Indigenous Peoples Still Among Poorest in World, but Progress Reported in Some Countries

April 26, 2010


Key Findings
  • There are approximately 300 million Indigenous Peoples worldwide.
  • Indigenous Peoples are distinct communities: the land on which they live and the natural resources on which they depend are inextricably linked to their identities and cultures.
  • Dispossession from the land or restriction of access to natural resources, therefore, brings not only economic impoverishment but also the loss of identity and threatens their cultural survival.

Indigenous Peoples worldwide continue to be among the poorest of the poor and continue to suffer from higher poverty, lower education, and a greater incidence of disease and discrimination than other groups, according to a new World Bank study: Indigenous Peoples, Poverty, and Development.

Released at the Ninth Session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, the study offers a "global snapshot" of a set of indicators for Indigenous Peoples vis-à-vis national demographic averages. It also considers in detail how social conditions have evolved in seven countries around the world (Central African Republic, China, Congo, Gabon, India, Laos and Vietnam) during 2005-2010, the first half of the UN's Second International Decade of the World’s Indigenous Peoples.

" This is the first book that systematically documents poverty for Indigenous Peoples outside of the Americas, New Zealand, and Australia...The most encouraging news from the study is that some countries are making progress in poverty reduction for Indigenous Peoples. We now know that poverty rates have declined substantially among Indigenous Peoples in Asia. "

Cyprian Fisiy

World Bank Director for Social Development

The study shows how success in some Asian countries at achieving sustained growth and poverty reduction has helped their Indigenous Peoples to achieve better poverty, health, and education outcomes. A poverty gap still persists, however, between indigenous and non-indigenous populations, and while the gap is narrowing in China, it is stable or widening in most other countries.

"The contrasting results for Asia, where indigenous poverty rates have been falling, against the stagnating poverty rates earlier documented in Latin America, are striking," said Gillette Hall, co-author of the study.

The report provides both a grand overview of basic statistics across indigenous groups, and a series of in-depth country chapters. Large scale household surveys or census data were used to document poverty and other socio-economic trends (health, education) among Indigenous Peoples in the countries analyzed.

Combined with earlier case studies for five Latin American countries - "Indigenous Peoples, Poverty and Human Development in Latin America," (Hall and Patrinos 2006) - the new study offers a set of detailed results for almost 80 percent of the world’s indigenous population.

"The study's findings suggest that widespread and sustainable growth and poverty reduction play key role in eliminating the indigenous poverty gap. This means that policymakers might want to focus first on poverty reduction, which should benefit vast segments of indigenous populations. After that, targeted intervention addressing specific sources of disadvantage can be undertaken to reach those among indigenous populations who need a special lift," said Harry Anthony Patrinos, co-author of the study.

The authors of the study say that, as the global community looks for ways to meet the Millennium Development Goal of halving the share of people in poverty by 2015 from its 1990 level, it cannot afford to ignore the plight of Indigenous Peoples. Although they make up only 4.4 percent of the global population, they account for about 10 percent of the poor – with nearly 80 percent of them in Asia.

Turning the situation around will require widespread and sustainable economic growth and poverty reduction, along with well designed programs that target Indigenous Peoples.