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Hundreds of millions of the world’s poorest people have achieved substantial improvements in their living standards over the past 20 years, according to a new World Bank report, although the progress has been uneven across countries.

Most of the impoverished are found in the 55 low-income nations, which have a population of 3.2 billion people and an income per capita of $675 or less in 1992. Even here, there has been significant progress, according to the most recent data, some signs of which include:

  • Life expectancy has increased from 53 years to 62 years since 1970;
  • Infant mortality has decreased from 110 per 1,000 births in 1970 to 73 per 1000;
  • Income — gross national product (GNP) per capita — has grown from $190 in 1975 to $390;
  • Access to safe water rose from 33 percent of the population in 1985 to 68 percent;
  • Primary school enrollment has increased 36 percent in the past 20 years;
  • Globally, immunization against measles, one of the main childhood killers, has risen from around 50 percent in 1980 to more than 70 percent.

These latest figures are published in the World Bank report: Social Indicators of Development, 1994, an annual compilation of country-level statistics focusing on poverty in 192 nations.

“We are making progress, but it is not fast enough,” says World Bank President Lewis T. Preston. “The overall level of poverty remains totally unacceptable.”

World Bank economists have pointed out in previous reports that the absolute numbers of the impoverished are going up, even though the percentage of poor in the overall population of the developing world is going down. Right now, according to the latest World Bank estimates, 1.1 billion people, or 30 percent of the population in the developing world, are living on about $1/day (in 1985 prices).

Another worrisome trend is that poverty reduction was greater in the 1970s than in the 1980s. It is still too early to say how the trend is developing in the 1990s.

In addition, poverty has not decreased uniformly around the world. Pacific nations have shown the most improvement, while most nations in sub-Sahara Africa have lost ground.

“But the proportion of people whose income falls below the poverty line is only one indicator of living standards,” says Mr. Preston. “Equally important are other dimensions of poverty, such as health and education. While those have shown dramatic overall improvement in the past 20 years, progress has been uneven.”

The lead social indicators in the World Bank report include the infant mortality rate; primary school enrollment rate; access to health care and safe water; and levels of immunization.

Even though the poverty rate has remained static in some nations, the World Bank report shows that infant mortality rate has gone down because of more access to public health services, that more children than ever are attending primary school because of the spread of free public education.

“The new report clearly shows that investment in people pays off,” says Mr. Preston.

The social indicators in the Bank report show that improvements also vary a lot by region . In addition, while there has been improvement in sub-Sahara Africa, the overall levels of growth are still low and the rate of improvement is still slow in relation to other regions.

The area that has shown the most progress against poverty has been nations in East Asia.

For example, in Thailand, life expectancy rose from 60 years in 1970 percent to 69 years today; infant mortality decreased from 55 deaths per 1000 births in 1970 to 26 per 1000 in the latest survey; GNP rose from $670 per capita in 1980 to $1,840 today; and access to safe water rose from 25 percent of the population in 1975 to 72 percent today.

China, which had a population of 1.2 billion people in 1992, has also shown improvement in its social indicators. Life expectancy rose from 64 years in 1970 to 69 in the latest survey; infant mortality decreased from 48 deaths per 1000 births in 1970 to 31 per 1000 in the latest survey and GNP rose from $270 per capita in 1980 to $470 today.

These gains reflect, not only the direct effort of sound investments in human resources, but also the impact of sustained levels of economic growth.

Sub-Saharan Africa, excluding South Africa, showed a dramatic decrease in its per capita income (GNP), from $570 in 1980 to $350 in 1992. However, despite this, life expectancy rose from 45 years in 1970 to 52 years and infant mortality decreased from 138 deaths per 1,000 live births to 99.

Category: Press Release