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Poverty Facts and Stats

Posted in the database on Wednesday, December 14th, 2005 @ 05:14:42 MST (5724 views)
by Anup Shah    globalissues.org  

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Half the world — nearly three billion people — live on less than two dollars a day. 1

The GDP (Gross Domestic Product) of the poorest 48 nations (i.e. a quarter of the world’s countries) is less than the wealth of the world’s three richest people combined. 2

Nearly a billion people entered the 21st century unable to read a book or sign their names. 3

Less than one per cent of what the world spent every year on weapons was needed to put every child into school by the year 2000 and yet it didn't happen. 4

51 percent of the world’s 100 hundred wealthiest bodies are corporations. 5

The wealthiest nation on Earth has the widest gap between rich and poor of any industrialized nation. 6

The poorer the country, the more likely it is that debt repayments are being extracted directly from people who neither contracted the loans nor received any of the money. 7

20% of the population in the developed nations, consume 86% of the world’s goods. 8

The top fifth of the world’s people in the richest countries enjoy 82% of the expanding export trade and 68% of foreign direct investment — the bottom fifth, barely more than 1%. 9

In 1960, the 20% of the world’s people in the richest countries had 30 times the income of the poorest 20% — in 1997, 74 times as much. 10

An analysis of long-term trends shows the distance between the richest and poorest countries was about:

3 to 1 in 1820
11 to 1 in 1913
35 to 1 in 1950
44 to 1 in 1973
72 to 1 in 1992 11

“The lives of 1.7 million children will be needlessly lost this year [2000] because world governments have failed to reduce poverty levels” 12

The developing world now spends $13 on debt repayment for every $1 it receives in grants. 13

A few hundred millionaires now own as much wealth as the world’s poorest 2.5 billion people. 14

“The 48 poorest countries account for less than 0.4 per cent of global exports.” 15

“The combined wealth of the world’s 200 richest people hit $1 trillion in 1999; the combined incomes of the 582 million people living in the 43 least developed countries is $146 billion.” 16

“Of all human rights failures today, those in economic and social areas affect by far the larger number and are the most widespread across the world’s nations and large numbers of people.” 17

“Approximately 790 million people in the developing world are still chronically undernourished, almost two-thirds of whom reside in Asia and the Pacific.” 18

According to UNICEF, 30,000 children die each day due to poverty. And they “die quietly in some of the poorest villages on earth, far removed from the scrutiny and the conscience of the world. Being meek and weak in life makes these dying multitudes even more invisible in death.”

That is about 210,000 children each week, or just under 11 million children under five years of age, each year. 19

For economic growth and almost all of the other indicators, the last 20 years [of the current form of globalization, from 1980 - 2000] have shown a very clear decline in progress as compared with the previous two decades [1960 - 1980]. For each indicator, countries were divided into five roughly equal groups, according to what level the countries had achieved by the start of the period (1960 or 1980). Among the findings:

Growth: The fall in economic growth rates was most pronounced and across the board for all groups or countries.

Life Expectancy: Progress in life expectancy was also reduced for 4 out of the 5 groups of countries, with the exception of the highest group (life expectancy 69-76 years).

Infant and Child Mortality: Progress in reducing infant mortality was also considerably slower during the period of globalization (1980-1998) than over the previous two decades.

Education and literacy: Progress in education also slowed during the period of globalization.


“Today, across the world, 1.3 billion people live on less than one dollar a day; 3 billion live on under two dollars a day; 1.3 billion have no access to clean water; 3 billion have no access to sanitation; 2 billion have no access to electricity.” 21

The richest 50 million people in Europe and North America have the same income as 2.7 billion poor people. “The slice of the cake taken by 1% is the same size as that handed to the poorest 57%.”22

The world’s 497 billionaires in 2001 registered a combined wealth of $1.54 trillion, well over the combined gross national products of all the nations of sub-Saharan Africa ($929.3 billion) or those of the oil-rich regions of the Middle East and North Africa ($1.34 trillion). It is also greater than the combined incomes of the poorest half of humanity. 23

A mere 12 percent of the world’s population uses 85 percent of its water, and these 12 percent do not live in the Third World. 24

Consider the global priorities in spending in 1998

Global priorities in spending in 1998

Global Priority $U.S. Billions
Basic education for everyone in the world 6
Cosmetics in the United States 8
Water and sanitation for everyone in the world 9
Ice cream in Europe 11
Reproductive health for all women in the world
Perfumes in Europe and the United States 12
Basic health and nutrition for everyone in the world 13
Pet foods in Europe and the United States
Business entertainment in Japan 35
Cigarettes in Europe 50
Alcoholic drinks in Europe 105
Narcotics drugs in the world 400
Military spending in the world 780

Number of children in the world

2.2 billion

Number in poverty

1 billion (every second child)

Shelter, safe water and health

For the 1.9 billion children from the developing world, there are:

640 million without adequate shelter (1 in 3)

400 million with no access to safe water (1 in 5)

270 million with no access to health services (1 in 7)

Children out of education worldwide

121 million

Survival for children


10.6 million died in 2003 before they reached the age of 5 (same as children population in France, Germany, Greece and Italy)

1.4 million die each year from lack of access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation

Health of children


2.2 million children die each year because they are not immunized

15 million children orphaned due to HIV/AIDS (similar to the total children population in Germany or United Kingdom)


