Density of poverty


The previous map shows the incidence of poverty, defined as the percentage of the population living below the poverty line. Another way to look at the spatial distribution of poverty is to examine the poverty density, defined as the number of poor people living in a given area. This depicts the spatial distribution of the absolute number of poor people.

Mapping out the number of people living below the poverty line shows clearly where most of the poor live. Each dot on the map represents 100 people living below the poverty line. Interestingly, this map tells a very different story about where the poor live to that told by the previous map (Map I.1), even though both maps are based on exactly the same poverty estimates. What were identified as poor areas before are now the areas with the fewest poor people, while most of the areas identified on the other map as the least poor now appear as regions with the highest number of poor people.

The reasons behind this apparent paradox can be found by comparing the two poverty maps with the population density and population distribution maps presented in Section B (Maps B.1 B.2). Generally less poor areas largely correspond to areas with high population densities, whereas the poorest areas are typically sparsely populated. This situation results in high poverty densities despite comparatively low incidences of poverty, and vice versa, meaning that most of the poor live in less poor areas. Nevertheless, high incidences of poverty do coincide with relatively high densities of poverty, particularly in mountainous parts of Oudomxay, and, somewhat surprisingly, along National Road No 9 that connects Savannakhet town with Lao Bao on the border with Vietnam. Overall, however, most poor people live in the more densely populated lowland areas along the Mekong corridor, in and around Vientiane City and other urban areas of the country.

This has implications related to the wider context of accessibility (compare with e.g. Map A.5). On the one hand – from the perspective of the poor – poor people living in poor and sparsely populated areas usually have less access to services such as markets, medical and educational services, and sources of information, typically available in more densely populated and urban areas. On the other hand – from a service provider perspective, so to speak – it is much easier to reach the poor in the less poor, more developed, and more densely populated areas than it is in the poor and sparsely populated areas. To reach the same number of poor people in poor remote areas is significantly more expensive than reaching this number in highly populated areas.

An important implication of this map is that if all poverty alleviation efforts are concentrated in the areas where the poverty rate is the highest, including the southeast, most of the poor will be excluded from the benefits of these programs



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