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Year in Review: 2015 in 12 charts

Donna Barne's picture

Now that we've reached the end of 2015, it's clear this was a year of major milestones, emerging trends, and new beginnings. Among other things, 2015 marked a historic drop in poverty, a major climate change agreement, and record low child and maternal mortality rates. Take a look at what the data show.

1. The Global Poverty Rate Fell below 10%

The share of the world’s population living in extreme poverty is projected to hit a historic low of 9.6% of in 2015 – falling from 37.1% in 1990. New estimates show 702 million people living below the updated global poverty line of $1.90 per day, with the majority of them in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. The milestone was hailed as the “best news in the world today” by World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim, and marks real progress on the road to ending extreme poverty by 2030.



2. The World Reached an Accord on Climate Change

Representatives of 195 nations signed on to the landmark Paris climate agreement on Dec. 12, 2015. Each country pledged to lower greenhouse gas emissions in what could mark a turning point in the global effort to slow climate change. The deal recognized the role of incentives in reducing emissions, including carbon pricing. Currently, about 40 countries and 23 cities, states, and regions are using a carbon price -- their outputs represent only 12% of annual greenhouse-gas emissions. As part of the Paris deal, more than 90 developed and developing countries have included carbon-pricing schemes among the actions they intend to take.

Climate change could have a significant impact on poverty levels. The World Bank Group is working with 130 countries to help implement "climate-smart" development and will increase investments in climate finance to as much as $29 billion a year by 2020 -- a one-third increase over current levels.



3. A Record Number of People Were Forcibly Displaced

The number of forcibly displaced people now stands at more than 60 million -- the highest number since the Second World War. More than half of the some 20 million refugees worldwide come from Syria, Afghanistan, and Somalia, and the majority find refuge in countries close to their own. The World Bank Group, United Nations, and Islamic Development Bank announced in October they would tackle the worsening refugee crisis in the Middle East and North Africa by issuing new bonds to raise billions of dollars to help displaced people and support reconstruction of the war-torn region. This month, the Global Program on Forced Displacement launched a call for ideas to improve development response for refugees and internally displaced persons.



4. The SDGs Set Ambitious Targets for 2030  

In September, the world’s countries came together to affirm the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) -- a set of 17 goals for the world. Their broad aims are to end extreme poverty, fight inequality and injustice, and to address climate change. The goals are associated with a number of new targets and indicators. A World Bank study earlier this year found that many countries in the world lack the data to reliably estimate trends in poverty, and the institution has recently committed to filling these data gaps in the world’s poorest countries. This year also saw the launch of the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data, which aims to bring together a diverse group of individuals and institutions to make better use of data and technology to both monitor and achieve the SDGs.


5. Finance for Development Needs to Move from Billions to Trillions

The levels of Official Development Assistance (ODA) or “foreign aid” to developing countries are already dwarfed by private resource flows (such as remittances) and commercial foreign investment. The ambitious new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) require equal ambition in using the “billions” in ODA and in available development resources to attract, leverage, and mobilize “trillions” in investments of all kinds. Additional funds are expected to come from two main sources: public domestic resources (such as tax revenues), where the most substantial development spending happens, and commercial finance and investment, the largest potential source of additional funding.



6. Commodity Prices Plummeted

The decline in commodity prices that began with metals and agriculture four years ago -- joined by crude oil in mid-2014 -- continued in 2015. According to the Commodity Markets Outlook, energy, metals, and agricultural prices were down this year, in part due to increasing supplies, bumper harvests, weak demand and a stronger U.S. dollar. This end of the “commodity super-cycle” will see exporters in the Middle East, Africa, Latin America, and Europe adjusting to a new normal, while importers like India benefit from reduced costs.



7. Ebola Left a Lingering Legacy

A World Bank report estimated that the loss of health workers to Ebola will likely affect non-Ebola mortality even after the countries are declared Ebola-free. For example, maternal mortality could increase by 38% in Guinea, 74% in Sierra Leone, and 111% in Liberia -- rates last seen in these countries 15 to 20 years ago. The report found that Ebola has weakened already very fragile health systems in these countries, and as of May 2015, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea had lost 8.07%, 6.85% and 1.45% of their entire country’s health workers -- rates far higher than deaths among their general populations.



8. More than 60% of the World’s Economies Improved Business Rules

The 2016 Edition of Doing Business identified 231 reforms that enhanced business activity in 122 countries around the world. For example, data for the past 12 years show that in 2003, it took an average of 51 days worldwide to start a new business. This has now been more than halved to 20 days. In addition, the data shows encouraging signs of convergence toward best practices, as lower-income economies have shown more improvement than high-income economies over time. The case of Mozambique illustrates this trend. In 2003, it took an entrepreneur 168 days to start a business, but now it only takes 19 days. You can explore the data further in this interactive visualization.



9. Changing Demographics Are Shaping Our Future

While the global working age population peaked at 66% in 2012, parts of Africa and Asia are seeing a surge in their working age populations, and countries in these regions have an opportunity for greater prosperity and higher living standards. According to the 2015 Global Monitoring Report, Sub-Saharan Africa will account for more than half of the world’s working-age population growth through 2050. The world’s population is set to reach 9.7 billion in 2050, and almost half the population growth will occur in just nine countries.



