A critical element for truly eradicating extreme poverty (meaning bringing it below 3 percent of the population in each country—the tolerance level of our measurement systems) is understanding where poor people live and how to develop virtuous circles of market-led growth among cities, towns, and rural areas. Rural poverty often stems from limited access to markets, education, quality infrastructure, employment opportunities, health, and financial products. Urban poverty is often marred by weak or hazardous living conditions related to sanitation, employment, and personal security. Understanding the difference between the two is fundamental for a national poverty alleviation strategy.

Most of the world’s poorest live in rural areas. Roughly two out of three people living in extreme poverty live in rural settings. In total, some 400 million rural men and women live in extreme poverty, more than the populations of the United States and Canada combined. At the same time, roughly half that amount (approximately 200 million) live in cities.

There remain methodological issues in refining numbers for rural and urban poverty and some assumptions need to be made to derive order-of-magnitude estimates. But without such data, national governments, as well as international organizations like the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), are flying blind. We believe that they now can tailor their poverty reduction strategies and investments to take into account rural and urban differences, and can start to benchmark data against which to monitor progress. We believe that although the policy instruments for reducing poverty may differ in urban and rural areas, there are commonalities that link the two agendas. Stronger integration and connectivity between rural and urban markets can reduce migration flows to cities and improve income levels in rural areas. This could help reduce both rural and urban poverty.

Read the full article about the different effects of rural and urban poverty by Homi Kharas and associates at Brookings.