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Nearly Half the World Lives on Less than $5.50 a Day

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Economic advances around the world mean that while fewer people live in extreme poverty, almost half the world’s population — 3.4 billion people — still struggles to meet basic needs, the World Bank said.

Living on less than $3.20 per day reflects poverty lines in lower-middle-income countries, while $5.50 a day reflects standards in upper-middle-income countries, the World Bank said in its biennial Poverty and Shared Prosperity Report, “Piecing Together the Poverty Puzzle.”

The World Bank remains committed to achieving the goal of ending extreme poverty, defined as living on less than $1.90 a day, by 2030. The share of the world’s population living in extreme poverty fell to 10 percent in 2015, but the pace of extreme poverty reduction has slowed, the Bank warned on Sept. 19.

However, given that economic growth means that a much greater proportion of the world’s poor now live in wealthier countries, additional poverty lines and a broader understanding of poverty are crucial to fully fighting it, the report says.

“Ending extreme poverty by 2030 and boosting shared prosperity are our goals, and we remain committed to them,” said World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim. “At the same time, we can take a broader view of poverty at different levels and dimensions around the world. This view reveals that poverty is more widespread and entrenched, underlining the importance of investing in people.”

While rates of extreme poverty have declined substantially, falling from 36 percent in 1990, the report’s expanded examination of the nature of poverty demonstrates the magnitude of the challenge in eradicating it. Over 1.9 billion people, or 26.2 percent of the world’s population, were living on less than $3.20 per day in 2015. Close to 46 percent of the world’s population was living on less than $5.50 a day.

The report also goes beyond monetary measures of poverty to understand how access to adequate water and sanitation, education, or electricity affect a family’s well-being. And since the burdens of poverty often fall most heavily on women and children, the report analyzes how poverty can vary within a household.

The report finds that the incomes of the poorest 40 percent grew in 70 of the 91 economies monitored. In more than half of the economies, their incomes grew faster than the average, meaning they were getting a bigger share of the economic pie. However, progress in sharing prosperity lagged in some regions of the world. The report also warns that data needed to assess shared prosperity is weakest in the very countries that most need it to improve. Only one in four low-income countries and four of the 35 recognized fragile and conflict-affected states have data on shared prosperity data over time.

The new measures allow the World Bank to better monitor poverty in all countries, in multiple aspects of life, and for all individuals in every household.

REGIONAL SNAPSHOTS

East Asia and Pacific: The region was one of the best performers in shared prosperity: The incomes of the poorest 40 percent of the population grew on average 4.7 percent between 2010 and 2015. East Asia not only had the largest reductions in extreme poverty, but also in the proportion of people living on less than $3.20 and $5.50 per day. While extreme poverty is very low, the region saw a higher percentage of people lacking access to sanitation.

Europe and Central Asia: Many countries in the region suffered setbacks in the growth of incomes of its bottom 40. On the other hand, several economies whose bottom 40 suffered large declines because of the financial and the debt crises were recovering. Among developing regions, Europe and Central Asia had the lowest percentage of people living under the $3.20 and $5.50 poverty lines. However, in the share of people lacking schooling enrollment, it performs less well than either East Asia and Pacific or Latin America and the Caribbean.

Latin America and the Caribbean: The region saw less shared prosperity from 2010 to 2015 than in previous years as its economies were impacted by a slowdown in global commodity prices. The region had almost 11 percent living on less than $3.20 a day and over 26 percent on less than $5.50 a day in 2015. Poverty in non-monetary dimensions such as lack of access to drinking water, adequate sanitation or electricity was much less associated with monetary aspects.

Middle East and North Africa: Even though the region saw an increase in the number of people living on less than $1.90 a day, levels of extreme poverty remained low. However, the region had more people living on less than $5.50 per day in 2015 than in 1990. Additionally, almost one in seven people lacks adequate sanitation.

South Asia: the region saw impressive growth of the incomes of its bottom 40 between 2010 and 2015. Despite a 35-percentage point decline in extreme poverty between 1990 and 2015, the region registered only an 8 percent decrease in people living on less than $3.20 a day, and over 80 percent of the region still lived below $5.50 per day in 2015. Also, the number of people in the region living in households without access to electricity or adequate sanitation was far greater than those living in monetary poverty.

Sub-Saharan Africa: A third of the countries in the region experienced negative income growth for the bottom 40 percent of their populations. The region with the largest number of extreme poor, Africa saw its population nearly double between 1990 and 2015, with one of the largest increases in population being for those living on less than $3.20 and more than $1.90. The poor suffered from multiple deprivations such as low consumption levels and lack of access to education and basic infrastructure services.

