Statistics to Inform

As sound statistics shed light on the world in which we live, they can help our attitudes and actions to be better informed, and therefore more effective. The following statistics are amongst a vast number that are relevant to enterprise solutions to poverty.

Telling Statistics

The United Nations Development Programme produced its first Human Development Report in 1990. The compilers of that report struck an optimistic note: 'The 1990s are shaping up as the decade for human development.' Much of this optimism was well founded – since 1990 we have seen substantial improvements including:

  • On average, people in developing countries are healthier, better educated and less impoverished and they are more likely to live in a multiparty democracy;
  • Life expectancy in developing countries has increased by 2 years;
  • There are 3 million fewer child deaths annually and 30 million fewer children out of school;
  • More than 130 million people have escaped extreme poverty.

Huge challenges remain, however. The 2005 Human Development Report notes that:

  • In 2003, 18 countries with a combined population of 460 million people registered lower scores on the human development index than in 1990 – an unprecedented reversal;
  • 10.7 million children every year do not live see their fifth birthday;
  • More than 1 billion people live in abject poverty on less than $1 per day;
  • The HIV/AIDS pandemic claimed 3 million lives in 2003 and left 5 million people infected. Millions of children have been orphaned.

These statistics teach a simple but important lesson: development gains over the last fifteen years should neither be underestimated nor exaggerated. Much has been achieved but much remains to be done.

The 2005 Human Development Report can be downloaded here.


During the last decade, economic development have lifted millions of people out of poverty. Consider these statistics:

  • While the population of developing countries rose from around 4 to 5 billion people, average per capita incomes rose by more than 21%.
  • With 130 million fewer people living in extreme poverty in 2001 than a decade before, the proportion of people living on less than $1 per day declined by 7% (from 28% to 21%).
  • The rate of undernourishment declined by 3% and the under-five mortality rate dropped from 103 deaths per 1,000 births to 88.
  • Life expectancy rose from 63 years to nearly 65 years.
  • An additional 8% of the developing world's population gained access to improved drinking water supply, and 15% more to basic sanitation services.

Such positive statistics, though seldom quoted by intellectuals or by the media, ought to be highlighted and celebrated.

However, as reported in the box above, there is still plenty of cause for concern. Here are some further reasons why:

  • The spread of AIDS has been catastrophic, with more than 20 million lives lost since the first case was detected in 1981.
  • Some regions have made little economic progress or even experience stagnation or reversal.
  • Rates of economic growth in some areas have been inadequate to yield significant reductions in poverty. From1990 to 2002, for instance, the heavily indebted poor countries say their incomes rise only from $298 per capita to $337 in 1995 dollars.

The economic rise of China and India, the world's most populous countries, accounts for much of the progress toward poverty reduction. As home to more than 2.3 billion people, their advances in poverty reduction drive down averages for the developing world as a whole.

The poverty rate in China dropped from 33% to 17% between 1990 and 2001. In India, it dropped from 42% to 35%.

China's low population growth rate and rapid poverty reduction rates have decreased its poverty headcount by nearly 165 million people since 1990. By contrast, India's declining poverty rates have been offset by population growth, so the number of people there in absolute poverty remains unchanged at approximately 360 million people.

All these statistics and more can be found in the UN Millennium Project's Investing in Development: A Practical Plan to Achieve the Millennium Development Goals (Earthscan, 2005), pp. 13-14.

Click here to download.


The UK government's Department for International Development (DFID) produces fact sheets that focus on each of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

Whatever the deficiencies of the MDGs (we note William Easterly's criticism of the MDGs under the 'Resources' section of Enterprise Excellence 3), they do provide a means by which awareness of poverty and its alleviation can be spread more widely.

The first of the MDGs is to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger. The target associated with it is to halve, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people whose income is less than one dollar a day.

DFID wish to communicate the following key messages about this goal:

  • Extreme poverty is defined as having to live on less than $1 a day. If the proportion of people whose income is less than $1 a day was halved, it would reduce the number of people living in extreme poverty from £1.2 billion in 1990 to 890 million in 2015.
  • Globally, the number of people living in extreme poverty is falling, but there are large variations in progress between regions. Asia is making good progress, but there is little movement elsewhere and sub-Saharan Africa is going backwards.
  • Economic growth is a necessary condition for poverty reduction. The countries that have seen the greatest progress in income poverty reduction have been those with the strongest growth rates.
  • Growth is not just essential for reducing income poverty, but also for reaching the other Millennium Development Goal targets. Growth enables governments to fund more basic social services, it affects the extent of economic discrimination against women and also the extent to which poor people are either exploited or empowered in the economic, social and political arenas.

DFID also provide the following key facts and figures to accompany these messages:

  • In 1990, 28% of the developing country population lived in extreme poverty. By 2000, it had fallen to 22%
  • East Asia has already cut its poverty rate in half and South Asia is making good progress
  • In sub-Saharan Africa, the proportion in extreme poverty has risen slightly from 47% in 1990 to 49% in 2000
  • In sub-Saharan Africa, the average per capita growth rate over the 1990s was - 0.2%. In East Asia, it was 6.4%

Provided economic growth remains on track, DFID is confident that 12.5% of the world's population will be in poverty in 2015 and that this will mean that the target is achieved.

For DFID's view on the obstacles to improvement and what it is doing, alongside international institutions, to remove them, click here. This link also provides case studies of DFID-funded initiatives designed to tackle poverty in Southern Africa.