Measuring Sustainable Development Goals: Making everyone count

When the United Nations General Assembly passed the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in September 2015, its 193 member states also confirmed the call for a "data revolution" to enable the measurement of their progress until 2030 – the time horizon the SDGs. The SDGs cover social, ecological and economic aspects and aim for the "transformation of our world".

Early Warning Tool for the SDGs

The Austrian NGO World Data Lab (WDL) has responded to this call for a data revolution and has set itself the goal of using scientific methods to record current and future trends and to provide forecasts of the individual SDGs’ progress. WDL provides an early warning tool to highlight the development of individual SDGs at state and regional / local level.

Consistent forecasts on poverty development

Poverty reduction (SDG 1) was identified as one of the main goals for sustainable development. To illustrate global poverty development, the WDL combines country-specific historical income distribution forecasts with projections from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on population trends segmented by age and education, as well as GDP forecasts. Thus, it became possible to provide the first internally consistent predictions of poverty development and other indicators for sustainable development for all countries and regions worldwide. The results are freely available on (for methodology our publication in the renowned scientific journal Nature).

As late as 1990, more than a third of the world's population lived in extreme poverty – i.e. with less than $1.90 daily spending power (in 2011 purchasing power parity), as defined by the World Bank.

If one wants to know how the situation looks today using conventional methods, they will be quickly pushed to the limit – the most recent data available is from 2015 (World Bank). With the method developed by WDL, it is possible to present current as well as future trends and developments in a timely manner. Therefore, we know that the proportion of the world's population in extreme poverty has fallen to 7.8% as of March 2019.

New method as early warning tool

Although this is very good news in regards to poverty development, the WDL's method also serves as an early warning tool—the forecasts also show that the goal of bringing the proportion of people living in extreme poverty worldwide to below 3% by 2030 is unlikely to be achieved. The current global "escape rate" from extreme poverty (the number of people who can escape extreme poverty in relation to the total number of people in extreme poverty) is 0.8 people per second – only half as high as the required 1.6. Extreme poverty will continue to decline, true, but the share of people still in extreme poverty will remain at 5.3% by 2030. In absolute terms, this represents a reduction from currently around 588 million extremely poor people worldwide to around 430 million.

Our calculations show that, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa, there are great challenges to overcome in order to reach the first goal of the SDGs. World Data Lab can provide the necessary data at a granular level.

Currently (March 2019), around 420 million people live in extreme poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa. Out of a total of currently 15 countries worldwide where extreme poverty is rising, 13 are in Sub-Saharan Africa. Although the trend is pointing downward – the number of people living in extreme poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa is expected to decline to 375 million by 2030 – there are still major issues to solve. Nigeria, for example, switched places with India to become the world’s “poverty capital”. As of March 2019, 91 million Nigerians are living on less than $1.90 per day. Worryingly, unless additional efforts are made, the number of poor people in Nigeria will rise to 111 million by 2030.

On the other hand, there are several countries in Sub-Saharan Africa that can achieve SDG 1. If the current conditions remain more or less the same, then Gambia or Mauritania will turn out to be success stories as well as countries like Ghana or Ethiopia. Ethiopia could, with a little increased effort, become the first African low-income country whose population escapes extreme poverty, following in the footsteps of Asian countries like China, India, Indonesia, or Bangladesh.

Further SDG forecasts by World Data Lab

With analysis like this, the World Data Lab is involved in the "transformation of the world" initiated by the SDGs and provides the necessary data for it. Other UN Sustainable Development Goals already or soon to be covered by WDL are SDG 2 – No Hunger, SDG 3 – Health and Welfare, and SDG 6 – Clean Water and Sanitation, which are developed in cooperation with UNICEF, IFAD, GIZ, ADB and other international and national partners.

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