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STANDARDS

Common Core: RH.6-8.1, RH.6-8.2, RH.6-8.7, RH.6-8.10, RI.6-8.5

C3 (D2, 6-8): Civ.6, Civ.13, Civ.14, Eco.1, Eco.9, Eco.11, Eco.13, Geo.4, His.2, His.14

NCSS: Global connections; Production, distribution, and consumption

Out of Poverty

Decades of economic growth and rising incomes are helping hundreds of millions of people worldwide escape extreme poverty

Marco Antonio Rezende/Brazil Photos/LightRocket/Getty Images (Brazil); NOAH SEELAM/AFP/Getty Images (India); ISSOUF SANOGO/AFP/Getty Images (Niger); SIA KAMBOU/AFP/Getty Images (Mali); JOHANNES EISELE/AFP/Getty Images (China); Sergio Pitamitz/DanitaDelimont.com/Newscom (Guatemala)

The world is making great strides in reducing extreme poverty, thanks to (clockwise from top left): improved farming practices (Brazil); access to clean water (India); vaccines (Nier); the spread of technology (Guatemala); investments in infrastructure (China); and education, especially for girls (Mali).

Morgana Wingard/USAID

Dhaki Wako Baneta knows what it’s like to struggle to survive. The 26-year-old mother of four (right) lives in a rural Ethiopian village where many people lack running water, access to electricity, and economic opportunities. For years, she’d wake up at 6 in the morning, milk her cows, and walk two hours along dusty roads to town to try to sell the milk. Most days, she’d spend hours in the scorching heat without making a single sale.   

But Baneta’s life has recently started to improve. A few years ago, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) introduced her to a store owner in town who agreed to buy her milk (as well as milk that Baneta collects from her neighbors) on a daily basis. Now she has a regular ­customer—and a steady income. She no longer worries about being unable to feed her children or pay for medicine, and she can spend more time with her family. 

Baneta plans to eventually use her savings to open a small store in town that sells sugar, oil, and salt. And she wants to teach other women how to start businesses of their own. 

“My life is changing,” she says. “I am a focal person in my community.”

Stories like Baneta’s have become increasingly common in recent years. Worldwide, more people are pulling themselves out of extreme poverty than ever before. (Extreme poverty is defined as living on less than $1.90 a day—often without basic necessities like food, clothing, and ­shelter.) According to the World Bank, the number of people living in extreme poverty has dropped by more than half in the past 25 years. In 1990, an estimated 1.9 billion people lived in extreme poverty. Today, about 700 million do.  

Dhaki Wako Baneta knows what it is like to struggle to survive. The 26-year-old mother of four (right) lives in a rural Ethiopian village. Many people there lack running water, access to electricity, and economic opportunities. For years, she woke up at 6 in the morning and milked her cows. Then she walked two hours along dusty roads to town to try to sell the milk. Most days, she spent hours in the scorching heat without making a single sale.

But Baneta’s life has recently started to improve. A few years ago, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) introduced her to a store owner in town. He agreed to buy her milk, plus milk that Baneta collects from her neighbors, on a daily basis. Now she has a regular ­customer and a steady income. She no longer worries about being unable to feed her children or pay for medicine. She can also spend more time with her family.

Baneta plans to eventually use her savings to open a small store in town. She hopes to sell sugar, oil, and salt. She also wants to teach other women how to start businesses of their own.

“My life is changing,” she says. “I am a focal person in my community.”

Stories like Baneta’s have become increasingly common in recent years. Worldwide, more people are pulling themselves out of extreme poverty than ever before. (Extreme poverty is defined as living on less than $1.90 a day. Often, that is without basic necessities like food, clothing, and ­shelter.) According to the World Bank, the number of people ­living in extreme poverty has dropped by more than half in the past 25 years. In 1990, an estimated 1.9 billion people lived in extreme poverty. Today, about 700 million do.

Extreme poverty is defined as living on less than $1.90 a day.

“What we’ve seen in the last two decades has been remarkable,” says Aaron Roesch of USAID. “Never before have so many people been lifted out of poverty in such a short period of time.”

