Experts challenge poverty measurement in Asia and the Pacific, UNDP and ADB

Sep 15, 2014

New York -The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) hosted a symposium “Poverty in Asia – A Deeper Look” which brought together thinkers and practitioners from leading poverty-fighting institutions to discuss how to best measure and analyze data for effective anti-poverty policy making.

”The good news is that poverty in the Asia-Pacific region is falling no matter which definition of poverty we use,” said Haoliang Xu, Director of UNDP’s Bureau for Asia and the Pacific.

“The remarkable achievements made by emerging countries such as China, India, Indonesia and Viet Nam in reducing poverty have been widely recognized and praised,” he added. “But we should also recognize and compliment the success of least developed countries that have also made significant progress in reducing poverty in the last decade.”

In spite of undeniable progress, poverty will remain a critical challenge for Asia and the Pacific, requiring a greater focus on efforts to address food insecurity and economic vulnerability.

ADB calls for three additional elements to be factored into the poverty picture that cause people to slide into poverty: cost of consumption specific to Asia’s poor; food costs that rise faster than the general price level; and vulnerability to natural disasters, climate change, economic crises, and other shocks.

“$1.25 a day is not enough to maintain minimum welfare in many parts of our region,” said ADB Chief Economist Shang-Jin Wei. “A fuller understanding of poverty is needed to help policymakers develop effective approaches to address this daunting challenge.”

Rapid economic growth in the region has led to a dramatic improvement in living standards. Extreme poverty, when measured as income or expenditure of less than US$1.25 per person per day in 2005 purchasing power parity terms, could fall to 1.4 percent by 2030, if current trends continue. A poverty rate below 3 percent is interpreted as poverty having been eradicated.

At the symposium, Shang-Jin Wei highlighted three key messages that came out of the report “Key Indicators for Asia and the Pacific 2014”:

•    Given the type of goods in the commodity basket for the poor in Asia-Pacific, the US$1.25 poverty line is inadequate to measure the absolute minimum standard of living needed to avoid deprivation. Re-estimation suggests that the $1.51 regional poverty line is a more appropriate representation of the poverty threshold, putting an additional 343 million people in poverty.

•    It is essential to account for food insecurity in the measure of poverty. Rapidly rising food prices in recent times, without commensurate increases in income, have threatened affordability and access to basic food commodities. Taking into account the element of food insecurity, the poverty rate in Asia increases by additional 141 million people.  

•    Should we take a broader view of poverty and add the populations that live on less than US$1.51 a day; are affected by the rising food prices; and are vulnerable to climate and economic shocks - the number of people living in poverty would be three times larger than what is currently estimated.

“There are more challenges ahead since two-thirds of the world’s deprived people in terms of poverty, hunger and lack of sanitation live in Asia-Pacific,” concluded Haoliang Xu, director of UNDP’s network of offices in 36 countries throughout the region managing more than US$ 1 billion in development projects.

UNDP and ADB are distinctly governed multilateral organizations which often cooperate on poverty reducing initiatives across Asia and the Pacific, particularly in the areas of inclusive economic growth, environmentally sustainable growth, and regional integration.

Other speakers in the symposium included H.E. Libran N. Cabactulan, Permanent Representative of the Philippines to the United Nations; Prof. Sanjay Reddy from the New School for Social Research; and Selim Jahan, Director of UNDP’s Human Development Report Office.

Contact information

In New York: Stanislav Saling, Spokesperson, UNDP Regional Bureau for Asia and the Pacific,, +1 212 906 6575

Michael Reyes, External Relations Officer, Asian Development Bank, North American Representative Office, Tel. +1 202-728-1500, Mob: +1 202-460-6378,