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Research Report

Understanding Urban Poverty;: What the Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers tell us

Diana Mitlin
Copyright Date: Jan. 1, 2004
Pages: 29
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Table of Contents

  1. (pp. 1-3)

    There is a growing awareness of the emerging significance of urban poverty. Haddad, Ruel and Garrett (1999, 2) suggest that: “Many analysts believe that the locus of poverty and undernutrition is gradually shifting from rural to urban areas.” In their own study, they disaggregate data between urban and rural areas for eight countries, each with information for two points in time, and conclude:

    “In five out of the eight countries, the absolute number of urban poor and the share of poor people living in urban areas is increasing over time (Bangladesh, China, Ghana, India and Nigeria). For seven of the...

  2. (pp. 3-6)

    There is an ongoing ― if muted ― debate about the measurement of urban poverty. Jonsson and Satterthwaite (2000, 1) argue that aggregated international and national figures underestimate the degree of poverty in urban areas:

    “If the term poverty it taken to mean human needs that are not met, then most of the estimates for the scale of urban poverty in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean appear too low. For instance, a publication by the Overseas Development Council in the USA in 1989 decided that only 130 million of the Third World’s ‘poorest poor’ lived in urban areas....

  3. (pp. 6-12)

    The following analysis is based on 23 Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSPs) that have been completed in Africa, Asia and Latin America and the Caribbean (this paper does not include those for the transitional economies). Of these 23, 15 are for African countries. In part, this reflects the role of the Strategies within the HIPC process, the motivation of national governments to agree the Strategy and the donor support that is available. The Strategies are all included in, and have been downloaded from, the World Bank’s website in June 2003.⁴ The following Strategies have been included in this analysis:


  4. (pp. 12-17)

    This discussion of the perceived incidence of urban poverty is divided into two sub-sections. The first considers the “first impression” that arises from the analysis discussed above. It concludes that the Strategy Papers overwhelmingly emphasise the problem of rural poverty. The second sub-section then draws more completely on the analysis throughout the Strategy Papers, to investigate further the emerging understanding of urban poverty and its nature and severity.

    The emerging conclusions in the Strategy Papers are that poverty is predominantly rural. Selected country comments are given below to illustrate these conclusions. In general, they draw directly from the numerical estimates...

  5. (pp. 17-18)

    This paper does not seek to argue that “urban poverty” is equally or more important than “rural poverty”. Rather, the underlying theme is that urban poverty needs to be recognised and understood. A second point is that the approaches to measuring poverty that have been developed do not appear to adequately acknowledge the context of the urban poor and many of the factors that contribute to their poverty.

    Turning first to the measuring of poverty using income/expenditure in the Strategy Papers, it is evident that there are considerable differences in approach. This is particularly so with regard to the number...