Hanging laundary in front of old building

Facts About Poverty in the World

Poverty is a critical issue that affects millions of people every day.

Did you know that nearly half of the world’s population lives on less than $2.50 a day in 2020? An additional 1.3 billion people lived on less than $1.25 a day. If you’re reading this, try to think about what you could buy for $2.50. Then think about what $1.25 would get you. It’s hard to imagine making it through the day, yet a significant percentage of the world’s population lives that way every day of their lives.

What percentage of the world lives in poverty?

As recently as 1990, some 35% of people were living in poverty. That’s approximately 1.8 billion people. Today, more than 700 million people, or 10% of the world population, still live in extreme poverty, which means that they struggle to fulfill their most basic needs including healthcare, education, and access to water and sanitation, among other things.

Poor smiling child

While we have come a long way in reducing the prevalence of poverty around the world, there are many who continue to suffer. People who are surviving on less than $1.90 a day mostly live in sub-Saharan Africa. Most of those living in poverty populate rural areas. Worldwide, the poverty rate in rural areas is 17.2%, more than three times higher than in urban areas.

What are the main causes of poverty?

There are many causes of poverty around the world, but the top causes of global poverty are inadequate access to clean water and nutritious food, conflict and civil unrest, low employment opportunities, lack of education, poor infrastructure, and climate change.

Limited access to clean water and nutritious food

More than 2 billion people don’t have access to clean water at home, and more than 800 million suffer from hunger. Poverty and hunger trap their victims in an inescapable loop, as poverty prevents access to good food and clean water while hunger and associated health problems due to lack of food and water makes it harder to escape poverty.


Preventable illness and disease resulting from malnutrition and dirty water can bring an already impoverished family into extreme poverty, as they will likely have to spend what little remaining time and resources they have on medical expenses, not to mention travel to and from a hospital or healthcare center.

Conflict and civil unrest

Conflict damages any existing regional infrastructure, redirecting funds away from those in need and making refugees out of civilians.

In Syria, a region where poverty was once uncommon, nearly 7 out of every ten people live in poverty.

Even the threat of an attack can weaken already struggling communities. If farmers are worried that their crops will be stolen or destroyed, they won’t invest in planting, resulting in diminished food reserves and a weakened economy.


A simple logic problem reveals the connection between unemployment and poverty; if you can’t work, you can’t earn money. As members of developed nations, it’s easy to assume that if someone wants a job, they can just go out and get one but that simply isn’t how things work in developing and rural parts of the world.

Diminished access to productive land and the inflated cost of living due to conflict, overpopulation, climate change, and mismanagement of natural resources places tension on the economies of developing nations.

While inconsistent work and low paying jobs can land a family in poverty, absolutely no work means that a family can’t get by without assistance.

Lack of education

In developing nations there are many, getting your children to school isn’t as easy as waiting for the bus in the mornings. The problem of poor education and the resulting lack of opportunities for individuals later in life begins in childhood.

School is not free in many parts of the world and many families cannot afford to send their children to school, especially when there is financial pressure to bring in more household income.

UNESCO estimates that 171 million people could be lifted out of extreme poverty if they left school with basic reading skills.

Poor infrastructure

Infrastructure is defined by Merriam Webster Dictionary as, “the basic equipment and structures (such as roads and bridges) that are needed for a country, region, or organization to function properly.”

These are the aspects of developed countries that are easily taken for granted, the value of it only demonstrated by those without.

Infrastructure is a key component of lifting people out of poverty because without it, it’s much more difficult or even impossible to get them the assistance they so desperately need. People without jobs, without food or water, are entirely dependent on foreign aid. Without infrastructure, the chances of getting that aid to them are slim to none.

Climate change

The World Bank estimated in 2015 that climate change alone could send more than 100 million people into poverty by 2030. According to their estimates, Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, two regions already suffering from some of the world’s worst poverty, will be hit the hardest.

Less-predictable weather patterns present challenges for farmers and severe weather events like drought, flooding, and severe storms can cripple communities already living in poverty.

How does poverty affect the world?

Poverty affects everyone. Not only is it devastating for those directly affected by it, but it can also have serious consequences for the rest of the world.

Crime and substance abuse

Experts have been studying the link between crime and wealth and have found that regional crime varies in response in accordance with income. Crime ranks high among those affected by poverty, which experts believe is largely the result of lack of education and employment opportunities.

Studies show that low-income areas experience more property-related crimes such as burglary and theft, while more violent crime is generally seen in wealthier areas.

Alcohol and substance abuse are indisputable side effects of poverty, whether it’s in Sub-Saharan Africa or the streets of New York City. It’s an unfortunately common self-destructive habit taken up as a way of coping with the high levels of stress, anxiety, and depression that comes with living in poverty.

Unfortunately, the prevalence of drugs and alcohol abuse in impoverished areas only serves to drive the forces behind the drug trade by increasing demand. Drug traffickers have been known to lace their products with dangerous chemicals and other additives to increase profits worldwide.

Environment and health

Studies have shown a strong social relationship between poverty and environmental degradation. This is often not the fault of impoverished communities, but rather that of outside forces.

Members of wealthy societies are presented with “greener” options for everything from building materials to takeout containers, while those of impoverished regions are left with only that which has been rejected or deemed unfit for wealthier nations.

The use of harmful chemicals and materials becomes ingrained in local society and not only subjects impoverished populations to dangerous conditions but circulates those pollutants worldwide. The place where this is most obvious is in our oceans, where it’s now estimated that on average there are as many as 46,000 pieces of plastic in every square mile of ocean.

How can we stop poverty?

With the help of government aid and nonprofit organizations like Food for Life, we can make an effort to stop poverty around the world.

Hands are holding a read heart

By taking care of humankind’s number one need, food, Food for Life opens up a door for those trapped in the vicious cycle of poverty and hunger, providing an opportunity for hungry and impoverished children to lead healthy lives and earn an education.

Learn more about Food for Life and what we’re doing to heal the world or make a donation today and join the effort to stop global poverty.

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