From the Field

Global poverty: Facts, FAQs, and how to help

A woman wearing a veil stands holding a child on her hip. Behind them is a shelter made of branches and tarp.

Poverty is one of the most urgent challenges of our time. According to the World Bank, 712 million people (nearly 9% of the world’s population) live in extreme poverty, defined as surviving on less than $2.15 per day. While progress has been made in reducing poverty levels in certain regions, the COVID-19 pandemic, ongoing conflicts, and extreme weather events have caused major setbacks, and the world is not on track to meet the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal of eliminating poverty in all its forms by 2030.

Despite these challenges, World Vision believes that we can still make meaningful progress toward ending extreme poverty on a global scale, even in unstable and hard-to-reach places. To that end, we partner with communities around the world to identify and target root causes and implement sustainable solutions.

Our work is motivated by the conviction that God desires all people to experience life in all its fullness (John 10:10). Ultimately, we believe that poverty is both physical and spiritual. It’s rooted in broken relationships with God, self, others, and the rest of creation. The cycle of poverty ends when these relationships are restored. 

Global poverty:  Facts, FAQs, and how to help end it

Fast facts: Global poverty

  • The World Bank reports that 712 million people, nearly 1 in 11 people globally, live on less than $2.15 a day.
  • In 2022, 11.5% of the United States’ population, 37.9 million people, lived in poverty.
  • Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest rate of children living in extreme poverty, reaching 40% in 2022.
  • Nearly 90% of children living in extreme poverty reside in either sub-Saharan Africa or South Asia.
  • Approximately 63% of people over age 15 who live in low-income countries are literate.
  • 1.1 billion people, including 566 million children, live in multidimensional poverty, accounting for just over 18% of the world’s population.

Learn what the Bible says about poverty.


What is poverty?

Poverty is a condition of deprivation characterized by a lack of access to essential resources and basic necessities required for a healthy and dignified life.

Historically, poverty has been defined based on a person’s income and how much they can buy (monetary poverty). However, poverty can also be assessed using multidimensional measures that consider holistic factors impacting people’s quality of life.

Improper nutrition resulting from poverty can cause stunting and wasting, permanently impacting children’s development. Lack of access to clean water and sanitation in impoverished regions can lead to the spread of preventable diseases and unnecessary deaths, especially among children. And children living in poverty often face obstacles to accessing quality education, which can perpetuate the cycle of poverty from one generation to the next.


A health worker checks a smiling young Afghan girl’s temperature.
Poverty, conflict, and recurring droughts are driving a humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan. Through 36 mobile health and nutrition projects, World Vision is providing critical support for children like 7-month-old Safia, who was treated at one of our clinics for severe malnutrition. After four visits, her health and spirits had improved noticeably. Our local staff continue to reach the most vulnerable communities in hard-to-reach areas, delivering lifesaving health and nutrition services. For example, in just two months (December 2023 through January 2024), we provided nutrition screening to 15,213 children under 5 who were at risk of malnutrition. During that same period, 72,012 people, more than half of them women, accessed life-saving general health services. (© 2022 World Vision)

What is extreme poverty?

Extreme poverty is the most severe form of poverty, involving the acute deprivation of basic human needs. The World Bank classifies anyone living on less than $2.15 a day as living in extreme poverty.


What is multidimensional poverty?

Multidimensional poverty refers to a broader understanding of poverty that goes beyond income. It takes into account various factors such as access to education, healthcare, clean water, and sanitation.

The Global Multidimensional Poverty Index, developed in 2010 by the U.N. Development Programme and the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative, offers a comprehensive framework for assessing poverty. This index evaluates people across 10 key indicators, including nutrition, child mortality, years of schooling, school attendance, cooking fuel, sanitation, drinking water, electricity, housing, and assets. If a person lacks access to three or more of these standards, they’re identified as multidimensionally poor. The index offers insights into specific interventions needed to address poverty effectively in each country.


How is poverty measured?

Poverty is measured by each country’s government, which gathers data through household surveys of their population. While entities like the World Bank may provide support and conduct their own surveys, the primary responsibility lies with each country. However, traditional data collection methods can be slow and time-consuming. To overcome this, high-frequency surveys are using estimates and mobile phone technology to quickly gather data and provide insights.


