May 1st, 2013
09:34 AM ET

Global poverty is falling, so what's the problem?

For more What in the World, watch GPS, Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN

By Global Public Square staff

Watching countries from around the world grow and prosper, we tend to assume that global poverty is falling. And in fact, the World Bank says that in 1981 nearly half of the world's citizens were impoverished, that is, they lived on less than $1.25 a day. And today, less than a fifth of the world's population lives in poverty. In raw numbers, that translates to a 40 percent drop from about 2 billion to 1.2 billion people.

But when we dig deeper, it’s clear the picture is more murky. Put simply, most of the reduction in global poverty has to do with one country – China. Take it out of the equation and the numbers look very different.

Let's go back to 1981. Back then, China accounted for 43 percent of the world's poor. The other major contributors were South Asia, with 29 percent, and sub-Saharan Africa, with 11 percent. Fast forward just a decade, and you'll see that China's share of the world's poor began to drop. The trend continues through the 2000s. By 2010, China accounted for only 13 percent of the world's impoverished population. South Asia's share had jumped to 42 percent, while sub-Saharan Africa's share tripled, to 34 percent.

The World Bank data shows that the total number of impoverished Chinese declined by nearly 680 million people in the last three decades. That's about 95 percent of the total global decline. By registering double digit growth for three decades, Beijing has transformed the fortunes of a poor nation within a generation. That's amazing, but it tells you that in the rest of the world, progress has been much, much slower – if there's been progress at all.

There's a lesson here for other developing countries.

Take India, for example. New Delhi has also made strides against poverty. The problem is, those strides have only been a few steps ahead of population growth. Look at the numbers. In 1981, 429 million Indians lived in poverty – about 60 percent of the population. By 2010, the percentage of impoverished people had dropped to 33 percent. And yet the total number of Indians living in poverty was still around 400 million. Why? You see, India's population had expanded by about half a billion. For all the millions who were lifted out of poverty, millions of others were born into it.

More from GPS: Why Africa still needs aid

What's the answer? Growth. In the 1960s and 70s India was infamously stuck in a rut of slow growth, a mediocre 2 percent a year often. Then, in the 1980s, it began opening up, and in the 1990s New Delhi scrapped much of the old socialist set of controls. By the mid-2000s, India was growing at around 9 percent. That growth helped create India's middle class, and dramatically reduced the number of people living in poverty. But according to the pro-free-market Cato Institute, if those reforms had taken place two decades earlier, India would today have fewer impoverished people: 175 million fewer. That's why India's recent drop in economic growth is alarming – those most affected will be the poor.

Africa is also changing, but for its poorest, change is still too slow. Since 1981, poverty rates have been dropping steadily in both the developing world, and the world as a whole. But in sub-Saharan Africa poverty rates actually got slightly worse in the 1980s and 90s. It has only recently begun to turn the corner, again, thanks in large part to faster economic growth.

Global poverty is falling. But China deserves most of the credit. And thanks to the Communist Party of China, we now know that the path to poverty alleviation is…capitalist-led growth.

 

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Topics: China • Economy • India • What in the World?

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soundoff (102 Responses)
  1. clambert506

    China lifted itself up at great expense to its environment, and did that only by also limiting the growth of its population. The world cannot expect to lift all humans to anywhere near the living standards china has achieved for much of its populace by growing their economies. The natural resources and environment of the planet will not afford this. The world is already water stressed, the oceans, those great and seemingly infinite reseviors of clean water (albeit in need of desalinization) and abundant food, are showing signs of stress from human activity. The energy needed to lift the world's remaining poor out of poverty will not be easily found, and the higher energy and meat-based diets that people shift to when their economic fortunes rise will farther stress the land and water resources. The problem is not that the earth isn't a rich privider of potable water, food, and energy resources. The problem is that human populations have outgrown their share of these resources at the expense of other life forms and of the ecosystem we share with those other forms of life. Anyone who would argue that human population levels are not the root of most environmental problems and resource constraint problems need only wait until the human population grows another 50 or 100% from today's levels. If population isn't already the root cause of our global problems, it will become the proximate cause. We need to recognize this before it is too late. Our hubris and belief in technological solutions will take us only so far and will be swamped at some level of population (if not the current 7 billion, then at 10, 12, etc).

    May 5, 2013 at 8:49 am | Reply
  2. Name*pete

    what about Europe and the USA. they poverty numbers are staggering as capitalism has devoured these people in many ways.

    May 5, 2013 at 12:33 pm | Reply
  3. Jerry Okamura

    The relevant question is why do countries which are considered to be in the third world, in the third world, and why are there countries who are considered to be in the first world, in the first world? What makes one country so successful and another country such big failures, when it comes to their people?

