Poverty: the desperate facts

Almost 3 billion - or nearly half the world's people - survive on less than 2 dollars a day, according to the World Bank. Other key facts:

  • The ambitious international target is to halve the proportion living below the poverty line by 2015. Globally the total fell from 29 per cent in 1987 to 19 per cent in 2004.
  • As many as 950 million urban dwellers may be living in poverty, according to an estimate by UNCHS (Habitat).
  • These figures mask the regional changes which have taken place in recent years. The biggest improvements have taken place in East Asia, especially China. The number living in poverty in Africa, Latin America and South Asia, on the other hand, have increased.
  • According to the Millennium Development Goals Report 2007, the proportion of people living in extreme poverty in sub-Saharan Africa fell from 46.8% in 1990 to 41.1% in 2004, with most of this modest progress achieved since 2000.
  • While the numbers of the poor in Latin America and the Caribbean fell to 61 million, the numbers in poverty in South Asia rose to 522 million - although the proportion fell slightly.
  • In the former Soviet Union, poverty as measured by the national definition had jumped from an estimated 11 per cent during the Soviet period to 43 per cent by 1996, and probably increased further with the 1998 crisis. Reflecting this, the number living on less than $1 a day in Europe and Central Asia rose from 7.1 million in 1990 to 17.6 million in 1998. However, economic growth since then has improved and in 2004 only 0.9% of the population in the CIS countries and western Asia were living in extreme poverty.
  • Children represent 50 per cent of the 270 million people in the Arab World and 11 million of them are homeless, according to figures disclosed by the League of Arab States.
  • In Morocco, some 24.4 per cent of children under the age of 18 are poor. A recent government study shows that 29 per cent of the country's 11 million children are illiterate. Despite free immunisation campaigns, 37 out of every 1,000 Moroccan children die before the age of five. Only 15.6 per cent of the country's young have access to medical care.


    Gender and poverty

  • Approximately 70 per cent of the 980 million people living in extreme poverty are female
  • There are twice as many women as men among the world's 900 million illiterates
  • On average, women are paid 30-40 per cent less than men for comparable work
  • In 20 developing countries, under-5 mortality was found to be greatest among women with no education, and in rural agricultural communities
  • 500,000 women die unnecessarily from pregnancy-related complications each year, the causes of which are exacerbated by issues of poverty and remoteness

Among the reasons for the current failure in the war on poverty often given are proliferating conflicts; wasteful military expenditure which could be better used for education, health, water and other social services; the debt burden and limited market access for exports by poor countries. There are also calls for more, and better focused international aid; better governance, with less extremes of wealth and poverty, and less corruption; more encouragement for people's participation in economic life; more attention to the status and needs of women and children; and more enlightened environment and population policies.