Experts say that much of the growth can be attributed to rising economies around the world and huge advancements in technology and medicine. In recent years, governments, humanitarian groups, private companies, and the United Nations (U.N.) have also increased investments in education, health care, and infrastructure—roads, bridges, sewer systems, and electrical grids. Such projects help fuel economic growth and improve people’s quality of life. 

Now world leaders are working toward an ambitious goal: to eliminate extreme poverty altogether by 2030. The aim is one of the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a series of 17 targets set last fall that are meant to improve the lives of the world’s most vulnerable people. Other goals include ending hunger and ensuring gender equality. (See “Global Goals,” below.)

Jim Yong Kim, the president of the World Bank, is confident that eradicating extreme poverty in the next 14 years is within reach. But, he says, the key to the world’s success lies in growing the economies of ­developing nations in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. Those regions are home to 75 percent of the world’s poorest people. (See map below.)

Still, the progress that’s been made in the past few years has Kim optimistic: “We are the first generation in human history that can end extreme poverty.”  

“What we’ve seen in the last two decades has been remarkable,” says Aaron Roesch of USAID. “Never before have so many people been lifted out of poverty in such a short period of time.”

Experts say that much of the growth can be explained by rising economies around the world and huge advancements in technology and medicine. In recent years, governments, humanitarian groups, private companies, and the United Nations (U.N.) have also increased investments in education, health care, and infrastructure (roads, bridges, sewer systems, and electrical grids). Such projects help fuel economic growth and improve people’s quality of life.

Now world leaders are working toward an ambitious goal. They want to eliminate extreme poverty ­altogether by 2030. That aim is one of the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a series of 17 targets set last fall that are meant to improve the lives of the world’s most easily harmed people. Other goals include ending hunger and ensuring gender equality. (See “Global Goals,” below.)

Jim Yong Kim is the president of the World Bank. He is confident that wiping out extreme poverty in the next 14 years is within reach. But, he says, the key to the world’s success lies in growing the economies of ­developing nations in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. Those regions are home to 75 percent of the world’s poorest people. (See map, below.)

Still, the progress that has been made in the past few years has Kim optimistic: “We are the first generation in human history that can end extreme poverty.” 

ECONOMIC SUCCESS STORIES

For thousands of years, most people lived short lives plagued by hunger, disease, poverty, illiteracy, and other hardships. Even as the rise of modern technology improved conditions in many nations, millions of people worldwide still lacked economic opportunities and were forced to do without necessities like clean water, safe housing, and medication. 

But in the past few decades, strong economic growth and rising incomes in a few key regions have led to massive reductions in the number of people living in extreme poverty. The most dramatic example is China, the world’s most populous country, with nearly 1.4 billion people. 

In recent decades, the Communist country has been transformed from a poor, unstable nation into a global super-power—lifting more than 500 million Chinese from poverty in the process. In 1978, its leaders adopted reforms that loosened government control of the economy, encouraged people to start businesses, and opened the country to foreign investment. That led to millions of new jobs, mostly in construction and manufacturing. As China’s rural poor began moving in huge numbers to cities—where job opportunities are greater—they earned higher wages and had access to better schools and ­hospitals. Today, 4 percent of China’s population lives in extreme poverty, down from 61 percent in 1990.

India, the world’s second-most populous country, with 1.3 billion people, has undergone a similar transformation. In 1991, its government began making many of the same changes as China’s, including encouraging international companies to do business there. The nation’s economy took off, and, since 1993, its rate of extreme poverty has dropped by 25 percent.     

For thousands of years, most people lived short lives plagued by hunger, disease, poverty, illiteracy, and other hardships. Even as the rise of modern technology improved conditions in many nations, millions of people worldwide still lacked economic opportunities. They were forced to do without necessities like clean water, safe housing, and medication.

But in the past few decades, strong economic growth and rising incomes in a few key regions has led to massive reductions in the number of people living in extreme poverty. The most dramatic example is China. With nearly 1.4 billion people, it is the world’s most populous country.

In recent decades, the Communist country has changed from a poor, unstable nation into a global super­power. More than 500 million Chinese have been lifted from poverty in the process. In 1978, China’s leaders adopted reforms that loosened government control of the economy, encouraged people to start businesses, and opened the country to foreign investment. That led to millions of new jobs, mostly in construction and manufacturing. China’s rural poor began ­moving in huge numbers to cities, where job opportunities are greater. That brought them higher wages and access to ­better schools and ­hospitals. Today, only 4 percent of China’s population lives in extreme poverty, down from 61 percent in 1990.