    May 5, 2013 at 1:18 pm | Reply
    • at

      It could be that third world countries are just left out of the equation. Sometimes due to the lack of strategic advantage, or maybe because of their general political ideologies, and other times because of a lack of valuable resources (diamonds, gold, oil, farm land, and even good weather, etc.) and for a few, all of the above. I think, If they "appear" to have no money making potential, they are simply bypassed.

      May 5, 2013 at 11:01 pm | Reply
  4. CommonGround

    Fareed Zakaria:

    Economic growth obviously is not sustainable as a solution, to the
    extent it exponentially increases consumption of natural resources and
    production of waste. We simply cannot continue doubling our
    environmental impact every couple of decades. Instead, you (Fareed)
    almost reached the good solution by pointing out that India's "strides
    [against poverty] have only been a few steps ahead of population
    growth." Indeed, the critical first step is population stabilization.

    Plenty of facts indicate that we are living well beyond the capacity
    of the Earth to sustain our current population. Wild fish and forests
    are mostly gone. Wild land animals were decimated centuries ago. The
    easy oil is mostly gone; now we have to drill miles below the ocean
    floor or inject toxic fracking fluids deep into the ground where we
    also get our drinking water. Atmospheric CO2 has risen from roughly
    300 to 400 ppm over the last half century - and this is accelerating.
    And yet we are still growing. You mention Africa - its population is
    expected to triple by the end of this century.

    Many developing countries are succeeding in raising their standard of
    living (as well they should); however, this is further multiplying the
    impact on the planet. Meanwhile, roughly half of pregnancies are
    unintended, both domestically and abroad, and roughly 40% of these
    result in abortions. The remedy: increase support for international
    (and domestic) family planning. It's cheap, it works, and there is
    huge unmet need for it. [See
    http://www.cedpa.org/images/docs/WhatWill1BillionBuy.pdf .]

    May 5, 2013 at 1:41 pm | Reply
  5. John D Lamb

    Comments please .....

    May 5, 2013 at 7:01 pm | Reply
    • peridot2

      The planet's overpopulated by at least 50%. We've probably reached the no-return point for greenhouse gases. At this point being concerned about poverty seems futile.

      May 6, 2013 at 10:30 pm | Reply
  6. Paul Wilson, Jr.

    cow is a man i am going to posting dram rearming jilselerle for you

    May 5, 2013 at 7:22 pm | Reply
  7. at

    Poverty is the only think money can't buy. Is that really true? I think big money has purchased poverty for many around the world, that being with all the greed.

    May 5, 2013 at 10:41 pm | Reply
  8. Plopez

    The problem is distribution of wealth. China has become wealthier by manipulating its currency. That keeps its good nice and cheap and incidentally depresses salaries in places like Bangladesh and Ohio. Salaries must be cut to compete with China. If tey floated their currency properly you would see people in both Ohio and Bangladesh doing better.

    May 6, 2013 at 12:30 am | Reply
  9. The main cause of all poverty

    The main and the only cause of poverty is ENERGY. Because western countries hold monopoly over oil reserves. Yes yes don't be fooled, but Middle east, OPEC, russian oil is all controlled by very few rich people from the West. And because of that Oil is priced in dollar or euro. Poor countries don't have access to credit, and so they have very limited amount of energy. If every man would have access to cheap energy, then everybody can live comfortable life, because with energy all other things come into existance.

    May 6, 2013 at 4:40 am | Reply
  10. Sean Casey

    I agree with Fareed that growth is a huge part of the picture. But it's not the panacea that he'd like it to be. The other side of this, as Fareed points out, is population growth. In some ways, population growth can be an important part of an economy – particularly when those being born become productive members of society (i.e. earning income and spending money). But when populations are growing and education, health care, and job markets don't keep up, we just end up with poor parents with poor children who will in turn become poor adults, if those kids even survive past the age of five. This is particularly true in part of Africa, where despite living in desperate poverty, women have 7, 8, or 10 kids, even when they can barely feed themselves. Linking economic growth, improved education and better access to health services with comprehensive family planning care allows women and men to have the families that they can afford, leading to better quality of life for both parents and kids, and reducing the burden of care for the rest of the population. Economic growth is critical, but if populations continue growing out of control, economic growth alone will not change the poverty trajectory of many countries.

    May 6, 2013 at 4:56 am | Reply
  11. nepabuleici

    FAO sends congratulatory letter to Fidel Castro

    Categoría: English Escrito por Redacción Digital Radio Florida Visitas: 10

    FAO sends congratulatory letter to Fidel Castro Havana, May 6 - The Director-General of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Jose Graziano da Silva congratulated the historic leader of the Cuban Revolution, Fidel Castro, for his country's long-standing achievements in the eradication of hunger and undernourishment.

