Poverty is a very serious global problem that gets far less attention than it deserves. Almost half the world–over 3 billion people–lives on less than $2.50 a day, and at least 80 percent of the world lives on less than $10 a day. Every day, 50,000 people die simply because they live in poverty. That’s 18 million people every year. And sadly, worldwide more people die from extreme poverty than any other cause.
Moreover, poverty is linked to many other problems such as hunger; illiteracy; war; the spreading of deadly diseases like HIV/AIDS; inadequate access to basic human needs like healthcare, clean water and sanitation; and rampant inequality. So by eliminating poverty, we could also eliminate or at the very least decrease many of these problems as well. Below are some startling statistics about global poverty.
Hunger and Poverty:
*Eight million people die from lack of food and nutrition every year. That’s about 24,000 deaths each day.
(Source: FAO Hunger Report 2008)
*Every year, 5.8 million children die from hunger related-causes. Every day, that’s 16,000 young lives lost. (Source: FAO Hunger Report 2008)
*For the first time in history, over 1.02 billion people do not have enough to eat. That’s one sixth of humanity and more than the population of the United States, Canada and the European Union combined. (Source: FAO Hunger Report 2008)
*There are around one billion hungry people in the world: 642 million live in Asia and the Pacific, 265 million in Sub-Saharan Africa, 53 million in Latin America and the Caribbean, and 42 million in the Near East and North Africa. However, fifteen million people in developed countries go hungry, which is around 1.5 percent of the total population. (Source: FAO 2010)
*The number of undernourished people in the world increased by 75 million in 2007 and 40 million in 2008, largely due to higher food prices. (Source: FAO 2008)
Inequality and Poverty:
*The combined GDP (Gross Domestic Product) of the poorest 48 nations is less than the combined wealth of the world’s three richest people. (Source: Global Issues Website)
*Twenty percent of the population in developed nations consumes 86% of the world’s goods. (Source: Global Issues Website)
*Recent studies find that prices paid by the poor in developing countries are much higher than previous thought. They cannot buy as much food with $1 as they can in a country like United States. This shows that they’re even poorer than reported in earlier studies. (Source: World Bank 2009)
*The poorest 40% of the world’s population accounts for 5% of the global income. The richest 20% of world’s population accounts for three-quarters of world income. (Source: Global Issues Website)
*The average yearly income of the richest 20% of people in the world is about 50 times greater than the yearly income of the poorest 20% of people. (Source: Human Development Report 2005)
*The total wealth of the top 8.3 million people around the world “rose 8.2 percent to $30.8 trillion in 2004, giving them control of nearly a quarter of the world’s financial assets.” In other words, about 0.13% of the world’s population controlled 25% of the world’s financial assets in 2004. (Source: Global Issues)
Children and Poverty:
*Of the 2.2 billion children in the world, 600 million are victims of extreme poverty and 1 billion live in some level of poverty–that’s about 50 percent of children worldwide. (Source: UNICEF 2008)
*Each year, over 10 million children in developing countries die before the age of five. More than half of these deaths are attributed to malnutrition, which claims a child’s life every 5 seconds. (Sources: World Development Indicators 2007, The United Nations’ World Food Program)
*An estimated 40 percent of these deaths occur within the first few months of life, and some 70 percent occur within the first year of life. (Source: Global Poverty Facts)
*Every year more than 10 million children die of hunger and preventable diseases – that’s over 30,000 per day, or one every 3 seconds. (Source: Global Poverty Facts)
*Approximately 146 million children in developing countries, about 1 out of 4, are underweight. (Source: The United Nations’ World Food Program)
*An estimated 250 million preschool children are vitamin A deficient. An estimated 250,000 to 500,000 vitamin A-deficient children become blind every year. Half of them die within 12 months of losing their sight. This is easily corrected with an inexpensive vitamin supplement. (Source: World Health Organization)
*It is estimated that 684,000 child deaths worldwide could be prevented by increasing access to vitamin A and zinc. (Source: World Food Program 2007)
