Extreme Poverty

What is extreme poverty?

85% of extremely poor people live in remote, rural areas. These areas lack infrastructure such as roads, power grids, water delivery, sewage treatment, and airstrips. Such geographic isolation restricts access to basic tools and knowledge freely available in developed nations, like disease prevention, standard hygiene practices, water purification, basic financial services, books and literature, the Internet, computer skills training, and more. Remote, rural populations are not only difficult to reach, but are also hard to serve due to low population density and dispersed communities. The increased security risk, high transaction costs, and low household resources are challenges that governments, NGOs, and corporations have to face to reach this population.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have provided renewed resolve for eradicating global extreme poverty by 2030. The SDGs, adopted September 2015 by UN members, state their first goal as ending extreme poverty. While the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) targeted halving $1 per day poverty by 2015, the SDGs target complete elimination of extreme poverty as defined by $1.90 per day income per capita. Sub-Saharan Africa in general and fragile states in particular are presently situated to be holdouts in this fight against extreme poverty.

Currently over 50% of people living in extreme poverty live in sub-Saharan Africa and by 2030 that number is projected to rise to 90%. State fragility will be a driving factor in the concentration of extreme poverty, as fragile states are forced to prioritize scarce resources toward security and away from already limited public services.

736 million

of the world’s population are living in extreme poverty1


of extremely poor people live in rural areas2


of extremely poor people live in Sub-Saharan Africa3

Numbers present only an academic understanding of the issue. To better understand what extreme poverty feels, smells and sounds like:

Imagine the look on a mother’s face as she decides which of her starving children will not eat that day because even if she doesn’t eat, there still isn’t enough food to go around.

Imagine the hot sun, pouring sweat, blistered feet and aching back of an 8-year-old girl walking two-and-a-half hours each day to fetch water. She fills up her 5-gallon jug with water that might not even be clean, heaves it to her head, turns and walks back home once again.

Imagine sitting at a rickety desk in a dirt-floored schoolhouse desperately wanting read. But there are no books available, your “teacher” can barely read himself, and you are so hungry that you feel faint and can’t concentrate on what he’s saying.

Imagine the sound of crying children, sick and dehydrated from diarrhea. They are so dehydrated that they cry without tears. The medical clinic is miles away, and even if you made it there in time, you don’t have any money to purchase medicine that could save their lives.

Imagine dreaming of having your own business, of providing for your wife and children and giving them a better life. But you have no savings, no access to capital and no training to help you start something on your own.

Not only is extreme poverty a crushing and often deadly condition, but it is also a contributing factor to many of the world’s biggest problems: HIV/AIDS, child slavery, unsafe drinking water, corruption, the spread of Ebola and 21st century terrorism and insurgency.

“Extreme poverty is the greatest humanitarian crisis of our time.”

Jake Harriman, CEO and Founder, Nuru International

There has been a lot of progress in the last 30 years but the work is far from done.

Without success in fragile states, the international community will not achieve its goal of ending extreme poverty.

“Development consists of the removal of various types of unfreedoms that leave people with little choice and little opportunity of exercising their reasoned agency.”

Amartya Sen, Nobel Laureate and Professor of Economics and Philosophy at Harvard University