    Full Text of the Letter here:

    Dear Commander:

    I have the honor to address you in my capacity as Director-General of the United Nations Organization for Food and Agriculture (FAO), to sincerely congratulate you and all the Cuban people for having fulfilled the goal set in advance by the World Food Summit, held in Rome in November 1996, and that he proposed to halve the number of undernourished people in each country by the year 2015.

    As you may recall, you honored us with his presence in that Summit and delivered a brief but powerful speech, which still lingers in the collective memory of our Organization. You concluded by saying: "the bells that toll today for those who die of hunger every day, will toll tomorrow for humanity if it refused, failed or could not be wise enough to save them." And they say that you said in the press conference that followed the Summit that even if the target were achieved we would not know what to say to the other half of humanity if it would not be freed from the scourge of hunger. They are concepts that until today still retain its meaning and value.

    It's been 17 years since then and now I have the great pleasure to inform you that the decision of its members and for the first time in its history, the FAO Conference, to be held next June in Rome, take the total eradication hunger as the number one goal of our Organization.

    At that time, we will pay a tribute to Cuba and 15 other countries that have been most successful in reducing hunger. To all of them we will give a certificate of recognition for having met the target of the Summit in advance. The countries that accompany Cuba are: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Chile, Fiji, Georgia, Ghana, Guyana, Nicaragua, Peru, Samoa, Sao Tome and Principe, Thailand, Uruguay, Venezuela and Vietnam.

    Besides reiterating my congratulations on the significant success achieved by your country, I wish you well-being and success for you and all the Cuban people.

    Yours with great esteem and appreciation,

    José Graziano da Silva

    Source: RHC

    FAO sends congratulatory letter to Fidel Castro

    Categoría: English Escrito por Redacción Digital Radio Florida Visitas: 10

    FAO sends congratulatory letter to Fidel Castro Havana, May 6 - The Director-General of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Jose Graziano da Silva congratulated the historic leader of the Cuban Revolution, Fidel Castro, for his country's long-standing achievements in the eradication of hunger and undernourishment.

    Full Text of the Letter here:

    Dear Commander:

    I have the honor to address you in my capacity as Director-General of the United Nations Organization for Food and Agriculture (FAO), to sincerely congratulate you and all the Cuban people for having fulfilled the goal set in advance by the World Food Summit, held in Rome in November 1996, and that he proposed to halve the number of undernourished people in each country by the year 2015.

    As you may recall, you honored us with his presence in that Summit and delivered a brief but powerful speech, which still lingers in the collective memory of our Organization. You concluded by saying: "the bells that toll today for those who die of hunger every day, will toll tomorrow for humanity if it refused, failed or could not be wise enough to save them." And they say that you said in the press conference that followed the Summit that even if the target were achieved we would not know what to say to the other half of humanity if it would not be freed from the scourge of hunger. They are concepts that until today still retain its meaning and value.

    It's been 17 years since then and now I have the great pleasure to inform you that the decision of its members and for the first time in its history, the FAO Conference, to be held next June in Rome, take the total eradication hunger as the number one goal of our Organization.

    At that time, we will pay a tribute to Cuba and 15 other countries that have been most successful in reducing hunger. To all of them we will give a certificate of recognition for having met the target of the Summit in advance. The countries that accompany Cuba are: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Chile, Fiji, Georgia, Ghana, Guyana, Nicaragua, Peru, Samoa, Sao Tome and Principe, Thailand, Uruguay, Venezuela and Vietnam.

    Besides reiterating my congratulations on the significant success achieved by your country, I wish you well-being and success for you and all the Cuban people.

    Yours with great esteem and appreciation,

    José Graziano da Silva

    Source: RHC

    http://www.radioflorida.icrt.cu/index.php/english/7489-fao-sends-congratulatory-letter-to-fidel-castro.html

    Dear Commander:

    I have the honor to address you in my capacity as Director-General of the United Nations Organization for Food and Agriculture (FAO), to sincerely congratulate you and all the Cuban people for having fulfilled the goal set in advance by the World Food Summit, held in Rome in November 1996, and that he proposed to halve the number of undernourished people in each country by the year 2015.

    As you may recall, you honored us with his presence in that Summit and delivered a brief but powerful speech, which still lingers in the collective memory of our Organization. You concluded by saying: "the bells that toll today for those who die of hunger every day, will toll tomorrow for humanity if it refused, failed or could not be wise enough to save them." And they say that you said in the press conference that followed the Summit that even if the target were achieved we would not know what to say to the other half of humanity if it would not be freed from the scourge of hunger. They are concepts that until today still retain its meaning and value.

