Ultra poverty is a condition characterized by severe deprivation of basic human needs, including food, safe drinking water, sanitation facilities, health, shelter, education and information. Ultra poor, or the poorest of the poor are those people that are at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder. They earn less than $1.25* a day.

On average, these people eat 1.5 meals per day, can’t afford essential services like education and healthcare, and have an income that is both low and intermittent. Some organizations define the ultra poor as those spending 80% of their income on food, yet consuming less than 80% of the minimum recommended caloric intake.

According to World Bank estimates, there are over 1.4 billion ultra poor people, or 1 out of 5 people in the world today.  A report from the International Food Policy Research Institute shows that the poorest people typically belong to socially excluded groups, live in remote rural areas with little access to roads, markets, education, and health services, and have few assets. Households living in ultra poverty are on average four times less likely to have electricity than households living above the dollar-a-day line, and the poorest adults, men and women alike, are significantly less likely to have access to education.

The daily challenges faced by the ultra poor can over time lead to poverty traps—conditions from which individuals or groups cannot emerge without outside assistance. The report identifies three common causes of poverty traps: inability of poor families to invest in the education of their children; limited access to credit for those with few assets; and reduced productivity due to malnutrition. The vast majority of ultra poor households are headed by women. Ultra poor women tend to be the victims of social exclusion and lack self-confidence or opportunities to build the skills and resilience necessary to plan their own futures.

HTF Partner Fonkoze is committed to serving Haiti’s ultra poor. Through Fonkoze’s Chemen Lavi Miyò (CLM) program, HTF is working to demonstrate that extreme poverty in Haiti can be eliminated. CLM was first piloted in 2007 to serve Haiti’s ultra poor, and HTF was one of the first organizations to invest in CLM. Based on the Graduation Model created by BRAC in Bangladesh, the program is one of ten pilots conducted in partnership with CGAP and the Ford Foundation to combat ultra poverty. Fonkoze uses an intensive process to identify Haiti’s poorest women. CLM case managers begin by involving the local community in a process known as Participatory Wealth Ranking (PWR). During the process, community members map out every local household and rank the households according to five wealth categories. Using the PWR results, case managers interview prospective members using two key tools, the Progress out of Poverty Index and the Fonkoze Poverty Scorecard.

Using these effective targeting methods, Fonkoze has successfully served over 2,500 of Haiti’s poorest women and their families, enabling them to ascend from ultra poverty into self-sufficiency.

*$1.25 Parity Purchasing Power in 1990 is the World Bank benchmark for ultra poor. This is approximately $2.50 in USA purchasing power in 2010