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Where are the poor?

To draw up poverty reduction policies and redistribute economic benefits and power, we need to understand who the poor are and where they live. Poverty maps are important tools to help identify and locate poor areas and populations. Though these maps (based on Human Development Indicator (HDI) and other basic-needs indicators) have been used for several decades, recent strides in statistical methods have greatly improved our ability to locate the poor. The World Bank in particular has developed and refined a sophisticated method of poverty mapping that integrates census and survey data (1). By Ma. Sn.

A recent evaluation shows that poverty maps have been extensively used in:

  • poverty alleviation programmes;
  • emergency response and health strategies;
  • restructuring national to local-level policies;
  • allocating national budgets and social investment funds (2).

Poverty maps have, on some occasions, influenced the allocation of large amounts of money, for example the allocation of US$1.1 billion in capital spending in Nicaragua (from 2001 to 2005) and US$305 million in South Africa under a municipal grants programme (from 2001 to 2002). Poverty maps have had an impact on decision making by making resource allocation more accountable, transparent and fair. They have also validated geographic targeting of poor areas, prompted national to local-level debate and awareness on poverty, encouraged broader participation in decision making, facilitated coordination between and within institutions and improved the credibility of numerous institutions.

BY Ma. Sn.

1. Hentschel, J., J. Lanjouw, P. Lanjouw and J. Poggi, Combining Census and Survey Data to Trace the Spatial Dimensions of Poverty: A Case Study of Ecuador, in The World Bank Economic Review, Volume 14, Number 1, The World Bank, Washington DC, 2000.

2. Norbert Henninger and Mathilde Snel, Where are the Poor?: Experiences with the Development and Use of Poverty Maps, draft, World Resources Institute (WRI) and GRID-Arendal, Washington DC, 2002.


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