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Indigenous Peoples, Poverty and Human Development in Latin America: 1994-2004

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Indigenous Peoples still lag behind despite increased political power, says new World Bank study

WASHINGTON, May 18, 2005 – Despite their increased political influence, indigenous peoples in Latin America have made little economic and social progress in the last decade, and continue to suffer from higher poverty, lower education, and a greater incidence of disease and discrimination than other groups, says a new World Bank study.

Indigenous Peoples, Poverty and Human Development in Latin America: 1994-2004 considers how social conditions have evolved in the five Latin American countries with the largest indigenous populations (Bolivia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico, and Peru) during the last decade, proclaimed in 1994 by the United Nations as the International Decade of the World’s Indigenous Peoples.

 “Although indigenous people in the region have increased their political power and representation during the last decade, this has not translated into the positive results -in terms of poverty reduction- we had hoped to find when we embarked on this research,” said Gillette Hall, World Bank economist and co-author of the study

 The study found that indigenous peoples represent 10 percent of the region’s population and the largest disadvantaged group in Latin America.  While the incidence of poverty in Latin America is high, it is particularly severe and deep among the indigenous population.

 In Bolivia and Guatemala, for example, more than half of the total population is poor, but almost three-quarters of the indigenous population are poor.  Poverty among indigenous people in Ecuador is about 87 percent and reaches 96 percent in the rural highlands. In Mexico, the incidence of extreme poverty in 2002 was 4.5 times higher in predominantly indigenous than in non- indigenous municipalities, up from a ratio of 3.7 times a decade earlier. Of all poor households in Peru, 43 percent are indigenous.

 Specifically, the report finds that:

  • Few gains were made in income poverty reduction among indigenous peoples during the indigenous peoples’ decade (1994-2004).
  • Indigenous people recover more slowly from economic crisis.
  • The indigenous poverty gap is deeper, and shrank more slowly over the 1990s. 
  • Being indigenous increases an individual’s probability of being poor and this relationship was about the same at the beginning and at the close of the decade. 
  • Indigenous people continue to have fewer years of education, but the gap is narrowing, and education outcomes are substantially worse for indigenous peoples, which is indicative of problems in education quality. 
  • Indigenous people, especially women and children, continue to have less access to basic health services.

"Poverty rates among the indigenous population are higher and fall more slowly, which is particularly bad news for a continent that has set its sights on meeting the Millennium Development Goal of halving poverty by 2015,” said Harry Patrinos, World Bank economist and co-author of the study.

In order to achieve better poverty reduction outcomes for indigenous people in the region, the report recommends improving human capital by focusing on four specific areas:

  1. Provide more and better education through bilingual/bicultural education programs in order to decrease the gap in years of schooling and improve the quality of education.
  2. Improve accountability in the delivery of social services for indigenous peoples by involving parents and the community more, and by setting clear goals and visions for the system.
  3. Promote equal health care access for indigenous peoples through the implementation of a sort of "head start" program that focuses on maternal and child health issues.
  4. Improve data collection efforts related to identifying indigenous populations to be able to better monitor progress over time.

The new Bank study updates findings from a 1994 book1  that established a baseline of conditions among indigenous peoples in Latin America for the early 1990s, and which coincided with the beginning of the International Decade of the World’s Indigenous Peoples.

(A grant from the Trust Fund for Environmentally and Socially Sustainable Development helped finance the country studies.)

Patricia da Camara (202) 473-4019   
Alejandra Viveros (202) 473-4306

1 Indigenous People and Poverty in Latin America by George Psacharopoulos and Harry Patrinos (1994).

The report

Indigenous Peoples in LAC, 1994-2004


arrow Executive summary 
(143k pdf)

arrow NEW  Now available in the Mayan language kich'e

arrow Purchase the full report through Palgrave Macmillan Publishers:  

 - USA/Canada
 - United Kingdom/Rest of the world


arrow Bolivia
arrow Ecuador
arrow Guatemala
arrow Mexico
arrow Peru



G. Hall - H. Patrinos

Authors Gillette Hall and Harry Patrinos discuss the findings of this report

arrow Audio interview

arrow Live discussion
Tuesday, May 31
10:00 a.m. EST

Indigenous gallery 130

arrow Narrated photo gallery


Related links

arrow 1994 report: Indigenous Peoples and Poverty in Latin America - An Empirical Analysis

arrow The World Bank and Indigenous Peoples in Latin America


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