.

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