*The two biggest killers of children under the age of five are pneumonia and diarrhoeal diseases. (Source: Global Poverty Facts)
Clean Water and Sanitation:
*1.1 billion people don’t have safe drinking water and 2.6 billion lack basic sanitation. (Source: Human Development Report 2006)
*Dirty water and poor sanitation account for the vast majority of 1.8 million child deaths each year from diarrhea – almost 5,000 every day – making it the second largest cause of child mortality. (Source: Human Development Report 2006)
*Deaths from diarrhea can usually be prevented with very inexpensive oral rehydration salts. (Source: Child Health Research Project)
*Poor sanitation and drainage contribute to malaria, which claims the lives of 1.3 million people a year, 90% of which are children under the age of five. (Source: Human Development Report 2006)
Healthcare and Poverty:
*Approximately 1.2 billion people in the world live in extreme poverty, defined as less than one dollar per day. Poverty creates poor health because it forces people to live in environments that make them sick–living without decent shelter, clean water or adequate sanitation. (Source: WHO)
*270 million children around the world have no access to health services. (Source: Global Issues)
*2.2 million children die every year because they are not immunized. (Source: Global Issues)
*A 2010 United Nations report found that urban slum dwellers “have a higher rate of child mortality, die younger and suffer from more diseases than their more affluent neighbors.”
*This same report found that health inequality exists in developing and developed nations alike. “Data from New York City reveal that certain neighborhoods that are the poorest in economic terms are the ones in which people are least likely to have access to essential health care and suffer the worst health outcomes, as reflected in life expectancy and death rates from AIDS.”
*39.5 million people live with HIV/AIDS, 63 percent of which live in Sub-Saharan Africa. In 2006 alone, 4.3 million people became infected with HIV and 2.9 million people died of AIDS. (Source: Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO), The State of Food Insecurity World 2006)
*More than 10 million children in Africa have been orphaned by AIDS. (Source: United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), The Millennium Development Goals in Africa: Promises & Progress)
*Girls and women are especially vulnerable to HIV infection and to the impact of AIDS. Globally, more than half of all people living with HIV are female. (Source: UNICEF)
*In Sub-Saharan Africa, women now account for 57% of HIV infections and young African women (ages 15-24) are 3 times more likely to become infected than men of comparable age in the region. (Source: United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), The 2006 Human Development Report)
*Between 1990 and 2003, the average life expectancy at birth in the world increased from about 60 years to 68 years. However, the average life expectancy at birth in Sub-Saharan Africa where AIDS is most rampant is currently only 46 years. (Source: The 2005 UNDP Human Development Report)
Education and Poverty:
*Over the last decade, the average primary school completion rate (completing a full course of primary schooling) has risen from 62 percent to 72 percent. (Source: World Bank, World Development Indicators 2007)
*However, more than 115 million children are out of school – and some 62 million of them are girls. (Source: United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), The 2006 Human Development Report)
*Less than 1 percent of what the world spends each year on weapons could put every child in school. (Source: UNICEF)
*Nearly a billion people entered the 21st century unable to read a book or sign their names. (Source: Global Issues)
Poverty and War:
*Of the 150 armed conflicts fought since WWII, 130 were fought in the developing world. (Source: Frontline Connection)
*One study that looked at how rainfall shortages in sub-Saharan Africa (one of the poorest regions in the world) were linked to economic hardship found that “a 1 percent decline in national GDP increases the likelihood of civil conflict by about 2 percentage points. So an income drop of 5 percent—a large but altogether common deterioration in economic conditions, especially when the rains fail—increases the risk of civil conflict in the following year to nearly 30%, up from an already-high average probability of conflict in Africa of around 20% in normal rainfall years.”
*A 2009 poll of Afghan civilians found that 70 percent said that the main causes of conflict in their country were poverty and unemployment, not the Taliban militants.