10. Maternal and Child Mortality Rates Hit Record Lows

Between 1990 and 2015, the under-5 and maternal mortality rates fell 53% and 44% respectively. This means the number of children dying before age 5 has fallen dramatically - from 12.7 million in 1990 to 5.9 million in 2015. Millions have survived because of the use of such evidence-based interventions against the leading infectious diseases as insecticide-treated mosquito nets, rehydration treatment for diarrhea, nutritional supplements, and therapeutic foods. However, in spite of this progress, an estimated 16,000 children under 5 still die each day and, nearly half of these deaths are attributable to undernutrition.



11. The Bottom 40% Are Doing Better

Rising incomes over the past decade have helped the bottom 40% of the population in many countries. Considering five-year periods starting about 2007 and ending around 2012, incomes of the bottom 40% grew in 65 of the 94 countries with adequate and comparable data. Among them, 47 countries registered a “shared prosperity premium,” with the incomes of the bottom 40% growing faster than the incomes of the average population, thus reducing income inequality between these groups.



12. Legal Restrictions Affect Working Women

The 2016 Women, Business and the Law report finds 155 out of 173 economies have at least one law impeding women’s economic opportunities. In 100 economies, women face gender-based job restrictions. In these economies, women are restricted from pursuing the same economic activities as men and in some cases are prohibited from holding particular jobs, particularly in highly paid industries. The report finds that restrictions on women’s work lower their earning potential relative to men.



Submitted by ken on

I hope we maintain the momentum as the world will be a better place to live.

Submitted by Ahamed Syed on

This cannot be more fantastic representation of data of ground reality. I am blessed to get glance of World I am living is growing. Look forward to contribute in every possible way to make it better.

Submitted by Naseer Ahmad Rana on

An excellent summary that will help focus our thinking and work.

Submitted by John Burton on

While everyone is patting everyone else on the back, remember the Western Pacific where I live and teach. Some indicators (WASH, child and maternal mortality, access to electricity) barely moved at all during the MDG period. Development data are seldom collected. Poverty measures are contested rather than addressed. How will the next 15 years years go? Good question ...

Submitted by SAMUEL DEH on

A very impressive data collected, let us all look up to it and make the world a better place for generations yet to come.

Submitted by Paul Guenette on

Super helpful analysis and charts, Erin! Nice to have legitimate high-level data reported graphically as foundational to the work being undertaken by the international development industry. Keep up the good work.

Submitted by Kálmán Mizsei on

Excellent representation of world trends. Two questions: how would the loss of 1.45% of Guinea would result in almost 40% increase of maternal mortality?

The second is partly a comment, partly a question. The heading number 11 speaks about the bottom 40%, giving the impression that it is the bottom 40% of the world. But it really looks at the countries and finds that in many the bottom 40% is doing better in relative terms. I.e. inequality in many countries decreases. Concretely, in 47 countries out of 94 this is the case. Now, this does not warrant the title. First, it is only half of the countries. Second, we don't know, what does it mean population-wise. Third, similarly, we do not get any picture this way about the bottom 40% of the world. It is a confusing heading which leaves the reader without the picture. I would like to believe that we have a trend of decreasing inequalities but this heading does not convince me about it. It is just an incomplete, highly uncertain picture.

Kálmán, thanks so much for this question. The disproportionate impact is certainly striking! There have been a number of studies that examine the relationship between the stock of health care workers and health outcomes, such as maternal mortality. Those studies demonstrate that across countries, maternal mortality is very sensitive to the stock of workers. We might expect this to be particularly acute in countries like Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, where the initial stock of health care workers is already very low. When we combined that estimated relationship with the loss of health care workers in Guinea, we see a potential rise of 38%. Like any estimate, that comes with a range, since there is uncertainty in the estimates. In this case, the range is from 26% to 50%. Either way, a loss in health care workers has a disproportionate impact on maternal mortality. The full details of the estimation are in our study, at this link:

Submitted by Ko-Yung Tung on

Q: why are the metrics changing all the time? The World Bank used to talk of "$1.00 a day" for extreme poverty; then moved it to "$1.25/day", now this uses $1.90/day. Please explain?

Hi Ko-Yung Tung. The short answer is inflation.  The $1.00 international poverty line was set in 1990, based on the costs of basic food, clothing, and shelter in the poorest countries in 1985. The poverty line was reset to $1.25 based on 2005 prices and reset at $1.90 in 2015 based on 2011 prices.  The real value of $1.90 in today's prices is the same as $1.25 was in 2005. Check out these FAQs for more on this. And, for a more in-depth explanation, read this blog post: The international poverty line has just been raised to $1.90 a day, but global poverty is basically unchanged. How is that even possible?

Submitted by Ashraf Gamal on

We are facing serious challenges on climate control, investments in developing countries, and in reducing numbers of displaced people. However, we also achieved a lot in the last few years. This means that we can do it.

