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Poverty Drops Below 1 Billion, World Bank Says
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Global poverty rates continued to fall in the first four years of this century, according to new estimates published in the World Development Indicators 2007, which is released on Monday.

The proportion of people living on less than US$1 a day fell to 18.4 percent in 2004, leaving an estimated 985 million people living in extreme poverty. In 1990, the total number of extreme poor was 1.25 billion. Two-dollar-a-day poverty rates are falling too, but an estimated 2.6 billion people, almost half the population of the developing world, were still living below that level in 2004.

Developing countries have averaged a solid 3.9 percent annual growth in GDP per capita since 2000, which contributed to rapidly falling poverty rates in all developing regions over the past few years. Another key reason dollar-a-day poverty fell by over 260 million between 1990 and 2004 was China's massive poverty reduction over that period. Indeed, East Asia's extreme poverty rate dropped to 9 percent in 2004.

In the rest of the developing world, good economic performance and a lower poverty incidence in most regions have offset a rise in the sheer numbers of poor people that might have otherwise accompanied population growth. In Sub-Saharan Africa, 298 million people were living in extreme poverty in 2004, practically the same number as in 1999, whereas the number of poor had increased continuously in the previous two decades.

The report finds that, in the past decade, poverty reduction was not always or everywhere commensurate with income growth. In some countries and regions, inequality worsened, as poor people did not reap the fruits of economic expansion, because of a lack of job opportunities, limited education or bad health.

"Growth is essential to reducing poverty, but it isn't the only factor.  The World Development Indicators go beyond growth and poverty rates to ask how income is distributed, whether health care and education are improving, and to assess the business environment. These factors all affect the quality of people's lives," said François Bourguignon, World Bank Chief Economist and Senior Vice President for Development Economics.

World Development Indicators 2007 (WDI) provides a detailed picture of the world through data. It includes information on health expenditures, transport, infrastructure services, quality of public sector management, internet access, access to improved water sources, and carbon dioxide emissions.

This 11th edition of the WDI looks at countries that have done unusually well over the past decade. It finds strong performers in all regions, with notably fast growth in GDP per capita among many states of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. But it also finds that the countries with the highest rates of under-5 mortality a decade ago have, on average, made the slowest reduction in mortality.

"These results are worrying," says Alan Gelb, Director of Development Policy, "The fact that under-five mortality is 15 times higher in low income countries than in wealthy ones is a stark example of how far we still need to go ."

( April 16, 2007)

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