Poverty can also be defined more broadly than by income alone. The Human Poverty Index, developed recently by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), is an aggregate index that measures other forms of deprivation, including low life expectancy, illiteracy, and measures of access to health services, safe water, and adequate nutrition. More than one quarter of the world’s population lives in this condition of “human poverty,” according to UNDP. Both types of poverty – income and human – usually coincide, but not always. Human poverty is most widespread in sub-Saharan Africa and south Asia. By contrast, in Latin America and the Caribbean, income poverty remains at 24 percent, but human poverty is significantly lower, at 15 percent. That means, in brief, that the poor are better off, thanks to expanding choices and opportunities – especially access to basic education and health services .
Perhaps the most glaring economic trend to emerge in the past 30 years is the growing gap between rich and poor. Disparities have widened at the international level, despite a boom in much of the developing world. (See Growing Disparities in Incomes Among Regions.) The difference between average per capita income in the industrialized and developing countries tripled between 1960 and 1993 . The poorest 20 percent of the world’s population now claims just 1.1 percent of global income, while the richest 20 percent claims 86 percent. Between 1960 and 1994, the ratio of the income of the richest 20 percent to the poorest 20 percent increased from 30:1 to 78:1 .
Within some regions and countries, the gap is increasing as well. In Latin America and the Caribbean, the richest 20 percent of the population has average incomes of more than US$17,000; for the poorest 20 percent, the average income is US$930 . Even in relatively more equitable east and Southeast Asia, income gaps appear to be widening. Wealth disparities between urban and rural areas are growing in China, Indonesia, and the Philippines; data for Thailand are controversial, but one estimate claims the wealth gap in that country more than doubled between 1981 and 1992 .
In the industrialized countries, income disparities grew during the 1980s and early 1990s. The biggest changes in disparity were recorded in the United Kingdom and the United States . Overall in the industrialized countries, according to UNDP, the average income of the richest 20 percent is seven times higher than that of the poorest 20 percent .
Inequity and Conflict
Inequities hamper economic development and lead to other problems as well, such as social instability. In recent years, social instability and armed conflict have been associated with rising income inequality and growing resource scarcity. In Indonesia, mobs have burned factories and cars to protest grievances ranging from land disputes to pollution from shrimp ponds. In the Philippines, Muslim rebels are most active in western Mindanao, where the wealth gap between that region and the capital Manila is as great as that between the Republic of Korea and Bangladesh . There is a close correlation between the stronghold areas of the guerrilla movement in Peru and the areas suffering greatest poverty. Further, the Zapatista rebellion in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas is largely attributable to grossly inequitable patterns of land tenure and the inability of peasant farmers to subsist on their small, degraded land holdings .
Many governments are responding to the economic and security threats posed by growing income inequities. In the early 1990s, for example, the Chinese government targeted 80 million people living in poverty, mostly in villages in the western areas of the country. It gave priority to ensuring adequate supplies of food and clothing. By 1996, 22 million people had been lifted above the national poverty line . In the longer term, reducing income inequality and ensuring adequate human development for all is likely to depend on greater commitment to the implementation of policies for broader-based economic growth and poverty reduction through increased investment in public education and health. (See Urban Growth.)
References and notes
13. Op. cit. 9, p. 23.
14. Op. cit. 6, p. 2.
15. Op. cit. 9, p. 9.
16. Op. cit. 9, p. 7.
17. Japanese economist Jukio Ikemoto, quoted in Johanna San, “Widening Wealth Gaps Stoke Social Tensions in South East Asia,” Interpress Service (IPS Terraviva), Vol. 4, No. 151 (August 8, 1996).
18. Op. cit. 9, p. 1.
19. Op. cit. 9, p. 38.
20. Johanna San, “Widening Wealth Gaps Stoke Social Tensions in South East Asia,” Interpress Service (IPS Terraviva), Vol. 4, No. 151 (August 8, 1996).
21. Thomas Homer-Dixon and Valerie Percival, Environmental Scarcity and Violent Conflict: Briefing Book (American Association for the Advancement of Science and University College, University of Toronto, 1996), p. 17.
22. Government of the People’s Republic of China, The People’s Republic of China: National Report on Sustainable Development (Government of the People’s Republic of China, Beijing, 1997), pp. 41-42.