Highlighting the State of Indigenous Peoples in Poverty and Development

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Blogging from the United Nations Millennium Development Goals Summit in New York City.

ImageAs world leaders gathered this week at the UN for the MDG Summit, the World Bank called critical attention to the state of indigenous peoples throughout the world - who show higher poverty rates and lower schooling rates than their peers - with a session that reviewed key findings from a new global study.
There are approximately 300 million indigenous peoples in the world. They make up fewer than 5 percent of the global population, but account for about 10 percent of the poor. Nearly 80 percent of indigenous peoples in the world live in Asia. Indigenous groups in China and India alone account for more than two-thirds of the world’s indigenous population. 

The Indigenous Peoples, Poverty and Development study that I presented at the summit this week confirms the dire state of indigenous peoples globally—that are still among the poorest of the poor. But findings from the study also give hope that widespread and sustainable growth and poverty reduction can lift vast segments of the poor. In cases where poverty was reduced over time, investments in schooling contributed significantly to that decline.  Indigenous peoples in Asia are closing the gap faster than indigenous peoples in other parts of the world, significantly so in the case of China, but also in India and Vietnam.
At the same time, there are significant gaps in schooling coverage, and the returns to schooling tend to be lower for indigenous peoples. That is, indigenous peoples, despite considerable progress over time, continue to lag behind the non-indigenous population in terms of years of schooling completed and the quality of that schooling.  While indigenous groups have increased their overall schooling attainment, so has the rest of the country. Therefore, despite significant schooling progress overall, the gap between groups remains.
In Africa, there is evidence of a widening education gap. Where these persistent gaps in schooling attainment remain, progress on the MDGs will be jeopardized, not only in terms of the schooling goal, but also in terms of poverty reduction. At the same time, widespread sustainable growth and poverty reduction may be necessary but insufficient conditions for eliminating the indigenous poverty gap. 
Policies to improve the state of the world's indigenous and allow them greater inclusion in the development process,  must focus first on identifying and tackling the binding national country constraints to poverty reduction. This alone should benefit vast segments of the indigenous population. After that, strategies to address multiple sources of disadvantage can be undertaken to reach those who need a special lift. If the MDGs are to be achieved and poverty eliminated for all, the failures of national school systems must be corrected to meet the needs of marginalized indigenous groups. 
Read the Indigenous Peoples, Poverty and Development  study and watch a video discussing the study's findings.
Learn more about the Bank's work on Indigenous Peoples, and read the related policy brief.


Harry A. Patrinos

Senior Adviser, Education

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