*The USA gave $27.5 billion in foreign aid in 2005, which amounts to only 0.22 percent of our GDP. (Source: Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development)
*If you subtract foreign aid given for military or strategic reasons, the figure may be only $13.94 billion, about 13 cents per day per American. (Source: Bread for the World)
*The developing nations spend $25 on debt repayment for every $1 of aid they receive. (Source: World Bank)
*The U.S. gave the same amount of money to our top 5 aid recipients (that have a total of 194 million people) as we give to the rest of the world (6 billion people). (Source: Yes Magazine)
*A recent poll found that Americans vastly overestimate the amount of money our government spends on foreign aid. When respondents were asked how much they thought the government spent on foreign aid, the median response was 25 percent; in reality it is less than 1%. However, most of those polled said that they thought our government should spend about 10 percent on foreign aid.
As you can see, poverty is not a small problem confined to just certain areas. It is global and it is big. But it is also a problem that is easily fixable. In 1998, the United Nations Human Development Report estimated that it would take $6 billion to provide education for all, $9 billion to provide water and sanitation for all, $12 billion to provide reproductive health for all women on the planet, and $13 billion to provide basic health and nutrition for all. Combined that is $40 billion. Of course, those figures will have gone up slightly since so let’s estimate the total to be about $50 billion today. Now, compare this to global military expenditures that today reach over $1 trillion annually, with the U.S. far surpassing all other nations by spending about $700 billion annually on defense (btw, in 1998 the world spent $780 billion on defense). It would take less than 10 percent of that to provide basic necessities for all people on the planet. Ten percent of $700 billion is $70 billion. So if we subtracted 10 percent of the defense budget, we would still be left with $630 billion. I think a defense budget of that size would be more than sufficient, agreed?
Also, when comparing our global spending priorities in 1998 to the $40 billion needed to provide basic necessities to everyone in the world, it is quite incredible. That year, the U.S. spent $8 billion on cosmetics; Europe spent $11 billion on ice cream, $50 billion on cigarettes and $105 billion on alcoholic beverages; and the U.S. and Europe spent a combined $12 billion on perfumes and $17 billion on pet food. Should we stop enjoying our lives because other people live in poverty? Absolutely not. It isn’t our fault we were born into prosperous countries and other people weren’t, so we shouldn’t feel guilty about that. But what we should do is pay more attention to those who are far less fortunate than us. We can do more to help them, and failing to do so is something we should feel guilty about.
Of course, this isn’t just about money. For example, in some cultures and countries it is believed that women and girls should not receive an education. So even if we kept donating money to benefit female education, it wouldn’t really do much good unless the cultural mindset began to change and families began allowing their daughters to get an education. But it has been proven that investing in girls is by far the best investment a nation can make. As more girls become educated and get jobs and raise the standard of living for their families, their villages and their countries, the cultural mindset then begins to change because people see how valuable educated women really are. This is called “The Girl Effect” and it has the potential to change the world.
Poverty, of all the issues in the world, has the largest moral obligation attached to it. Most people believe that we should help those less fortunate than us, especially those who absolutely do not have the means to help themselves. Yet every day, as tens of thousands more die from poverty, we fail to live up to our beliefs. Millennials can be the generation to finally change that. We can do so much more to help the billions of us who live in poverty, but day after day, year after year, this still remains a huge problem that rarely ever gets acknowledged by those who have the power to do something about it. It appears that we need to change our cultural mindset.
All in all, like every other crucial issue facing us today, we have to make a critical choice. Do we continue to allow thousands to parish everyday because they don’t have enough food to eat, clean water to drink, and access to basic sanitation, education and healthcare? Or do we decide that enough is enough?
To learn how the United Nations is tackling the issue of poverty, visit their webpage on the Millennium Development Goals (MGD’s) here.
Also, watch the video below to learn more about “The Girl Effect”