Background on Poverty

Children sad in dirt

The Facts

  • 80% of the world’s population lives on less than $10 a day, and according to a 2010 U.N. study, 22% live on less than $1.25 a day.
  • 1.2 billion people live in extreme poverty, which means they survive on less than a dollar a day.
  • There are 2.2 billion children in the world, and 1 billion of them live in poverty.
  • 25,000 people die every day due to poverty, and 22,000 are children.



  • Poverty touches every aspect of a person’s life, restricting their access to fundamental needs, such as water, food, and shelter.
  • 1.1 billion people in developing countries don’t have adequate access to water. 400 million of them are children, meaning that one-fifth of children worldwide cannot access safe water.
  • A third of children worldwide—640 million—also live without adequate shelter.
  • One of the biggest issues linked to poverty is world hunger.  Despite progress made by the U.N., 1 in 8 people still goes to bed hungry.
  • About 870 million people in developing countries are considered undernourished (there are 16 million undernourished people even in developed countries!), and more than 100 million children under age 5 are undernourished and underweight. Many are born with low birth-weights because their mothers suffer from malnutrition.
  • Children who are poorly nourished are ill for up to 160 days a year. Of 10.9 million child deaths a year, malnutrition plays a role in more than half. Hunger—and by extension, poverty—kills over 5 million children a year.
  • Vitamin-A deficiency blinds an estimated 250,000 to 500,000 children every year, half of them dying within a year of losing their sight.
  • Another concern of the U.N. regarding poverty and hunger is the stunted development of children due to under-nutrition. 1 in 4 children around the world show signs of stunted growth.
  • Hunger also inhibits proper mental development, and sometimes even causes mental impairment (50 million people show mental damage as a result of Iodine deficiency). Some assert that because it prevents people from working and learning to their full potential, poverty-born hunger causes even greater poverty in a vicious cycle.
  • Poverty also restricts education, as many children leave school because their families need them to work. 1 in 4 children who enter primary school leave before reaching the last grade. 123 million young people between 15 and 24 lack basic reading and writing skills.
  • Because they have no access to proper healthcare or education, people living in poverty are at heightened risk of diseases. 2.5 million people were infected with HIV in 2011, more than 8 million were diagnosed with tuberculosis, and 660,000 people died of malaria.


Work, Prevention, and Progress

  • Despite rather dismal statistics, significant progress has been made in the fight against poverty, and the U.N hopes to continue this trend.
  • From 1990 to 2010, the U.N.’s efforts resulted in poverty rates being halved, and about 700 million fewer people are living in extreme poverty. The U.N now hopes to halve the proportion of people living in extreme poverty by 2015.
  • Hoping to prevent future poverty, the U.N. is working to increase employment and ideally, achieve decent full employment for all, including women and young people.
  • Since insufficient education is also a cause of poverty, the U.N. would like to ensure that by 2015, children everywhere (boys and girls alike), will be able to complete primary school. Unfortunately, progress has slowed with the economic and financial crisis, and they fear they will not be able to meet this goal.
  • However, despite trials and tribulations, literacy rates are rising, and gender gaps are shrinking.
  • Since 1990, the child mortality rate has fallen 41%, about 14,000 fewer children dying each day.
  • Most of the 6.9 million deaths of children under five were of preventable diseases, so a large focus of the U.N. remains on disease education and prevention. The spread of HIV/AIDS has been significantly slowed, and 1 million malaria deaths have been avoided over the last decade by providing mosquito nets to families.
  • Poverty lies at the root of a staggering number of issues, and kills a person approximately every 3.5 seconds. But there has been progress, and continued efforts make the end of poverty a more realistic idea each year. 


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Sources: United Nations Millennium Development Goals, World HungerUniversal Declaration of Human Rights, Statistic Brain