A Snapshot of Poverty in Galapagos

February 20, 2013

The 2011-2012 issue of Galapagos Report is soon to be released in English and Spanish and will be available on our website in March. Watch our Facebook and Twitter feeds for the exact date.

Since the 2007-2008 issue, Galapagos Conservancy has been funding and editing the Galapagos Report—a compendium of articles on social science, public policy, and biophysical information to provide scientists, administrators, and policy makers with the breadth and depth of information and knowledge they need to make cogent, lasting management decisions for Galapagos. The Galapagos Report, while technical, is eminently readable and features an array of articles on current and emerging issues facing Galapagos today.

The twenty-seven articles in this year’s edition focus on knowledge management and citizen science, human systems in Galapagos, tourism, marine management, and ecosystem restoration.  Over the next several weeks, I will be highlighting some articles of interest with the hopes that readers will dive more deeply into these and other topics contained in the Galapagos Report 2011-2012.

Much of Puerto Ayora's poverty-stricken population can be found in an area called La Cascada, pictured above.

An interesting look at the resident Galapagos population is contained in an article by Granda, González, and Calvopiña entitled “Measuring Poverty in Galapagos.”  Employing common demographic metrics, the authors evaluated households on the three main inhabited islands using both social and economic indicators of poverty and access to goods and services.

According to the 2010 census, the population of Galapagos is 25,124 inhabitants, which includes people living in collective dwellings such as hotels, prisons, military barracks, etc. Poverty calculations were performed only for the 23,114 individuals living in homes.

The data showed that just over half the population of Galapagos (52%) is in poverty, possessing at least one or more characteristics of poverty as defined by the survey instruments. To place this figure into context, out of the approximately 14.3 million inhabitants counted in all of Ecuador in the 2010 Census, about 8.6 million (60%) were in poverty using the same metrics. Two out of every five people in Galapagos belong to households without access to a public water system or to an adequate waste-water system (either a sewer system or septic tank). One in five people in Galapagos share a bedroom with more than two other people.

The greatest needs in both the rural and urban areas are improving the coverage of public water supply systems and ensuring that houses provide proper sanitary conditions by building septic tanks until the public sewage system is expanded. In urban areas, improvements in housing infrastructure should be promoted to increase the number of bedrooms or to increase the housing supply to avoid critical overcrowding, which leads to higher levels of disease.

Using metrics designed to evaluate economic buying power and consumption/availability of common goods (food, clothing, education) the authors concluded that there is no extreme poverty in Galapagos.  All of the inhabitants have enough monetary resources to allow them to guarantee at least the minimum required food intake. However, 8% do not have sufficient resources to enable them to meet basic demands for other goods or services, indicating that there is a vulnerable portion of the population that is very close to the poverty threshold.

I was particularly interested in the authors’ work as it challenges the long-held, and apparently anecdotal, information that the province of Galapagos has the highest per capita income, and therefore the lowest poverty rate. While it may be true that there is significant wealth in Galapagos, it appears also to be true that there is significant poverty throughout the archipelago. This issue of Galapagos Report, as well as past issues, looks at tourism as a significant economic driver, and we have explored in past issues the “democratization” of tourism opportunities in the islands, opening more opportunities for local actors to benefit directly from tourism dollars. It would be interesting, based on the data here, to determine what the incremental “new” dollars have done to the poverty rate. Would it be worse without this relatively new infusion of local tourism dollars? Would it impact these populations at all?  Are we seeing the same actors benefit despite the new modalities? 

Two articles in the upcoming Galapagos Report look at the economic impact of alternative activities in the marine and fishing sector.  It will be interesting to view those economic models in light of these new data on persistent poverty in Galapagos. 

More detailed data and an in-depth discussion of the various survey instruments, as well as the author’s additional conclusions, can be found in the article “Measuring Poverty in Galapagos” in Galapagos Report 2011-2112

Category: Human Population,

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