Vital Statistics • • • • • • •
“I call on the international community at the highest level … to adopt the target of halving the proportion of people living in extreme poverty, and so lifting more than 1 billion people out of it, by 2015.” Secretary-General Kofi Annan in the Millenium Report
More than 2.8 billion people, close to half the world's population, live on less than the equivalent of $2/day. More than 1.2 billion people, or about 20 per cent of the world population, live on less than the equivalent of $1/day. South Asia has the largest number of poor people (522 million of whom live on less than the equivalent of $1/day). Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest proportion of people who are poor, with poverty affecting 46.3 per cent or close to half of the regions' population. Nearly 1 billion people are illiterate; more than 1 billion people do not have access to safe water; some 840 million people go hungry or face food insecurity; about one-third of all children under five suffer from malnutrition. The estimated cost of providing universal access to basic social services and transfers to alleviate income poverty is $80 billion, which is less than 0.5 per cent of global income. The top fifth (20 per cent) of the world’s people who live in the highest income countries have access to 86 per cent of world gross domestic product (GDP). The bottom fifth, in the poorest countries, has about one per cent. The assets of the world’s three richest men exceed the combined Gross Domestic Products of the world's 48 poorest countries. In 1998, for every $1 that the developing world received in grants, it spent $13 on debt repayment.
The poverty trap Until recently, poverty was understood largely in terms of income—or a lack of one. To be poor meant that one could not afford the cost of providing a proper diet or home. But poverty is about more than a shortfall in income or calorie intake. It is about the denial of opportunities and choices that are widely regarded as essential to lead a long, healthy, creative life and to enjoy a decent standard of living, freedom, dignity, selfesteem and the respect of others. People don't live in the squalor of the slums, favellas, squatter communities, low-rent districts or beside garbage dumps because they want to. They have no other choice. Possessing little money, little education, few skills for the marketplace and a multitude of health problems, nearly half of all the people in the world live in poverty, without much opportunity to improve their lives.
Poverty has multiple dimensions, and many of them are inter-related, making for a vicious cycle.: • Poor health, disease and disability can prevent people from working full time, limiting their income and their ability to work to move out of poverty. Health problems for the breadwinner mean income problems, but an illness in the family can ruin an entire household. Not only is income lost, but expenses go up due to the need for medicines and health care and the need for family members to care for the sick person.
Those with less formal education tend to be disproportionately represented in the ranks of the poor, perhaps because they are more likely to hold poorly paid jobs or to be unemployed. Poor families often face enormous difficulties in keeping their children in school due to the costs, as well as to the pressure to have as many household members, including children, out working. The next generation, being poorly educated, could in turn end up holding similar poorly paid jobs. Women with children constitute the majority of the poor in many countries. Where women can move out of poverty their children appear to face a brighter future, but where their chances are limited, poverty is transmitted intergenerationally. In many cases, girls have higher dropout rates as they are the first to be pulled out of school to help with household work and childcare. Yet, experience has shown that investment in girls’...
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