The FINANCIAL — Addressing huge gaps in the collection of poverty data, the World Bank Group pledged on October 15 to work with developing countries and international partners to ensure that the 78 poorest nations have household-level surveys every three years, with the first round to be completed by 2020.
Poverty-fighting efforts have long been constrained by a lack of data in many countries. The World Bank has identified 29 countries that had no poverty data from 2002 to 2011. Another 28 had just one survey that collected poverty data during that time. These gaps prevented analysts from identifying trends in how countries were making progress toward their goals, and posed a barrier to improving the lives of poor people.
The announcement by World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim offers key support to the organization’s mission to end extreme poverty by 2030 and boost shared prosperity for the bottom 40 percent of people in developing countries.
“We will not be able to reach our goal unless we have data to show whether or not people are actually lifting themselves out of poverty,” Kim said. “Collecting good data is one of the most powerful tools to end extreme poverty. We pledge, working alongside our partners in countries and international organizations, to do something that makes common sense and is long overdue: to conduct surveys in all countries that will assess whether people’s lives are improving.”
As the world works to end extreme poverty in the next 15 years, it will be ever more important to have a solid foundation of data and evidence so that policies and programs reach people who have not benefited from strong growth since 2000. In a slowing global economy, governments must invest in quality education, health, sanitation and electricity for all, alongside effective social insurance policies that protect the vulnerable—not as an afterthought, but as a core part of their growth strategies.
Ghana Finance Minister Seth E. Terkper welcomed the announcement. “Our success in halving poverty over the last 20 years is built upon a solid foundation of quality, transparent household-level data through the Ghana Living Standards surveys,” Terkper said. “We welcome the World Bank’s efforts to ensure that every country has the same opportunities that we have had to gather the crucial information they need to improve the lives of their citizens.”
Kaushik Basu, Chief Economist and Senior Vice President of the World Bank Group added, “Data gives representation to people who may otherwise be marginalized and forgotten, hence our decision to greatly step up efforts to collect more and better quality data in developing countries.”
The World Bank estimates the total cost of the initiative to be $300 million every three years, in addition to what countries are already spending on core data collection. These costs would be expected to be borne by a mix of countries’ own resources, donor funding and World Bank financing. The major expansion of household-level data collection will be discussed and coordinated with countries and partners in the months ahead.
“The World Bank is committed to supporting countries in making this happen,” said Jan Walliser, Vice President for Equitable Growth, Finance, and Institutions at the World Bank Group. “We will work with our country partners to build capacity and ownership of this agenda, convene agencies and governments to learn from one another, help set international standards that ensure high quality in every country, and mobilize financing so that no country has to choose between investing in its people and collecting essential data.”
Paving the way for innovation
Household surveys gather data not only on people’s income and consumption levels, but a host of other critical information that can help tailor outreach to those who need it most. Surveys are the most effective way to set a broad-based foundation of data on living standards, in key areas such as education, health, hunger, risk, sanitation, infrastructure, and others. Good price data are also essential to the measurement of living standards and poverty.
From this strong foundation, it is possible to develop innovative ways of collecting data, including complementary approaches using mobile phones, satellite imagery, mapping, and sensors. With more tools, data analysts can get a fuller picture of roadblocks faced by people in poverty, and find ways to give them a chance at more prosperous futures.
Recent work in Somalia and in South Sudan, where years of conflict and insecurity have hampered statistical efforts, and in Sierra Leone and Liberia where during the Ebola crisis, traditional face-to-face interviews were rendered impossible, are just a few examples where the World Bank worked with countries and partners to build on traditional data collection methods. These efforts and many others have enabled countries to better understand and tackle the most pressing issues facing their citizens.