Developing countries have raised large numbers of their people above the poverty line but few of the ultra poor 162 million people in the world have benefited, says a report from the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).
The findings, based on household survey data from 20 developing countries, constitute a wake-up call for the international aid establishment and national leaders.
The thinktank urges aid officials to tailor anti-poverty efforts to fit the specific needs of the ultra poor. Needed initiatives include basic training in literacy, numeracy, and other skills required to make use of microcredit, which has helped many poor people but remains beyond the reach of the poorest, said Akhter Ahmed, lead author of the report.
Policies that make outcasts of citizens because of their ethnicity or religion also must be scrapped: The report says the ultra poor overwhelmingly come from minority or, in the case of India, lower-caste communities.
Scattered about the economic fringe, the ultra poor are so numerous that were they gathered in a single country, it would rank as the world's seventh most populous. This country would be overwhelmingly rural and lack roads connecting scattered hamlets to market towns. It would be populated almost entirely by illiterate and innumerate outcasts whose physical strength and stamina is drained by malnutrition.
In all, some 969 million people, nearly one-sixth of all people on the planet, fall below the dollar-a-day poverty line. Half of them live on at least 75 cents a day and about one-third live on between 50 cents and 75 cents. The ultra poor make up 17 per cent of the poor.
Nearly 20 million, or 12 per cent, of the world's ultra poor live in South Asia. The region saw economic growth to rival East Asia and the Pacific in 1990-2004 but failed to parlay this into gains for its poorest people. In 1990, the two Asian regions had the same number of people living on less than a dollar a day, IFPRI says. By 2004, East Asia and the Pacific had lifted 307 million people out of poverty. South Asia managed to improve the lot of only 33 million.
Existing measures to promote income growth need to be buttressed with measures that reduce the risks and costs that ultra poor people incur in daily life and that cut them off from economic opportunity. Simply focussing on growth
will not be enough, the report says.