What is a poverty line?

A poverty line, also called a poverty threshold, is a set amount of income below which it becomes difficult, if not impossible, for people to afford essentials like food and shelter. Each country determines its poverty line by calculating the cost of meeting minimum needs. Households with incomes below this line are considered to be living in poverty.

The international poverty line serves as a standard for measuring extreme global poverty and was recently adjusted to $2.15 a day to reflect the rising cost of necessities and adjust for inflation. Since 1990, it has increased from $1 to $2.15, reflecting the rising cost of living.


What is a poverty line?

A poverty line, also called a poverty threshold, is a set amount of income below which it becomes difficult, if not impossible, for people to afford essentials like food and shelter. Each country determines its poverty line by calculating the cost of meeting minimum needs. Households with incomes below this line are considered to be living in poverty.
The international poverty line serves as a standard for measuring extreme global poverty and was recently adjusted to $2.15 a day to reflect the rising cost of necessities and adjust for inflation. Since 1990, it has increased from $1 to $2.15, reflecting the rising cost of living.


Is the poverty line the same in every country?

No, countries calculate their poverty lines based on their unique economic and social circumstances.

For example, the poverty line in the United States is determined based on data from the U.S. Census Bureau and is updated using the Consumer Price Index to reflect recent price changes. As of 2024, the poverty line stands at $31,200 (annual income) for a family of four, and $15,060 for one person.


What are the causes of poverty worldwide?

Poverty has multiple root causes beyond just a lack of basic necessities like food, shelter, education, or healthcare. Discrimination based on gender or ethnicity, poor governance, conflict, exploitation, and domestic violence are all factors that contribute. These inequities trap people and communities in poverty, and limit access to social services that could help people overcome it.

Poverty tends to be most entrenched in fragile contexts, which are regions or entire countries where political instability, past or present conflicts, corrupt leaders, and poor infrastructure limit access to the basic resources people need to thrive.


What is the cycle of poverty?

Poverty can be difficult to escape because it is cyclical. Without access to essentials like clean water, healthcare, education, and financial resources, people living in poverty have few opportunities to change their circumstances, creating a cycle that persists for generations.

When families lack the means to send their children to school, those children struggle to earn an income as adults — and therefore can have a hard time sending their own kids to school. In communities lacking access to clean water, women and girls are often forced to spend many hours each day gathering water, leaving little time for school or a livelihood, limiting their prospects for the future. In communities without nearby medical facilities, families lose income when parents take time off work due to their own illness or to care for sick loved ones. Each aspect of poverty can impact the others, perpetuating the cycle indefinitely.

Natural disasters and conflict can exacerbate this cycle, putting vulnerable communities at greater risk. When these crises strike in areas without strong public institutions, families may lack the resources to recover, thus further entrenching them in poverty.


A man wearing a white shirt and stethoscope around his neck sits behind a desk and talks to a man in a Haitian hospital.
Bernard (left) followed his dreams and, through child sponsorship, secured a scholarship to a university in Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, where he completed his studies. Now, he’s a doctor and cares for patients in a health clinic in his community in Haiti. “If it weren’t for World Vision, I wouldn’t be a doctor today,” Bernard says. (© 2022 World Vision/photo by Dominique Moussignac)

Read more about a Haitian doctor’s investment in his community and the role World Vision sponsorship played.

How can we break the cycle of extreme poverty?

To break the cycle of poverty, we need to tackle its root causes, including economic inequality; lack of access to education, healthcare, and infrastructure; and discrimination. Identifying what’s causing poverty in a particular community can equip people to determine what needs to change. Because it looks different in various places and is caused by different factors, the work to eradicate extreme poverty varies depending on the context.

When World Vision begins working in a community, our expert local staff partner with leaders and other members of the community to understand and help identify its unique needs and work together to develop sustainable solutions that address poverty’s root causes. This work is largely made possible through child sponsorship, which gives donors the opportunity to come alongside vulnerable children and their families, equipping them with pathways to education, access to healthcare, and other essentials. We also work with communities to build resilience and implement effective strategies for coping with economic shocks, climate crises, and other factors that drive poverty in the world’s toughest places.