India is the world’s second-most populous country, with 1.3 billion people. It has undergone a similar change. In 1991, India’s government began making many of the same changes as China’s, including encouraging international companies to do business there. The nation’s economy took off. Since 1993, its rate of extreme poverty has dropped by 25 percent.

MEDICAL & TECH IMPROVEMENTS

SOURCE: The World Bank

In other parts of the world, tremendous progress has been made, because of humanitarian groups and the U.N., which are bringing lifesaving medications to poor communities. Improved health care and vaccines mean that today deadly diseases like polio and measles are ­finally on their way out, the spread of malaria has been brought under control in many countries, and the number of HIV/AIDS cases is receding around the globe. Such changes help slash extreme poverty rates by creating a healthy, productive workforce. 

Increased access to affordable technology is making a difference as well. In Africa, governments, aid organizations, and private companies are working together to finance electrical grids and telecommunications systems. A recent Pew Research Center poll found that 90 percent of people in Nigeria, a poor country with a rising economy, now own cell phones—about the same proportion as in the United States. In poor nations such as Ghana, phones are helping farmers and fishermen get weather reports, sell their goods to people in other towns, and learn new skills. In Kenya and Uganda, mobile banking is helping the poor manage their money better.

Around the world, reliable electricity and light bulbs are positively influencing the lives of people like Teresia Olotai, a mother of six in rural Tanzania. For years, her children had to do their homework by candlelight or kerosene lamp, which put their hut at risk of burning down. But in 2013, Olotai’s town was connected to the energy grid as part of a USAID project called Power Africa. Now her children can safely study at night. 

“The greatest challenge we faced . . . was the darkness in our houses,” Olotai says. “The life of my kids will be better because of the electricity.” 

In other parts of the world, immense progress has been made because humanitarian groups and the U.N. are ­taking lifesaving medications to poor communities. Improved health care and vaccines mean that deadly ­diseases like polio and measles are ­finally on their way out. The spread of malaria has been brought under control in many countries, and there are fewer cases of HIV/AIDS worldwide. Such changes help slash extreme poverty rates by creating a healthy, productive workforce.

Increased access to affordable technology is making a difference as well. In Africa, governments, aid organizations, and private companies are working together to provide money for electrical grids and telecommunications systems. Nigeria is a poor country with a rising economy. A recent Pew Research Center poll found that 90 percent of the people there now own cell phones. That is about the same proportion as in the United States. In poor nations such as Ghana, phones are helping farmers and fishermen get weather reports, sell their goods to people in other towns, and learn new skills. In Kenya and Uganda, mobile banking is helping poor people manage their money better.

Around the world, reliable electricity and light bulbs are helping improve the lives of people like Teresia Olotai, a mother of six in rural Tanzania. For years, her children had to do their homework by candlelight or kerosene lamp. That put their hut at risk of burning down. But in 2013, Olotai’s town was connected to the energy grid as part of a USAID project called Power Africa. Now her children can safely study at night.

“The greatest challenge we faced . . . was the darkness in our houses,” Olotai says. “The life of my kids will be better because of the electricity.”  

Morgana Wingard/USAID

POVERTY HOT SPOTS

Yet despite such gains, hundreds of millions of people worldwide, including in China, India, and even the U.S., continue to live in extreme poverty. Many of these people lack basic services like education and health care, aren’t allowed to vote or participate in their government, and face discrimination. According to USAID, nearly two thirds of the world’s poorest people live in countries affected by violence and conflict.

In Syria, for example, a brutal civil war has forced more than 11 million people to flee for their lives, often with little more than the clothes on their backs. The U.N. estimates that one in six Syrian refugee households in neighboring Jordan live in extreme poverty. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which has been a war zone for decades, more than three quarters of the population lives in extreme poverty.