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 assets in 2004. source 27

Notes and Sources

1) This figure is based on purchasing power parity (PPP), which basically suggests that prices of goods in countries tend to equate under floating exchange rates and therefore people would be able to purchase the same quantity of goods in any country for a given sum of money. That is, the notion that a dollar should buy the same amount in all countries. Hence if a poor person in a poor country living on a dollar a day moved to the U.S. with no changes to their income, they would still be living on a dollar a day. In addition, see the following:

Ignacio Ramonet, The politics of hunger, Le Monde diplomatique, November 1998

The 9th International Anti-Corruption Conference Plenary Address by James Wolfensohn, August 2000

March recognizes the billions living on less than two dollars a day, EarthTimes.org, October 24, 2000

The poverty lines: population living with less than 2 dollars and less than 1 dollar a day from PovertyMap.net provides two maps showing the concentration of people living on less than 1 and 2 dollars per day, around the world.

Also note that these numbers, from the World Bank, have been questioned and criticized.

The World Bank has been criticized for almost arbitrarily coming up with a definition of a poverty line to mean one dollar per day (of which they say there are about 1.3 billion people). That figure and how it has been chosen has been much criticized by many, as shown by University of Ottawa Professor, Michel Chossudovsky in the previous link.

In addition, in the United States for example, the poverty threshold for a family of four has been estimated to be around eleven dollars per day. The one dollar a day definition then misses out much of humanity to understand the impacts. Even the two dollars per day that I have pointed out here, while affecting half of humanity, also misses out the numbers under three or four, or eleven dollars per day. These statistics are harder to find, and as I come across them, I will post them here!

More fundamental than that though, for example, is a critique from Columbia University, called How not to count the poor. The report describes an ill-defined poverty line, a misleading and inaccurate measure of purchasing power equivalence, and false precision as the three main errors that may lead to “a large understatement of the extent of global income poverty and to an incorrect inference that it has declined.” (Emphasis added). This allows the World Bank to insist that the world is indeed “on the right track” in terms of poverty reduction strategy, attributing this “success” to the design and implementation of “good” or “better policies”.

But the statistic is not lost on some of the most prominent people in the world

The New York Times in one of their email updates, in their Quote of the Day section, for July 18, 2001 provided the following quote: “A world where some live in comfort and plenty, while half of the human race lives on less than $2 a day, is neither just, nor stable.” — President Bush

See also James Wolfenson, The Other Crisis, World Bank, October 1998 who said: “Today, across the world, 1.3 billion people live on less than one dollar a day; 3 billion live on under two dollars a day; 1.3 billion have no access to clean water; 3 billion have no access to sanitation; 2 billion have no access to electricity.” (See also note 21 below.)

Koffi Anan, UN Secretary General, in a speech on the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, 17 October 2000, said “Almost half the world’s population lives on less than two dollars a day, yet even this statistic fails to capture the humiliation, powerlessness and brutal hardship that is the daily lot of the world’s poor.”

2) Ignacio Ramonet, The politics of hunger, Le Monde Diplomatique, November 1998

3) The State of the World’s Children, 1999, UNICEF

4) State of the World, Issue 287 - Feb 1997, New Internationalist

5) See the following:

Holding Transnationals Accountable, IPS, August 11, 1998

Top 200: The Rise of Corporate Global Power, by Sarah Anderson and John Cavanagh, Institute for Policy Studies, November 2000

6) The Corporate Planet, Corporate Watch, 1997

7) Debt - The facts, Issue 312 - May 1999, New Internationalist

8) 1998 Human Development Report, United Nations Development Programme

9) 1999 Human Development Report, United Nations Development Programme

10) Ibid

11) Ibid

12) Missing the Target; The price of empty promises, Oxfam, June 2000

13) Global Development Finance, World Bank, 1999

14) Economics forever; Building sustainability into economic policy PANOS Briefing 38, March 2000

15) Human Development Report 2000, p. 82, United Nations Development Programme

16) Ibid, p. 82

17) Ibid, p. 73

18) World Resources Institute Pilot Analysis of Global Ecosystems, February 2001, (in the Food Feed and Fiber section). Note, that dispite the food production rate being better than population growth rate, there is still so much hunger around the world.

19) Progress of Nations 2000, UNICEF, 2000.

Note that the statistic cited uses children as those under the age of five. If it was say 6, or 7, the numbers would be even higher.

20) The Scorecard on Globalization 1980-2000: Twenty Years of Diminished Progress, by Mark Weisbrot, Dean Baker, Egor Kraev and Judy Chen, Center for Economic Policy and Research, August 2001.

21) James Wolfenson, The Other Crisis, World Bank, October 1998, quoted from The Reality of Aid 2000, (Earthscan Publications, 2000), p.10

22) Larry Elliott, A cure worse than the disease, The Guardian, January 21, 2002

23) John Cavanagh and Sarah Anderson , World’s Billionaires Take a Hit, But Still Soar, The Institute for Policy Studies, March 6, 2002

24) Maude Barlow, Water as Commodity - The Wrong Prescription, The Institute for Food and Development Policy, Backgrounder, Summer 2001, Vol. 7, No. 3

25) Consumerism, Volunteer Now! (undated)

26) State of the World’s Children, 2005, UNICEF

27) Eileen Alt Powell, Some 600,000 join millionaire ranks in 2004, Associate Press, June 9, 2005

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