A mother and daughter smile as they pose with their adorable piglets in front of their home.
Nicolasa, a single mother of two in Guatemala, has built a thriving pig farming business through a World Vision economic development project. “We did not imagine we would have so much support from World Vision, but thank God, as you can see, this is the product,” Nicolasa says, referring to her pigs as well as the new house built with her earnings. Her eldest, Johana (pictured at age 9), is a budding entrepreneur too. “When I grow up, I want to be like my mommy,” she says proudly. (© 2022 World Vision/photo by André Guardiola)

Read how pigs are helping transform a family’s future in Guatemala.

How have recent events impacted efforts to reduce global poverty?

The COVID-19 pandemic represented a critical challenge to the goal of eliminating global poverty, pushing nearly 70 million more people into extreme poverty — the largest one-year increase since global poverty monitoring began in 1990, according to the World Bank.  Since then, rising costs, new and ongoing conflicts, and climate shocks have all hindered progress in reducing extreme poverty. As of the end of 2020, about 719 million people (9.2% of the global population) were living in extreme poverty. If current patterns persist, the U.N. has warned, “an estimated 7% of the global population  —  around 575 million people — could still find themselves trapped in extreme poverty by 2030, with a significant concentration in sub-Saharan Africa.”


How is World Vision helping end extreme poverty?

World Vision works toward ending extreme poverty by addressing its root causes and implementing sustainable solutions. Recognizing the complex nature of poverty, we take a holistic approach, focusing on several key areas such as access to nutritious food, clean water, healthcare, quality education, economic empowerment, gender equality, disability inclusion, spiritual nurture, disaster relief, and child protection.

A boy with brown hair sits on a swing in Honduras. He is looking at the camera with a big grin.
Three-year-old Gabriel swings at a park near the church his father pastors in a gang-ridden city in Honduras. Equipped by World Vision, the church supports the community in many ways, including services, care, and opportunities for families in need and teens at risk of gang recruitment. (© 2022 World Vision/photo by Jon Warren)

World Vision’s integrated community development model allows us to address the root causes of poverty and empower communities to create meaningful change. As a child-focused organization, we understand that children play a crucial role in their own futures, so we work to equip them, their families, and their communities with the tools they need to address poverty’s underlying causes and create lasting change.

As one of the world’s largest Christian humanitarian organizations, World Vision works closely with communities and partners to identify unique solutions for each context. We have nearly 75 years of experience and staff in nearly 100 countries. Most of our staff work in the regions where they’re from, contributing valuable local knowledge and helping to build trusting, long-term relationships.

Our work includes these main steps:

  • Listen: We follow Jesus’ example of coming alongside people and communities and listening to their unique challenges and needs. We engage with children, families, churches, and community leaders to understand what they need to thrive and access basics like clean water, quality education, reliable food supply, healthcare, and economic opportunities.
  • Develop: After listening to the community’s needs, we collaborate with them to develop action plans that target the root causes of poverty.
  • Act: We help the community implement the plan by working with existing leaders and empowering new ones. We bring the community together to address the identified needs and revise plans until the community’s needs are met.
  • Train: World Vision also trains community members, equipping people with the skills to manage and increase their resources sustainably.
  • Transition: When the community has grown healthier, safer, and more resilient, we transition out, supporting them to take full ownership of their progress. This self-sustaining model leaves the community better equipped to handle emergencies and support the growth and thriving of children.


How can I help end extreme poverty?

  • Pray: Join us in praying for the world’s most vulnerable people using our Matthew 25 prayer guides.
  • Join Believers for World Change™: Donate monthly and join a community of change-makers who help equip vulnerable people to lift themselves out of extreme poverty.
  • Sponsor a child: Show God’s love to a child and help equip them and their community with access to essentials such as clean water, healthcare, economic opportunity, and quality education.


Seven children dressed in school uniforms rush along a dirt road on their way home from school in Kenya.
Children in Katito, Kenya, race home from school. Since World Vision began its child sponsorship program in the community in 2003, remarkable transformations have occurred in education, access to clean water, livelihoods, and beyond. With the community now equipped for a healthier, safer, and more self-sufficient future, World Vision was able to successfully transition out of its supporting role in September 2023. (© 2022 World Vision/photo by Jon Warren)

Beth Gallick and Sevil Omer of World Vision’s U.S. staff contributed to this article.

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