Fight poverty where it lives

 David Dawe   |  
(Photo: IRRI)

(Photo: IRRI)

The most recent World Food Summit, in 1996, set the target of halving by 2015 the number of people who go to bed hungry. Such rapid progress will require poverty reduction worldwide, but especially in Asia. Despite substantial progress in many Asian countries over the past few decades, Asia is still home to most of the world’s poor.

The number of poor in rice producing Asia is nearly three times that of sub-Saharan Africa, the second largest locus of poverty. To some extent, Asia has more poor people than Africa simply because its population is much larger. Yet some key indicators suggest that the incidence of poverty is worse in large parts of Asia than in sub-Saharan Africa. For example, stunting, wasting and underweight all afflict a larger proportion of children in south central Asia (dominated by India, Pakistan and Bangladesh) than in sub-Saharan Africa.

Illuminating a similar picture of the status of women, the proportion of severely underweight adult women is much higher in Bangladesh and Nepal than in Chad or Madagascar, the two countries in sub-Saharan Africa with the highest prevalence of underweight adult women.

It seems that well-publicized progress toward alleviating hunger and poverty in much of Asia has blinded many donors – and the public at large – to the poverty that remains in the world’s largest continent.

Certainly the level of official development assistance (ODA) provided per poor person in rice-producing Asia is much lower than in sub-Saharan Africa.

This conclusion holds even excluding from the calculations India and China, who by sheer size arguably threaten to skew the results. Adjusting the figures to take into account how a lot of ODA for Africa is in the form of grants, while that for Asia is more often in the form of loans, shows sub-Saharan Africa receiving four times as much aid per poor person as does rice-producing Asia.

Africa urgently needs donor funds.But, in their zeal to set Africa aright, donors should not forget that both the incidence of poverty and its absolute numbers remain very high in Asia. It will be impossible to achieve broad progress in global poverty alleviation unless Asia receives due attention.


David Dawe is an economist. 

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