What is Abject Poverty

First defined in 1995 by the United Nations, abject poverty is the most severe form of deprivation to basic needs and services that an individual or household can suffer. It is a form of poverty where there is a severe lack of food access, safe drinking water, basic sanitation, healthcare access, and even shelter. Some definitions of abject poverty also include a lack of educational resources or information as well.

Abject poverty is not dependent on income levels alone. It also includes access to services.

In 2008, the World Bank set an income level of $1.25 per day as an additional measure of abject poverty. Based on regular inflation rates, this would equal $1 per day when the UN set the original definition of abject poverty.

This is how we get the expression of people in penury living on just a dollar per day.

Facts About Abject Poverty Which Are Absolutely Shocking

The most disturbing fact about abject poverty is that 22,000 children are dying, on average, every day because of the conditions they face. With 33% of the world’s most poor living in India, this is where a majority of these deaths occur, but 10 countries in total account for 80% of the world’s population that lives in abject poverty.

And that’s just one fact. Here are others that are absolutely shocking considering our technological and distribution advances which exist today.

  • Extreme poverty exists in the developed world, including the United States. 30% of the top poorest areas in the US are located in North Carolina.
  • Israel has the highest poverty rate in the developed world at 21%, according to information provided by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
  • Extreme poverty is being reduced around the world, but for women in the US, the rates have actually risen in recent years.
  • Nearly 3 billion people are still relying on biomass fuels to cook and heat their homes, including crop waste and manure.
  • Nearly 7 million children under the age of 5 die every year, with most issues that caused their death being completely preventable.
  • Children born in the world’s poorest countries have a 1 in 6 chance of dying before they reach their fifth birthday. In the United States, the odds are closer to 1 in 165.
  • The richest 85 people in the world today control the same amount of wealth as the poorest 50% of the population.
  • 1 in 2 people believe that poor people take advantage of the assistance they receive in a negative way. This is the same percentage of Americans who believe that all it takes to get out of poverty is a “strong work ethic.”
  • 1 in 4 people say that people in extreme poverty are too lazy to get a job. 30% say that those in extreme poverty have low moral values.
  • Donating the cost of one cup of coffee at Starbucks would double the income of a family living in abject poverty.
  • Foreign aid is inconsistent when it comes to dealing with abject poverty. About $300 per person is given to countries like China or Mexico to deal with extreme poverty, but the poorest countries in the world, like Zambia, get just $100 per person.

Despite disturbing facts like these, there is still hope to be found. Although children still account for nearly half of the world’s most extreme poor, there are 1 billion fewer people living in abject poverty than just 20 years ago. Yet there is still a long way to go.

You see, only half of all the countries in the world today even collect data about abject poverty and how it relates to children. Just 1 in 3 people who live in abject poverty are covered by any type of social protection. In every country, children are more likely to be living in poverty than adults, especially when they live in a household that is headed by a single mother.

Many children in abject poverty also have education, shelter, and nutrition needs that are not being met, especially in places like sub-Saharan African. Yet perhaps the most disturbing fact of all is this: 25% of children are living in poverty in the world’s richest countries.

And this is a problem of our own making. The poorest countries receive the least amount of aid because they have the highest levels of internal corruption. Because we attempt to avoid corruption, we do not send aid to where it is needed the most.

Yet countries like China and India, who are receiving large amounts of aid for extreme poverty, also have space programs that are funded.

If the wealthy will not take care of their own, how can they be convinced to take care of others? This is why abject poverty is a universal challenge that affects us all. We cannot rely on others to stop. We must work together to continue eliminating abject poverty.

How Close Are We to Eliminating Abject Poverty?

For the last 30 years, there has been a steady and consistent decline in the number of people who are living in abject poverty. In 1990, more than 40% of the world’s population qualified under at least one definition as living in penury. As of 2011, that percentage had been cut in half, to just 20%.

That looks like a good figure, but 20% of 7 billion people is still a lot of people.

The UN, World Bank, and United States have set a goal of eliminating abject poverty by the year 2030. 96% of those living in this form of poverty reside in Southern Asian, sub-Saharan African, the West Indies, Eastern Asia, and portions of the Pacific. India and China alone account for more than half of the total population that lives in abject poverty.

Over the past 20 years, the greatest successes in reducing extreme poverty have come from nations that have had strong governments, few civil conflicts, and a policymaker emphasis on improving conditions within their borders. Without this as the foundation of an effort to stop poverty, most countries get caught in what the World Bank calls a “fragility trap.”

A fragile country occurs when there are cycles of violence which occur on a frequent basis. This violence creates weak institutions that have very little power to govern. In return, this creates a low level of growth, which creates a lack of employment opportunities, when then creates more stress on the population at large.

When people in extreme poverty are triggered by stress, there will generally be one of two outcomes: violence or addiction. This further weakens the infrastructure and growth a nation can experience, which reinforces the conditions of extreme poverty that exist. That is the trap.

Why Acting Now Can Change Everything We Know About Abject Poverty

One of the largest drivers of poverty is something that Professor Hans Rosling describes as “1+1=4.” Here’s why: in the poorest nations of the world, the average family size tends to be the highest. The average mother living in abject poverty has 5 children. This is because one of those children is likely to die before adulthood.

By having more children, a mother can roll the dice to try to get out of poverty. All it takes is one child to find success in order for them to support the entire household. Sometimes this gamble works. More often than not, however, what happens is that the number of abject poor in that localized region will double.

There must also be a recognition that extreme poverty is not something that is stable. People can rise above poverty, only to fall back into it. For many people, the issue that brings them back into poverty is a health crisis. Something as simple as a broken leg and having to pay a medical bill to treat it is enough to drive people back into poverty. Diseases like malaria or tuberculosis are also contributing factors.

Even when people who come from poor countries work in high-wage jobs in the developed world, a majority of the wages they earn goes back to pay for family health crises. Something as simple as subsidizing medical expenses could go a long way toward helping people get out and then stay out of poverty.

But the fastest way to reduce poverty is to educate women. When both a mother and father are able to read and write, those households tend to have the lowest overall child mortality rates. Women are also in a better position to understand priorities when it comes to household management. For example: when women do earn an income when living in abject poverty and in a location where malaria is present, they are more likely than men to dedicate resources toward purchasing mosquito netting.

And women who are not reliant on a husband, spouse, or partner for food or money has much more power to look after her children in a way that supports them so together they can work their way out of poverty.

This is how we end abject poverty. We take an action, every day, and keep multiplying that action. By working together, we really can eliminate this issue within the next decade.

Blog Post Author Credentials
Louise Gaille is the author of this post. She received her B.A. in Economics from the University of Washington. In addition to being a seasoned writer, Louise has almost a decade of experience in Banking and Finance. If you have any suggestions on how to make this post better, then go here to contact our team.