Published on Voices

Solving the puzzle of extreme poverty

This page in:
Have you ever tried to solve a problem without much context? How did it go?

Here’s a simple example: Imagine you’re working on a complicated jigsaw puzzle without using the picture on the box top as a guide. How successful do you think you’ll be? After some trial and error, you’d probably give in to frustration, bring out the box top, and make easier work of the puzzle.

What if the puzzle you were trying to solve was to end extreme global poverty? How would you put the pieces together?

In support of one of the World Bank Group’s goals—ending extreme poverty by 2030—researchers are asking and seeking answers to the most complex problems related to how people lift themselves out of poverty—or remain stuck in it. The World Bank Group publishes dozens of research documents and books each year that contribute to the knowledge of the best ways to reduce extreme poverty.  

Among the recent publications, three stand out. Here’s what they tell us:

For years, the Global Monitoring Report has provided a look at the worldwide trends in poverty, highlighting the positive stories while exposing the challenges. The 2015/2016 edition reported a milestone trend: for the first time, the global poverty rate was forecast to decline to single digits (9.6 percent). The report also confirmed that more than 700 million people worldwide remained in extreme poverty, with an increasing share concentrated in Sub-Saharan Africa. The bottom line: The trend line is going in the right direction, but the problem is still immense.

Regional reports sharpen the focus further. For example, authors of Poverty in a Rising Africa gave a snapshot of poverty on the continent and progress over the past two decades. Estimates suggest the share of Africans who are extremely poor fell from 56 percent in 1990 to 43 percent in 2012—the slowest rate of regional decline in the world. Due to population growth in the region, more than 330 million were poor in 2012, up from about 280 million in 1990. The report stressed that the efforts to fight poverty are hurt by a lack of data. Remarkably, between 1990 and 2012, only 27 of the region’s 48 countries had conducted two or more comparable surveys to track poverty. The report is clear: the scope, quality, and comparability of poverty statistics for countries in the region need to improve.

Some challenges transcend geography. Take climate change. Shock Waves: Managing the Impacts of Climate Change on Poverty, which was released ahead of the COP21 Paris Climate Conference, clearly showed that climate change could hurt efforts to end extreme poverty. As climate-related shocks are expected to increase in frequency and severity with a warmer climate, the most vulnerable will be most affected. To better protect them, the report calls for rapid, inclusive, and climate-smart development. Without it, according to the report, there could be more than 100 million additional people in poverty by 2030.

These three publications taken alone present different insights into ending poverty. Taken together, however, we start to see a more complete picture. Global levels of extreme poverty are decreasing, but those people remaining in poverty are increasingly concentrated in certain regions and countries, especially in hard to reach places. The reports show we need more information—better data on poor populations, their locations, and the challenges they face. And it’s imperative that all countries limit the effects of climate change—not only to save the planet, but also to protect the poor.

When readers look at the spectrum of research on ending poverty, which is freely available, their knowledge becomes deeper and more nuanced—and collectively more substantial in solving some of the greatest challenges for people still mired in poverty.  


Daniel Nikolits

Special Projects Editor

Join the Conversation

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly
Remaining characters: 1000