The percentage of Colombians living in poverty fell 3.1% between 2010 and 2011 but more than 15 million residents continue to live in poverty, the government said Thursday.
Director of Colombia’s National Administrative Department of Statistics (DANE) presented a report indicating 1.2 million Colombians had risen out of poverty and another 674,000 (1.7% of the population) left extreme poverty.
President Juan Manuel Santos responded positively to the news. “There is no precedent in the history of the country of such a positive change in the fight against poverty and inequality as we have had last year and this year,” said the head of state.
The president took some credit for the decrease in poverty and promised his initiative to provide housing to 100,000 of Colombia’s poorest would only improve the situation.
“If we managed to reduce poverty by 34% and extreme poverty to 10.6%, which is something that we really did not imagine we would achieve in such a short time, with this housing policy we will continue to improve these indicators, because it is a proven fact that giving shelter to the poorest of the poor has a far-reaching social impact,” he added.
Although these numbers appear encouraging, they hide some disturbing realities about Colombia’s social landscape, where economic inequality remains pervasive.
With a poverty rate of 34.1% Colombia has approximately 15.2 million people living in poverty. Rural poverty also remains disturbingly high with 46.1% of rural residents living below the poverty line, down from 49.7% in 2010. In the countryside, 22.1% of residents continue to live in extreme poverty.
The United States Central Intelligence Agency ranked Colombia as the 11th most unequal country out of 140 countries. Colombia’s Gini coefficient (an economic indicator measuring inequality, with a score of 0 signifying perfect equality and 100 indicating complete inequality) fell only slightly from 56 to 54.8 between 2010 to 2011. This mild improvement is not likely to significantly improve the country’s rank.
The recently enacted Colombia-U.S. Free Trade Agreement (FTA) has the potential to increase rural poverty. A joint report from NGOs Oxfam and Planeta Paz estimates that 1.8 million Colombian farmers will see their incomes drop an average of 16% as a result of the trade agreement, which came into effect May 15.
President Santos pledged to aid those adversely affected by the FTA but has not yet presented a concrete plan to identify and compensate those who will be affected.
The most recent statistics were gathered using the DANE’s new Multidimensional Poverty Index, a model adapted from the Oxford University Poverty and Human Development Initiative, which measures poverty based on 15 factors relating to education, youth, health care, housing and access to basic services such as water and sanitation.
The report marks the first time that DANE has published figures using the new approach. The report also features numbers found using the previous method, which measured poverty solely on monetary income, and painted a slightly different picture. According to the DANE, using the old method, the Gini coefficient only fell 0.7, less than the stated 1.2, while poverty rates actually declined more (4.4%) than the officially reported amount (3.1%).