More than a third of the close to 46 million Colombians are living in poverty or destitution, conditions particularly oppressive in small towns and rural areas, according to a study released in Bogota by the government statistics service.

According to the report, last year in Colombia the poor and destitute numbered some 19.98 million people, of whom some 15.24 million were poor and another 4.74 destitute.

The study, prepared by the Dane national statistics agency using a new measurement methodology and released on Thursday, shows that Colombia's national poverty index stood at 34.1 percent last year, compared with 37.2 percent in 2010.

In cities the index dropped to 30.3 percent, while in rural areas it jumped to 46.1 percent, according to the study presented by Dane director Jorge Bustamante.

The official said that more than 1.21 million Colombians emerged from poverty during that period, some 857,000 of them in urban areas.

According to the report, the figures were calculated using the multidimensional income-poverty measurement, or IPM, which guages the problem "through five dimensions involving 15 indicators."

Educational conditions, environment during childhood and youth, work history, health, public services and living conditions are the dimensions considered in the IPM, developed in 2007 by University of Oxford experts and adapted for Colombia by the National Planning Department, or DNP.

The study also offers a progress report on Colombians' per-capita income, whose national total last year was around 478,658 pesos ($266.86) per month.

In urban areas, income per capita in 2011 reached 566,192 pesos ($315.67) per month, compared with 196,675 pesos ($109.65) in rural areas.

Meanwhile in the country's 13 largest cities and their metropolitan areas, average income rose to 692,762 pesos ($386.23) monthly.

In a study of poverty covering the 2002-2010 period, the DNP concluded that the population living under the poverty line dropped in eight years from 56 percent to 37 percent.

According to the World Bank, Colombia suffers more economic inequality than any other country in the region except Haiti.