World Inequality

BBC News
June 18, 2002

Against the backdrop of the debate on globalisation and the G8 Summit in Canada, BBC News Online examines the facts about the world economy and the growing gap between rich and poor.

Global poverty is concentrated in South Asia, where half of the world's poor live. Another quarter live in sub-Saharan Africa, while one quarter live in East Asia, mainly China.

But as a proportion of the population, there are more people in poverty in Africa than anywhere else.

Poverty has declined dramatically in East Asia, particularly in China, where an open economy has boosted living standards, especially in the coastal cities.

But in the past decade poverty has been rising in Africa, in South Asia, and most dramatically in Eastern Europe, where the transition from communism has caused poverty rates to sky-rocket.

World inequality between households has increased, according to the latest studies. The income of the richest 1% (50m people) is the same as the income of the poorest 60% (2.7bn people).

And the all the gains in world income in the middle of the last decade went to the richest 20%, while the income of those in the bottom 50% actually declined.

There is a huge gap between rich and poor countries across a range of health measures.

Looking at infant mortality, the number of children who die around the time of childbirth is twenty times higher in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia than in the rich industrial countries.

Diseases like HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis have also ravaged many developing countries, especially Africa, where life expectancy is falling.

Investment in education is seen as the key to improving human capital and building the capacity for future economic development.

But in many poor countries, only half of the children of secondary school age are enrolled in education, and many have functional illiteracy rates of nearly one-third.

The world's leaders have pledged to ensure that every child completes primacy education by 2015.

The internet has the power to spread information rapidly between continents and between rich and poor countries.

But so far, there is a wide digital divide - with 163 internet host sites per 1000 people in the United States, compared to only 0.31 internet host sites in Africa.

Computer ownership and internet use are also skewed towards the rich industrial countries - although Latin America and East Asia are catching up.

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