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The Geography of Poverty and Social Development in the Philippines

Submitted by on February 1, 2016 – 12:06 pm 5 Comments |  
As previously promised, we now turn to depictions of the Philippines made with the province-level maps of the country that are available for download on this website. Today’s post looks at poverty and the Human Development Index, whereas the forthcoming one will examine population patterns and trends.

Philippines Poverty MapThe first map, that of the incidence of poverty as defined by the Philippine government, shows several clear spatial patterns. The first is the relative lack of poverty in the greater Manila Bay region of central Luzon. The standing of this area may seem surprising, as the densely populated Manila metro urban area is characterized by grim and extensive slums and squatter communities. But as is often the case, rural poverty in the Philippines tends to be more widespread and extreme than that of the large cities, which is one of the main reasons why people continue to move to crowded urban areas. The incidence of poverty is also markedly low in Benguet province in the southern portion of the highlands of northern Luzon. Benguet is home to Baguio City, a resort area and major educational center. Many of the indigenous people of the province, moreover, are noted for their devotion to commercial vegetable farming, a profitable but environmentally damaging enterprise that I analyzed in some detail in my first book, Wagering the Land.

As the map indicates, poverty is pronounced in several widely scattered parts of the Philippines. Overall, the poorest part of the Philippines is the Muslim-majority area in the southwest, which I have therefore outlined in red. But several non-Muslim provinces on Mindanao also have high poverty rates, and in general terms the island is much poorer than Luzon. Some of the historically tribal areas of the highlands of northern Luzon are also quite poor, quite in contrast to neighboring Benguet. In the central Philippines, Samar (particularly eastern Samar), eastern Negros, and Masbate have high rates of poverty, a deeply entrenched pattern of Philippine economic geography. The Philippine government recently announced that poverty in Samar and elsewhere in the eastern Visayas has intensified in recent years, a trend linked to the tropical cyclones that have devastated this vulnerable area.

Philippines HDI MapThe map of the Human Development Index, which takes into account issues of health, longevity, and education as well those of narrower economic scope, is similar but by no means identical to the map of poverty. Here the greater Manila region again scores high. The top-ranking provinces are Manila itself and Benguet, whose identical scores of .718 are in the same general league of those of Malaysia, Russia, and Mexico. Northern Luzon in general sores high on the HDI map, with the exception of the northern provinces of the highland belt. Relatively high scores are also found in Cebu, the Iloilo area of Panay, and Misamis Oriental in northern Mindanao. According to this map, the southern “inland seas” region of the central Philippines is doing better in terms of human development than the northern “inland seas” region. The Muslim region again comes at the Philippines Inland Seas Mapbottom of the chart, with the figures for Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, and Maguindanao falling in the same general category as those of Afghanistan, Malawi, and Yemen.


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  • Very interesting post, thank you!

    I am a little surprised at the comment that “The top-ranking provinces are Manila itself and Benguet, whose identical
    scores of .718 are in the same general league of those of …
    Russia…”. This is what the Philippine report to which you link in the post says, but other sources show Russia’s HDI (for 2014) considerably higher than 0.718. The Wikipedia list of HDI by country places Russia, with the HDI of 0.798, into a higher category than the Philippines:

    The same HDI figure is listed for 2014 on the Wiki page on Russia (sidebar):

    And the Wiki page on HDI by federal subject lists even the worst-off Tuva as having a higher HDI, 0.75:

    I wonder if the HDI in Russia could rise so much between 2012/13 (Addendum to which you link) and 2014 (the Wiki figures) — it doesn’t sound reasonable to me. So I wonder where these discrepancies between sources come from…

    • Many thanks for the comments. The Philippine data is from 2009, and at the time Russian figures were somewhat lower. Another factor to consider, which I should have mentioned, is that different sources give very different figures for HDI in the Philippines. The Wikipedia article on the subject give Benguet an HDI figure of .883 which is almost certainly far too high. As a result, I ignored this data set and sought something better. The website that I linked to put Russia’s HDI at about the same level as Benguet and Manila, but it may well have given a figure too low for Russia. (But what certainly does seem to be true is that HDI Figures vary much more in the Philippines than they do in Russia.

      • That’s a great point, Martin! When I looked for Russian stats to map, I noticed how close HDI figures are across Russia, too close to be interesting to map. But I wonder to what extent such figures indeed reflect reality. As can be seen from the various issues I did map, Moscow City and Tuva are worlds apart! And more generally, indicators such as life expectancy, education, healthcare infrastructure vary greatly across Russia, much more so than the HDI figures would imply. Which reminds me about that famous quote about lies, damned lies and statistics 🙂

        • Yes, I sometimes wonder if it is even worth mapping some of the data that I do map. A lot is just worthless, and it is hard to separate the good from the bad.

          • I didn’t mean that at all, Martin! I just have doubts when it comes to Russian statistical data specifically… It always reminds me of a quote from a great old movie “Office Romance”, about the statistical bureau where the characters work: “Without our bureau, we wouldn’t know how well we work”.

            I will ask my Russian demographer friends if they know more about Russian HDI figures.