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The Invisible Billion

July 24th, 2017

Every Person Counts: Making Invisible Billion Visible

Who are you?

The answer to this question is one many of us take for granted. If someone asks us, we can usually provide proof, such as a passport or a driver’s licence. However, according to the World Bank, there are 1.1 billion people around the globe who can’t back up their claim.

The problem is, these people have no way to prove their identity to a range of service providers- healthcare, education and finance- that are fundamental to maintaining a reasonable standard of living. Imagine how hard it would be to open a bank account without some form of identification (ID). In a recent blog post we discussed what’s required in the UK. British banks ask you for two documents- ID and proof of your address. If you can’t provide both, you won’t be allowed to open an account and take advantage of the convenience and security it offers, not to mention the various benefits like loans. You won’t be able to send money abroad either as money transfer services also require ID.

Who are the invisible billion?

The vast majority (78%) of people with no formal ID live in sub- Saharan Africa and Asia. 40% are under the age of 18, and over a third live in what are categorised as ‘low- income economies'(compared with just 9% in upper-middle-income economies)1.

Is there a solution?

Providing a form of identity for everybody by 2030 is one of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals that led to the launch of the‘Identification for Development’ initiative by the World Bank.

The first step is to figure out who is less likely to have ID and determine if there are any special circumstances, for example if the problem is worse among indigenous groups, the elderly or the disabled. The World Bank is encouraging national authorities to publish data about the number of people who are already registered by gender, age and location. For a more accurate picture, they should ask about ID in censuses or surveys. Governments can then use this information to decide which communities to target and come up with a viable solution.

The good news is the invisible billion is shrinking, from 1.5 billion in 2016 to 1.1 billion this year2. There are various reasons for this, but the Indian government came up with an approach which has made a huge impact. Aadhaar is a 12-digit unique ID number assigned to people based on biometric and demographic data, and it has managed to enrol more than 99% of Indians aged 18 or over since 20143.


1. https://blogs.worldbank.org/ic4d/counting-invisible-11-billion-people-without-proof-legal-id

2. https://blogs.worldbank.org/ic4d/counting-invisible-11-billion-people-without-proof-legal-id

3. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/99-of-indians-over-18-now-have-aadhaar/articleshow/56820818.cms