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Eradicating Extreme Poverty

According to the World Bank, “extreme poverty” is the condition in which a person is trying to survive on less than $1.90 per day. We wonder: What share of the population of sub-Saharan Africa lives in extreme poverty today?

A. 11%
B. 35%
C. 41%
D. 51%

A. 11% … is not correct.

Globally, according to World Bank estimates published in 2016, 10.7% of all people in 2013 had to make do with less than $1.90 per day (in locally comparable price terms).

The Sustainable Development Goal of eradicating extreme poverty “for all people everywhere” by 2030, set by United Nations in 2015 is likely in reach.

The total number of extremely poor people is about 766.6 million — well more than twice the U.S. population. They live across six regions: East Asia/Pacific, Eastern Europe/Central Asia, Latin America/the Caribbean, Middle East/North Africa, South Asia and finally Sub-Saharan Africa.

Eastern Europe/Central Asia (mostly made up of former Communist countries) is the best off among those poorer regions. Just 2.3% of their populations, for a total of 10.8 million, lives in extreme poverty.

The World Bank has also defined a “median” poverty level as an income of $3.10 per day in locally comparable price terms.

At that higher threshold of poverty, 82.8% of the people in the world’s low-income countries are still in poverty – eight times more than the percentage number for extreme poverty at a global level.

Even in middle-income countries – countries such as China, India and South Africa — 71.7% of the population is struggling with daily incomes at or below the median poverty level.

B. 35% … is not correct.

As recently as 1990, less than three decades ago, 35% of all people on earth were in a state of extreme poverty. In absolute terms, there are now about 1.1 billion fewer people in extreme poverty today.

The predecessor to the Sustainable Development Goals set in 2015 were the UN’s Millennium Development Goals set in 2000. They aimed to cut in half the share of people living in extreme poverty in 1990 by the year 2015. That goal was more than met.

East Asia – especially China – experienced an enormous transition out of extreme poverty during that span. East Asia’s population share living in that condition dropped from about 60% to just 3.5% — by a factor of 17.

In a global context, that matters greatly since more than a fifth of the overall world population lives in East Asia.

As recently as 1990, half of all people in extreme poverty could still be found in East Asia. Today, just 9.3% of the global poor reside there.

South Asia, anchored by populous India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, could be the next region to come close to eliminating extreme poverty, provided it can follow East Asia’s progress on poverty reduction since 1990.

About a third of all people in extreme poverty around the world today live in South Asia – a higher percentage than the region’s overall share of the world population (one quarter).

C. 41% … is correct.

In sub-Saharan Africa, 41% of the population lives in a state of extreme poverty and must try to get by on the local equivalent of just $1.90 or less per person per day.

This share is down significantly from about 55% in 1990. It is also down to about the level of where South Asia was in 1990, where extreme poverty now affects just 15.1% of the population.

However, unlike East Asia’s China or South Asia’s India, Africa’s billion-plus population is not being steered in some manner by the performance of a single, central government nor is it operating under a single, common market.

Extreme poverty is most often found in countries with rural and agricultural populations, large numbers of younger people (especially teenagers and children), less educational attainment and larger family sizes. Sub-Saharan Africa features all of these challenges much more intensely than other world regions.

A very big challenge for Africa is the continuing population boom. While the population of China and India grew by 18% and 47%, respectively, from 1990 to 2013, sub-Saharan Africa’s population might grow as much as 75% from 2013 to 2036. So the eradication of extreme poverty there could prove difficult.

D. 51% … is not correct.

With the decline in East Asia’s extreme poverty, sub-Saharan Africa now stands as home to the largest population living in such conditions.

While 41% of all people in sub-Saharan Africa live in extreme poverty, on a global level, that means that half of all people living in extreme poverty worldwide can be found there (50.7%).

In contrast, only about one-eighth (13.3%) of the overall world population lives in sub-Saharan Africa currently.

The total number of people there contending with extreme poverty is about 388.7 million people — out of the 766.6 people facing that challenge across the world.

Any effort to eradicate extreme poverty will have to center on sub-Saharan Africa.

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