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Structural Reforms Needed to Put Tunisia on Path to Sustainable Growth

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Decisive structural reforms and an improved business climate are essential to put Tunisia’s economy on a more sustainable path, create jobs for the growing youth population and better manage the country’s debt burden, according to the Winter 2021 Edition of the World Bank’s Tunisia Economic Monitor.

Titled “Economic Reforms to Navigate out of the Crisis” (in French, “Réformes économiques pour sortir de la crise”), the report estimates a slow economic recovery from COVID-19, with projected growth of 3% in 2021. Weighing on this recovery is rising unemployment, which increased from 15.1% to 18.4% in the third quarter of 2021, affecting the youth and people in the western regions hardest.

The report outlines how the weak recovery puts pressure on Tunisia’s already strained public finances, with the budget deficit still elevated at 7.6% in 2021, despite a small contraction from 9.4% in 2020.  The budget deficit is projected to gradually decline, reaching 5% to 7% of GDP in 2022-23, helped by lower health-related expenditures and provided that the moderately positive trajectory of spending and revenue are maintained. However, Tunisia’s rising public debt will be hard to finance without decisive public finance and economic reforms, the report noted.

“Just like everywhere else, COVID-19 has adversely affected Tunisia’s economy and the report strongly highlights the need to address longstanding challenges to sustainable growth, including improving the business environment,” said Alexandre Arrobbio, World Bank Country Manager for Tunisia. “To emerge from this crisis, Tunisia needs to adopt decisive reforms to promote private sector development, boost competitiveness and create more jobs, especially for women and youth.”

The first chapter of the report analyzes potential reasons behind Tunisia’s slow economic recovery and highlights two specific factors: the country’s reliance on tourism and transport services; and the rigidity of the business climate, including restrictions on investments and competition which constrain the reallocation of resources in the economy.

The second chapter elaborates on key barriers to competition, arguing that Tunisia’s current regulatory environment restricts competition and discourages the development of new businesses. Looking ahead, the report recommends that policy reforms to ensure a level playing field in every sector are essential in order to boost employment for Tunisians and to increase purchasing power.  

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Lebanon’s Crisis: Great Denial in the Deliberate Depression

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The scale and scope of Lebanon’s deliberate depression are leading to the disintegration of key pillars of Lebanon’s post-civil war political economy. This is being manifested by a collapse of the most basic public services; persistent and debilitating internal political discord; and mass brain drain. Meanwhile, the poor and the middle class, who were never well served under this model in the first place, are carrying the main burden of the crisis.

According to the World Bank Lebanon Economic Monitor (LEM) Fall 2021 “The Great Denial”, Lebanon’s deliberate depression is orchestrated by the country’s elite that has long captured the state and lived off its economic rents.  This capture persists despite the severity of the crisis –one of the top ten, possibly top three most severe economic collapses worldwide since the 1850s; it has come to threaten the country’s long-term stability and social peace. The country’s post-war economic development model which thrived on large capital inflows and international support in return for promises of reforms is bankrupt. In addition, the collapse is occurring in a highly unstable geo-political environment making the urgency of addressing the dire crisis even more pressing.

The LEM estimates real GDP to decline by 10.5 percent in 2021, on the back of a 21.4 contraction in 2020. In fact, Lebanon’s GDP plummeted from close to US$52 billion in 2019 to a projected US$21.8 billion in 2021, marking a 58.1 percent contraction—the highest contraction in a list of 193 countries.

Monetary and financial turmoil continue to drive crisis conditions, under a multiple exchange rate system which poses valuable challenges on the economy. The sharp deterioration in the Lebanese Lira persisted in 2021, with the US$ banknote rate and the World Bank Average Exchange rate depreciating by 211 and 219 percent (year-on-year), respectively, over the first 11 months of the year. Exchange rate pass through effects on prices have resulted in surging inflation, estimated to average 145 percent in 2021—ranking 3rd globally after Venezuela and Sudan. Inflation is a highly regressive tax, disproportionally affecting the poor and vulnerable, and more generally, people living on fixed income like pensioners. Food inflation remains concerning as it forms a larger proportion of the expenses incurred by poorer households who are struggling to make ends meet with their deteriorating purchasing power.

Government revenues are estimated to almost halve in 2021 to reach 6.6 percent of GDP, marking the 3rd lowest ratio globally after Somalia and Yemen. The expenditure contraction was even more pronounced, led partially by drastic cutbacks in primary spending, which has reinforced the economic spiral. Meanwhile, gross debt is estimated to reach 183 percent of GDP in 2021, taking Lebanon to the 4th highest ratio in the world preceded only by Japan, Sudan and Greece.

A rare relative bright spot in 2021 has been tourism, which helped hold the current account deficit-to-GDP ratio steady.