Submitted by Anth Verest on

Pienso que los paises han estado avanzando en el concepto de mejorar la calidad de vida de sus personas. La inversion en Educacion, Salud y Trabajo debe mantenerse en todo momento. Las politicas publicas deben ser reforzadas. La Seguridad y la Justicia son pilares que no deben descuidarse. La Juventud debe recibir atencion, fundamentalmente con acciones de educacion universitaria de calidad y trabajo seguro. Todos los paises deben enfocar acciones para minimizar el cambio climatico. Tendremos un mejor mundo si al menos logramos los asuntos prioritarios.

Submitted by Sjoerd Postma on

Unfortunately even the World Bank has to resort to sensationalist reporting but have their facts wrong. The denominator for total health workers in Liberia they used was was much smaller than the actual workforce data shows and hence such an inflated figure of 8% of health workers that died. Off the about 8000 health workers captured in the government's HR information systems, there were as of March 2015 about 372 health workers affected by EVD of which 180 eventually died. Sadly enough though and should not have happened!

Sjoerd, thank you for pointing this out. The data we used for Liberia were from the WHO Global Health Workforce Statistics. Note that we only include doctors, midwives, and nurses, which are the health workers for which we have pre-existing estimates of the relationship between the stock of workers and maternal mortality. Obviously there are many more health workers, but we have less data on the relationship between those health workers and maternal mortality. Our data on health worker mortality come from the WHO report on Health Worker Infections in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. Regardless, this is a dynamic situation and both the governments and their international partners are taking action to fill the gap left by those who passed away. As a result, we hope that the actual impact will be far less than what this static simulation demonstrates. The full details are in our study:

Submitted by Leonel Iglesias on

I guess one of the Millennium Development Goals to halve, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people whose income is less than one dollar (now $1.9 because of inflation) has been achieved! According to numbers in the first graph, those people used to be 37.1% in 1990, Now the index went below to 10%. This reduction is more than half. We should congratulate all nations, institutions and CSOs united to achieve this goal! Not to mention the great contribution of the multilateral agencies like WBG!

Submitted by prof B.S.N.RAJU on


Submitted by Naba Gurung on

A helpful review of 2015 (and in some ways the MDG results) aided by graphs and charts, which in itself can serve as a baseline for the SDGs.

Submitted by Sanjay Banerji on

Thank you for the wonderful compilation. Could we have a similar compilation that focuses upon the major challenges that lie ahead and the way forward?

This one is laudable, but basically lauding the achievements.

Submitted by Anter on

In terms of poverty line; I think the analytical statistics are not ideal; the poor people are increasing and rich are decreasing; there should be more work done to keep the credibility of such studies using some more reliable sources; also there should be a comparison between different categories of how many rich and how many poor in the world; I think the result would be shocking when it will show that almost 5% of people are controlling 90% of the wealth and 95% of world population are having only 5% of the wealth; therefore, there should be more fair mechanism for redistribution of resources among all people.

Submitted by Shekhar Karki on

It is indeed very comprehensive and self explanatory graphs and figures. Thanks!

Submitted by Arinola on

Its good you ve pulled it all together nicely. I hope countries and organizations can shift through for effective decision making especially areas specific to each need.

Submitted by S Muir on

Good to see signs of hope.
A smaller issue, but I think that improving one's local environment helps lead to better quality lives. It is always sad to see how much litter there is, how many ugly signs there are and how much green land is turned into pavement and not well planned/built developments. Does the World Bank help governments on tackling these issues as well: improving waste management laws, zoning laws, building quality requirements, fines for littering and education on these issues?

Submitted by Fabio La Paglia on

Dear World Bank

It is a pleasure to write an important world institution in Washingtown D.C. for a better world. I Hope to meet shortly and i wish you a nice evening.

Thank you

Best regards

Dr Fabio La Paglia

Submitted by Jean AMISI MUTUMBI on

The biggest challenge that the world will face in coming years will be "the climate change" . Our survival will rely on the way we will tackle this issue. It is well known that the carbon market is imperfect and inefficient, and the implementation of the Paris' climate change agreement will be difficult

Submitted by Anonymous on

Submitted by Tsabang Nole on 05/01/2016
I like very well these excellent representations and congratulate with all my heart the World Bank for the important great statistics. Our survival will depend on the strategies that we must develop to overcome climate change and poverty which is increasing in developing countries. There is a hope that countries and organizations can shift through for effective decision making especially areas specific to each need.

Submitted by Max Dexter on

Very good graphs. However if you want to end poverty, just stop stealing from poor countries. Its that simple... more money goes out of the country than in. I hate to say it but, I think inequality should be on that list of things to address.

Submitted by Peter Kajubi on

THE GLOBAL POVERTY RATE FELL BELOW 10%!!!!!!!!! BRAVO..... THE WORLD BANK AND OTHER FUNDING AGENCIES. This is a justification for your Investments in Developing Countries. Let's hope for the best for the SDGs to improve disposable Income at household level and hence derived National and Regional Development.

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