Still an uphill battle against poverty

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Thursday, February 3, 2011; 6:48 PM

Laurence Chandy and Geoffrey Gertz's Jan. 26 op-ed, "Poverty's success story," misrepresented the World Bank's poverty monitoring efforts and painted an unrealistic picture of likely progress against poverty. It is wrong to imply that the World Bank has not updated its poverty calculations since 2005. Indeed, the only poverty data used by Mr. Chandy and Mr. Gertz (in their Brookings Institution paper on which the op-ed was based) are from the bank's "PovcalNet" Web site, which includes a great many data points after 2005. National poverty analyses always use the most recent data. Furthermore, the World Bank's Global Economic Prospects and Global Monitoring Reports provide updates and forecasts of the global estimates. Frustratingly, coverage of recent household survey data in many parts of the developing world is still poor, but the World Bank is working to improve poverty data and ensure that they are openly accessible.

The forecasts of Mr. Chandy and Mr. Gertz do not take account of rising inequality in many developing countries and the fact that household living standards as measured in surveys are not rising as fast as the national accounts aggregates. (Both factors are particularly important for China and India, which carry a large population weight.) The bank's methods try to make more realistic assumptions. We agree that about 25 percent of the population of the developing world lived below $1.25 a day (at 2005 prices) in 2005. We expect that by 2015 this will be down to 15 percent, while Mr. Chandy and Mr. Gertz reckon it will be 10 percent.

Martin Ravallion, Washington

The writer is director for development research for the World Bank.

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I would think that there are many people in the developing world who might wonder at the exultant tone of "Poverty's success story." Really, the standard itself reveals little. Double $1.25 a day, and there are still hundreds of millions who would consider themselves poor. But more significant, the piece failed to suggest a path out of poverty or acknowledge the constraints against climbing out.

In Africa, for example, these include the competitive disadvantage of the rural poor in a globalized food system; a rural population that will double by 2050 and for which the rural sector cannot provide the quantity or quality of jobs those numbers will require; and, of course, the corrosive pressure of climate change on environmental systems that imperil livelihoods of the rural poor.

Hold the applause and get behind development strategies that play less to the political theorems and requirements of international development organizations and give more attention to the more pragmatic insights and vision of African leadership and its rural population.

Owen Cylke, Washington

The writer is director of the World Wildlife Federation's Macroeconomics Program Office.


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