SEATTLE — A recent Brookings Institution report shows that the number of people living in extreme poverty in Nigeria has exceeded that in India, which used to be the highest ranked country for severe poverty. Extreme poverty is defined as living on less than $1.90 a day.
The World Poverty Clock, a project started in 2017 to keep a record of poverty reduction via its rate in different countries, reported that while India sees 44 people growing out of extreme poverty per minute, Nigeria sees six people falling into extreme poverty each minute. The clock references household surveys and economic growth projections conducted by the IMF’s World Economic Outlook.
It is estimated that Nigeria houses 87 million extremely poor people, while the number in India is 73 million. The World Bank’s 2017 Atlas of Sustainable Development Goals shows that the number increased in Nigeria by 35 million between 1990 and 2013.
Why is it that India and Nigeria have seen such drastic differences in poverty reduction? What are the respective challenges they face, and what do poverty trends in these countries mean for the U.N. Sustainable Development Goal of eliminating poverty by 2030?
India’s Progress in Reducing Poverty
The World Bank reports that India’s poverty rate dropped from 38.9 percent to 21.2 percent between 2004 and 2011. Experts believe that economic growth in the region has contributed to the decreasing numbers of people living in extreme poverty.
“Basically, it supports the growth story and the 1991 economic reforms that have helped reduce poverty,” N R Bhanumurthy, a professor at the National Institute of Public Finance and Policy, told The Times of India.
Since its independence, India has targeted famine, population growth and caste barriers to economic advancement as problems to address. The rate of poverty reduction has improved since the mid-1970s, when the economic growth of the country started climbing. The country’s market-oriented economy and increasing integration into the global economy have benefited its citizens, though it still faces challenges regarding gender inequality, inefficient educational resources and healthcare, all of which impede poverty reduction. The country’s poverty reduction is also largely fueled by its southern states, while states in eastern and central India face poverty more severe than the national average.
Nevertheless, India’s economic advances have largely improved the living conditions of at least part of its population. With continued economic growth, increasing attention to rural poverty reduction and women’s empowerment, among other efforts, the state is on track to end extreme poverty by 2030.
The Challenges Surrounding Poverty Reduction in Nigeria
Even though Nigeria is Africa’s largest oil producer, its economic growth in recent decades failed to reach the majority of the population. The drop in oil prices pushed the nation’s economy into recession in 2016, and further jeopardized its people’s living standards. A recent rise in oil prices seem to be setting the nation’s economy back to normal, but the country is still suffering from severe poverty.
Profits generated in the oil sector have not translated to poverty reduction in Nigeria. The Legatum Institute, a think tank based in London, ranked Nigeria 26th among 38 nations examined for the extent of “prosperity delivery” to citizens in the context of national wealth. The report said that Nigeria “under-delivers” prosperity to its population.
One of the most striking problems related to this “prosperity gap” is corruption. In recent cases, it has been revealed that the wealth from oil fields, instead of benefiting the public, was hoarded by government officials via kickbacks.
A Larger Issue in Africa
The struggles with poverty reduction in Nigeria are somewhat symptomatic of what the African continent as a whole has been seeing. While Africa has achieved absolute prosperity growth, prosperity gain—measured by such factors as education, health, security and individual freedom—remains stagnant.
Compared with Asia, which had a similar poverty level in 1990, Africa has had a much slower rate of poverty reduction. Andrew Shepherd, director of the Chronic Poverty Advisory Network, noted that there has been a gradual shift in severe poverty from Asia to Africa. “I think [poverty]is shifting to states that are conflict-affected and states most affected by climate change…and states that have both poor policies and are significantly underfunded and in terms of aid. There is a whole bunch of these states and a significant number are in Africa,” Shepherd told The Guardian.
Conflicts, corruption, a lack of infrastructure and a lack of economic diversity, among other problems, plague the continent and prevent the riches of its natural resources from reaching its people.
The Brookings Institution report also points out that two-thirds of the world’s extremely poor live in Africa. Of the 18 countries with increasing poverty, 14 are in Africa. According to the present trends, Africa will house as much as 90 percent of the poorest people in the world in 2030. In other words, successes in poverty reduction on the African continent will be key to whether the U.N. Sustainable Development Goal is reached by 2030.
– Feng Ye