    It's been 17 years since then and now I have the great pleasure to inform you that the decision of its members and for the first time in its history, the FAO Conference, to be held next June in Rome, take the total eradication hunger as the number one goal of our Organization.

    At that time, we will pay a tribute to Cuba and 15 other countries that have been most successful in reducing hunger. To all of them we will give a certificate of recognition for having met the target of the Summit in advance. The countries that accompany Cuba are: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Chile, Fiji, Georgia, Ghana, Guyana, Nicaragua, Peru, Samoa, Sao Tome and Principe, Thailand, Uruguay, Venezuela and Vietnam.

    Besides reiterating my congratulations on the significant success achieved by your country, I wish you well-being and success for you and all the Cuban people.

    Yours with great esteem and appreciation,

    José Graziano da Silva

    May 6, 2013 at 1:33 pm | Reply
  12. nepabuleici

    Cuba, FAO seek to boost bilateral cooperation

    English.news.cn 2013-05-05 04:45:16

    HAVANA, May 4 (Xinhua) - The Cuban government and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) seek to boost bilateral agricultural cooperation during a working visit by FAO chief Jose Graziano da Silva to the island country.

    According to a FAO press release, the purpose of the visit by Da Silva, 63, who arrived Thursday in Havana, was to assess with Cuban authorities the different programs related to food security and the present state of bilateral cooperation.

    Upon his arrival on Thursday, the FAO chief held talks with Cuba's Minister of Foreign Trade and Investment Rodrigo Malmierca, during which he praised Cuba's contribution to South-South cooperation projects.

    He affirmed that FAO owes a lot to Cuba for its help in projects in the Caribbean and Africa, in particular in the sectors of tropical agriculture and animal husbandry.

    On Friday, Da Silva met with Vice-President Marino Murillo in charge of supervising measures to improve the local economic model so as to enhance its efficiency and productivity.

    The meeting was also attended by Agriculture Minister Gustavo Rodriguez and officials from the National Association of Small Farmers (ANAP), who exchange ideas with the FAO chief on the changes in the agro-industrial sector, Cuba's agricultural state, and major agricultural development programs.

    Da Silva also met with Cuban President Raul Castro on Friday, who expressed the willingness of his government to deepen cooperation with FAO.

    Founded in 1945 and based in Rome, Italy, FAO currently maintains some projects with Cuba, aiming to modernize and improve the farming capability of the island.

    Bilateral cooperation programs include the genetic improvement of potato, the implementation of sustainable systems for cow milk production, and the promotion of suburban agriculture.

    FAO's representative in Havana Theodor Friedrich said that Cuba has the professional capability and sufficient land to grow more crops and raise more cattle and livestock. He also noted the island country's capability to support other countries in the region.

    May 6, 2013 at 1:50 pm | Reply
  13. Jay

    Growth? Perpetual growth? I don't buy this delusion. The idea of perpetual growth is made up by economists to foster improved economic activity. Important point. But, the theory of growth in the long run is the greatest ponzi scheme of all time...Growth relies on resoures. Stresses on finite resources like petroleum, fertile land, and water among others means that at some point in the not too distant future, these vital incredients will begin to dwindle and stress our planet and population...Population excess is the real danger: too many people demanding access to finite resources that eventually won't be there.

    May 6, 2013 at 4:13 pm | Reply
  14. TSB8C

    And yet Fareed supports more (not less) of the same "socialist controls" be implemented here in the US that he says India should have done away with sooner to improve their middle class and lift more out of poverty.

    May 6, 2013 at 4:35 pm | Reply
  15. Flavius Javius

    One could also look at China's harsh measures to control population growth, and the total failure of India and Sub-Saharan Africa to do the same, as a major contributor. We can lump in the Middle East's rising poverty and unemployment rates to the same thing.

    You cannot conquer poverty until you control rampant population growth.

    May 6, 2013 at 4:51 pm | Reply
  16. DaiVo

    Rich or poor is so obviously depend on the leadership! Look back at history, Bill Clinton, Goerge Bush, Obama, Kenedy, Nixon, Ect...And look at those communist country too, all these morons rule will make everybody starve to death.
    So don't make excuses of economics trends or war or technology change, ect...
    America is great because sometimes we fed up with these idiots and vote for a smart, educated guy!!!!

    May 7, 2013 at 1:22 am | Reply
  17. PJ

    Oh yes- What A GREAT THING!!!! So the Chinese can wipe out sharks and rhino and elephants for their idiotic "cures". WHO NEEDS THIS? Get rid of these people. They are a pox and a curse and are wrecking the Planet. Bomb them back to the Stone Age where they belong.

    May 7, 2013 at 8:36 am | Reply
  18. Farid Kettani

    The rich get richer and the middle class is joining the poor

    May 10, 2013 at 8:20 am | Reply
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