Global progress leaves behind millions of poor, hungry, illiterate - U.N. report

NEW YORK, March 21 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Scores of nations have lifted themselves out of poverty and illiteracy, but those signs of broad progress hide crippling inequality and suffering by millions of people left behind, a United Nations agency said on Tuesday.

One in three people is malnourished, more than one in ten lives in extreme poverty and roughly the same number can neither read nor write, said the Human Development Report issued by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

At the same time, the world’s richest 1 percent hold nearly half the world’s wealth, it said.

Progress must be universal, said UNDP, an agency that works to eradicate poverty and inequality.

“People now live longer, more children are in school and more people have access to basic social services,” the report said.

“Yet human development has been uneven, and human deprivations persist. Progress has bypassed groups, communities, societies - and people have been left out.”

Measuring nations in terms of life expectancy, levels of education and standard of living, the UNDP report used a so-called Human Development Index (HDI) and compared its 2015 results with those it collected in its first report in 1990.

Every developing nation improved over those 25 years, it said.

The number of countries ranking high on the index rose to 51 from 11 and the number at the low end fell to 41 from 62.

But strip away national boundaries, and a third of the world’s population ranks low on that scale, it said.

“The unfortunate reality is that millions of people fall on the wrong side of the average and struggle with hunger, poverty, illiteracy and malnutrition,” it said.


Among positive signs, the global extreme poverty rate ($1.90 a day) was estimated at roughly 11 percent, down from 35 percent.

The mortality rate for children under age 5 was cut by more than half, and in developing regions, the proportion of undernourished people was nearly halved.

But 766 million people, half of them children, still live in extreme poverty. In the developed world, more than a third of children live in poverty.

People in rural areas are far more likely to be poor than those in urban areas, and twice as many rural children as urban children are out of school.

“Countries’ human development may improve, but this does not mean that entire populations are better off or benefit equally,” the report said.

Only 10 to 20 percent of landholders in developing countries are women. And more women than men live in poverty - 117 women for every 100 men in Latin America and the Caribbean, it said.

The world’s 370 million indigenous people are 5 percent of the global population but 15 percent of the people living in poverty.

The report recommends a host of solutions - technology, financial resources, improved infrastructure and tackling discriminatory laws, violence and social norms that exclude people.

Women would benefit from regulations against workplace harassment, child and elder care services and gender quotas on corporate boards.

Among specific examples, it said banks could stop requiring minimum deposits that limit access to financial services for poor people, it said.

Some 2 billion people do not have bank accounts or services, it said.

Ranking at the top of the HDI list was Norway, Australia, Switzerland, Germany and Denmark. At the very bottom were Central African Republic, Niger, Chad, Burkina Faso and Burundi. (Reporting by Ellen Wulfhorst, editing by Ros Russell; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit