A new look at global poverty trends across time

Hans Rosling’s presentation on global poverty is an insightful analysis of international statistics over time. Important caveat: it is wise to be skeptical of the kind of aggregated data that he is using, and using proxies like life expectancy at birth for general health levels can be problematic. Life expectancy can be affected by various factors, including natural disasters, wars, as well as health care and general levels of health; using it as a proxy to indicate development of health care in a country is therefore somewhat misleading. Nevertheless, the analysis conducted with the software he uses is fascinating on a broad level at least.

One of the most fascinating insights of the analysis is the idea that many developed countries were once in a similar situation with regards to health or poverty as developing countries are now. This is something developing countries often argue when discussing their responsibilities in international treaties: the United States, for example, was perhaps in a similar position in terms of poverty and health 80 years ago as India is now. This reminds us that developing countries are not so behind the developed world on many indicators of development, and the path to progress is laid out before them quite clearly. It reminds us to be optimistic in the face of much poverty around the world.

Of course, the positive implications of such insights can be countered by negative ones: many developing countries argue that various controls such as carbon emission caps should not be imposed on them since they are merely following the same path that developed countries have followed without such restrictions placed on them. And, simply because one country that is very developed now has succeeded in pulling itself out of poverty does not mean another one will if it follows exactly the same path – many obstacles can litter the way.

Contradictory perspectives on policy and arguments about development strategies can be derived from such data and analysis; underlying the value of such exercises for academics, policy makers and lay-people alike. This presentation is definitely worth circulating, and debating!

– Madiha Murshed, Vice President, World Savvy Board of Directors

For more information about global poverty and international development, check out the October 2008 edition of the World Savvy Monitor.

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