On the day that Oxfam announced that the “world’s eight richest individuals have as much wealth as the 3.6bn people who make up the poorest half of the world”, I arrived in Ecuador. This is my first trip to South America and as I whizzed through the pristine, modern airport and onto the excellent, pothole-free motorway which led to the city centre, I was surprised. I knew that Ecuador was one of the more developed countries in our portfolio, but so far my experience put even Luxembourg to shame.
However, just as looking at the billionaires in Oxfam’s survey would give you a very distorted picture of the status of the world’s people, so my initial impressions gave me a distorted view of Quito. Arriving in the city centre, a different picture of the country emerged. The disparities in wealth stood out: Informal workers were busy selling their wares to those in rather smart looking cars. Ramshackle huts on the hillside overlooked smart developments in the centre. Although Ecuador is one of the better off countries in the portfolio, it also has a high GINI coefficient, meaning that discrepancies in wealth are considerable. The situation is even more pronounced in rural areas.
The country has made better progress than many in South America at reducing the gap between rich and poor. However the devastating earthquake in April 2016, led many to lose their livelihoods and they are now leading a precarious existence in the cities, working informally. Plummeting oil prices have also proved a challenge for Ecuador’s economy. Although I’m here to study Spanish, the first thing that I have in fact learnt, is how misleading first impressions can be in countries with high levels of inequality.