Extreme Poverty

Extreme poverty is defined by the World Bank and the UN as those living below $1.90 per day per person.1 Below this threshold, individuals or families cannot meet their basic needs; their life is in jeopardy.2 Since this number already accounts for regions with lower standards of living, such as Sub-Saharan Africa, this figure is exceedingly low. 

Poverty is defined by more than a lack of resources. Even when individuals or families do not fall below the extreme poverty threshold, they may struggle under both material and socioeconomic burdens. These include the inability to access services and social protection measures, express ideas, maintain social standing, or make individual choices.3  

Max Roser and Esteban Ortiz-Ospina (2013) – “Global Extreme Poverty”. Published online at OurWorldInData.org. Retrieved from: ‘https://ourworldindata.org/extreme-poverty‘ [Online Resource] 


There are various reasons why people may be living in extreme poverty4:  

1. Lack of access to clean water and nutrition  

Inadequate nutrition or waterborne illnesses may make working a job difficult.  

2. Unemployment 

Many people live in poverty because of their inability to obtain work that provides a living wage—or even a job at all. 

3. Lack of access to healthcare  

Roughly 800 million individuals spend at least 10% of their household finances on healthcare coverage. The ability to excel in school or maintain a job can be hindered by frequent illnesses and may be exacerbated by a lack of healthcare clinics, trained experts, and medical supplies in each area. 

4. War  

People’s lives can be ruined by conflict, whether it occurs across borders or within a country, especially when they are compelled to evacuate to safer areas. This dislocation might result in years of missed education and job loss.  

5. Inadequate education  

According to NESCO, 171 million people could be pulled out of poverty if they finished school with basic reading abilities. Furthermore, with increased education, global poverty may be reduced by half.

6. Lack of infrastructure  

Traveling longer distances for basic services and jobs not only costs money but also needs existing roads and infrastructure, which may be hardly possible in low-income areas. 

7. Natural disasters  

When natural catastrophes leave millions of people without food and destroy their homes, it pushes them deeper into poverty and hinders recovery 

This is not an exhaustive list. Although these are the main causes of extreme poverty, there are a myriad of specific factors that may push individuals into the same conditions.  


Extreme poverty impacts people across the world, but it primarily implicates the growth of developing countries. Extreme poverty has a slew of negative consequences, including deteriorating health, and a low level of education.5 

Infectious diseases claim the lives of nearly 14 million people each year and are one of the main consequences of poverty, affecting millions of people around the world. Contaminated water, a lack of sanitation, and a lack of access to good healthcare are all factors that contribute to the spread of these diseases. 

People who grow up in poverty have more chronic, recurrent, and severe health issues than people who grow up in more affluent families. 

Low birth weight is prevalent in poor babies, and it is linked to a slew of avoidable mental and physical issues. These children are not only more likely to be irritable or ill, but they are more likely to die before reaching their first birthday. 

In addition, there is a link between poor academic achievement and poverty. Children that are exposed to extreme poverty struggle with brain development, communication, and stress management, resulting in negative conduct. Children from low-income families are also more likely to miss school due to illness. They are twice as probable to have visual and hearing problems, anemia, and blood lead levels that are higher than usual, which can further damage brain function. 


Maintaining accessible markets for goods in these impoverished countries is critical—even more so than providing economic aid. Furthermore, higher-income nations can help by using their power to draw attention to issues that are not usually taken seriously at the national level.6  


Reducing extreme poverty requires7:  

  • The creation of good jobs (employment is the most direct means of resolving the pressing financial needs of those below the extreme poverty threshold)  
  • Raising wages (increasing wages could improve the health and well-being of millions of people)  
  • Microfinancing (where unemployed or low-income individuals could acquire small loans through microfinance that enable them to become self-sufficient) 
  • Gender equality (women, equipped with equal access to education and able to actively participate in business and economic decision-making, can play a crucial role in combating poverty) 
  • Canceling national debts (allowing nations to concentrate on building for the future rather than trying to pay up what they have already spent) 
  • Access to healthcare (making healthcare accessible where and when households need it, without out-of-pocket costs, could lift people out of poverty) 
  • Access to clean water and sanitation (time spent collecting water can be used to work and generate more. Furthermore, clean drinking water reduces the healthcare burden due to disease)  
  • Increase nutrition (higher nutritional status is critical to productivity, the economy, and a country’s general well-being)  


1 The World Bank (2022). “Measuring Poverty.” https://www.worldbank.org/en/topic/measuringpoverty#1. 

2 Revenga, A. interviewed by Frykholm, A. (2016). “Ending Extreme Poverty.” The Christian Centuryhttps://www.worldbank.org/en/news/feature/2016/06/08/ending-extreme-poverty.  

3 Fry, P. “Relative Poverty v. Absolute Poverty.” endPoverty. https://www.endpoverty.org/blog/relative-poverty-vs-absolute-poverty. 

4 World Vision (2022). “10 major causes of poverty and how we can help solve them.” https://www.worldvision.ca/stories/child-sponsorship/major-causes-of-poverty. 

5 Kellogg, N. (2018). “Top Effects of Poverty.” The Borgen Project. https://borgenproject.org/5-effects-poverty/. 

6 see 2. 

7 Prinsen, T. (2014). “10 Solutions to Poverty.” Borgen Magazine. https://www.borgenmagazine.com/10-solutions-poverty/. 

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