Starting Spring 2021, a disorderly termination of the foreign exchange (FX) subsidy commenced and was in full force by the summer. The path authorities followed to the subsidy removal was opaque, inadequately coordinated and lacked timely pro-poor alleviation measures. As a result, subsidy removal mostly benefited importers and smugglers while precious and scarce FX resources were drained.

“Deliberate denial during deliberate depression is creating long-lasting scars on the economy and society. Over two years into the financial crisis, Lebanon has yet to identify, least of all embark upon, a credible path toward economic and financial recovery,” said Saroj Kumar Jha, World Bank Mashreq Regional Director. “The Government of Lebanon urgently needs to move forward with the adoption of a credible, comprehensive and equitable macro-financial stabilization and recovery plan and accelerate its implementation if it is to avoid a complete destruction of its social and economic networks and immediately stop irreversible loss of human capital. The World Bank reconfirms its readiness to continue to support Lebanon in addressing the pressing needs of its people and challenges affecting their livelihoods.”

As detailed and called for in previous issues of the LEM, this strategy would be based on: (i) a new monetary policy framework that would regain confidence and stability in the exchange rate; (ii) a debt restructuring program that would achieve short-term fiscal space and medium-term debt sustainability; (iii) a comprehensive restructuring of the financial sector to regain solvency of the banking sector; (iv) a phased, equitable, fiscal adjustment to regain confidence in fiscal policy; (v) growth enhancing reforms; and (vi) enhanced social protection.

Particularly, initiating a comprehensive, well-structured and swift reform of the electricity sector is critical to address the long-standing and compounding challenges of this sector which is at the center of Lebanon’s economic and social recovery. In addition, Lebanon needs to step-up efforts to ensure efficient and prompt delivery of social protection assistance to the poor and vulnerable households struggling under the continuing economic crisis.

The Special Focus section of the LEM “Searching for the External Lift in the Deliberate Depression” examines the reasons for the weaker than expected increase in exports considering the Lebanese Lira’s sharp depreciation; it analyzes the failure thus far for the external sector to sufficiently benefit from increased price competitiveness and become a more robust driver of growth. The Special Focus finds that Lebanon’s exports are inhibited by three factors (outside of the crisis itself): (i) (pre crisis) economic fundamentals; (ii) global conditions; and (iii) political/institutional environment.

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Nearly half of City GDP at Risk of Disruption from Nature Loss

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Cities contribute 80% to global GDP – but they also account for 75% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Integrating nature-positive solutions can help protect cities from growing risks associated with extreme weather while driving sustainable economic growth.

In collaboration with the Alexander von Humboldt Institute and Government of Colombia, the World Economic Forum’s BiodiverCities by 2030 Initiative published a report addressing the urgency of cities’ untenable relationship with nature. The Initiative’s goal is to reverse this existential global threat and move forward with a plan that will result in cities and nature co-existing in harmony by the end of the decade.

The report is a call for multistakeholder action to integrate nature as infrastructure into the built environment. In making the economic case for BiodiverCities, Nature-based Solutions (NbS) for infrastructure and land-sparing are found to be cost-effective ways for cities to innovate and meet current challenges. Spending $583 billion on NbS for infrastructure and on interventions that release land to nature could create more than 59 million jobs by 2030, including 21 million livelihood-enhancing jobs dedicated to restoring and protecting natural ecosystems.

“In the conventional paradigm, urban development and environmental health are like oil and water,” said Akanksha Khatri, Head of Nature and Biodiversity, World Economic Forum. “This report shows that this does not have to be the case. Nature can be the backbone of urban development. By recognizing cities as living systems, we can support conditions for the health of people, planet and economy in urban areas.”

The report finds that by incentivizing investments in natural capital, cities can unlock the benefits of nature. Nature-based Solutions are on average 50% more cost-effective than man-made alternatives and deliver 28% more added value. This capitalization, in turn, instils and nurtures nature-positive values and fosters bio-inspired innovations that will ultimately optimize economic competitiveness and prosperity.

“As cities think about building for the post-pandemic future, they have a priority to provide their citizens with a more equitable and prosperous quality of life by protecting their natural resources,” said Mauricio Rodas, Co-Chair of the Global Commission on BiodiverCities by 2030 and former mayor of Quito, Ecuador. “In this report, we offer actionable solutions to heal the relationship between cities and nature. We need all stakeholders to invest in urban nature.”

“Cities don’t need to be concrete jungles in conflict with nature in and outside their boundaries,” said Jo da Silva, Arup Global Sustainable Development Leader. “They should be places where all people and nature co-exist and thrive together. Nature-based solutions offer wider benefits than traditional engineered ‘grey’ solutions – such as improving resilience, increasing citizens health and wellbeing and moving cities to net zero. Using powerful new digital mapping tools to help us understand cities as complex systems, we are increasingly adopting nature-based solutions in our projects – this needs to be accelerated on a global scale.”

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