By Sebastien Malo
NEW YORK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The number of people living in extreme poverty is likely to fall for the first time below 10 percent of the world's population in 2015, the World Bank said on Sunday as it revised its benchmark for measuring the problem.
Extreme poverty has long been defined as living on or below $1.25 a day, but the World Bank's adjustment now sets the poverty line at $1.90 a day.
The Bank said the change reflects new data on differences in the cost of living across countries, while preserving the real purchasing power of the previous yardstick.
Using the new benchmark, the World Bank projects that 702 million people or 9.6 percent of the world's population will be living in extreme poverty in 2015, down from 902 million people or 12.8 percent of the global population in 2012.
The global development lender attributed the continued fall in poverty to strong economic growth rates in emerging markets, particularly India, and investments in education, health, and social safety nets.
"... these projections show us that we are the first generation in human history that can end extreme poverty," World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim said in a statement.
However, he warned that slower global growth, volatile financial markets, conflicts, high youth unemployment and the impact of climate change were obstacles to meeting a U.N. target to end poverty by 2030, part of a new set of development goals adopted by 193 countries at the United Nations last month.
"But it remains within our grasp, as long as our high aspirations are matched by country-led plans that help the still millions of people living in extreme poverty," Kim added.
According to the Bank, around half of those living in extreme poverty by 2020 will hail from hard-to-reach fragile and conflict-affected states. Sub-Saharan Africa accounts for some half of the global poor.
Expects said the prospect of emerging economies losing steam could challenge promises to eradicate extreme poverty.
"If economic growth of the developing world over the last 15 years was an anomaly, was a blip, then we're in trouble," said Laurence Chandy, a fellow at the Brookings Institution whose research focuses on global poverty.
"If instead it's a kind new normal then we've got a good chance of getting close to this goal," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
The World Bank first introduced a global poverty line in 1990, setting it at $1 a day. It was adjusted last in 2008, when the group raised it to $1.25 a day.
Across the planet, the number of people living in extreme poverty has dropped by more than half since 1990, when 1.9 billion people lived under $1.25 a day, compared to 836 million in 2015, according to the United Nations.
This follows the adoption in 2000 of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which included the eradication of extreme poverty.
Replacing the MDGs are the Sustainable Development Goals, a set of 17 goals to combat poverty, inequality and climate change by 2030 - with ending extreme poverty for all people everywhere, a key target.
(Reporting by Sebastien Malo; Editing by Katie Nguyen; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit www.trust.org)