Yet despite such gains, hundreds of millions of people worldwide, including in China, India, and even the U.S., continue to live in extreme poverty. Many of these people lack basic services like education and health care, are not allowed to vote or participate in their government, and face discrimination. According to USAID, nearly two thirds of the world’s poorest people live in countries affected by violence and conflict.

In Syria, for example, a brutal civil war has forced more than 11 million people to flee for their lives. Often, they go with little more than the clothes on their backs. The U.N. estimates that one in six Syrian refugee households in neighboring Jordan live in extreme poverty. The Democratic Republic of the Congo has been a war zone for decades. There, more than three quarters of the population lives in extreme poverty.

To wipe out extreme poverty, governments need to do more to address their people's needs.

Because the poor lack resources, says Roesch, they’re especially vulnerable to extreme weather or natural disasters. A drought, flood, or earthquake can have devastating consequences, pushing families even further into poverty. 

That’s what happened to an 18-year-old named Israel in Nicaragua. Three years ago, his father passed away, ­forcing the teen to drop out of school and get a job on a coffee plantation. For a while, Israel made enough money to help his family survive. But then rising temperatures in Central America began destroying the coffee beans, so fewer ­workers were needed to harvest them.

Before long, Israel’s income plummeted, and his family couldn’t afford to buy school uniforms for his younger siblings. That left his mother, Maria, with an excruciating choice: “If I buy shoes or clothing, I don’t have enough for food.”   

Because poor people lack resources, says Roesch, they are especially likely to suffer when extreme weather or natural disasters strike. A drought, flood, or earthquake can be devastating, pushing families even further into poverty.

That is what happened to an 18-year-old named Israel in Nicaragua. Three years ago, his father died. The teen had to drop out of school and get a job on a coffee plantation. For a while, Israel made enough money to help his family survive. But then rising temperatures in Central America began to destroy the coffee beans. That meant fewer ­workers were needed to harvest them.

Before long, Israel’s income plummeted. His family could no longer afford to buy school uniforms for his younger siblings. That left his mother, Maria, with a painful choice: “If I buy shoes or clothing, I don’t have enough for food.”  

HARD WORK AHEAD

To reach the U.N.’s goal of wiping out extreme poverty by 2030, experts say, governments need to do more to address the needs of their people. That means investing in health care, education, and technology. They also need to build safety nets that prevent people from falling back into poverty. 

For many poor countries in Africa and Asia, increasing the spread of technology is particularly important, says Roesch. Nearly 1.4 billion people worldwide lack access to reliable electricity. Expanding access to education is critical too. According to the World Bank, an additional year of schooling in developing nations increases an individual’s lifelong earnings by about 10 percent. Many countries also need to improve their infrastructure.

As part of the SDGs, world leaders, including President Barack Obama, have pledged to do their part. Last fall, Obama promised that the U.S. would continue to fund global development programs and help nations in trouble. 

Individuals can help too, notes Roesch, by donating to aid organizations that help the poor. “We all have a part to play in ending this crisis,” he says. 

Despite the long road ahead, many experts are confident that we’re on the right path. After all, they point out, we’ve already made tremendous progress in reducing the worst of the world’s suffering.

“Extreme poverty is not inevitable. We can eradicate it,” says Nick Galasso of Oxfam, an international aid group. “It’s going to take a lot of hard work, but we can get there.”

To reach the U.N.’s goal of wiping out extreme poverty by 2030, experts say, governments need to do more to address the needs of their people. That means investing in health care, education, and technology. They also need to build safety nets that prevent people from falling back into poverty.

For many poor countries in Africa and Asia, increasing the spread of technology is particularly important, says Roesch. Nearly 1.4 billion people worldwide lack access to reliable electricity. Expanding access to education is critical too. According to the World Bank, an additional year of schooling in developing nations increases an individual’s lifelong earnings by about 10 percent. Many countries also need to improve their infrastructure.

As part of the SDGs, world leaders have pledged to do their part. That includes President Barack Obama. Last fall, he promised that the U.S. would continue to fund global development programs and help nations in trouble.

Individuals can help too, notes Roesch, by donating to aid organizations that help the poor. “We all have a part to play in ending this crisis,” he says.

Despite the long road ahead, many experts are confident that we are on the right path. After all, they point out, we have already made huge progress in reducing the worst of the world’s suffering.

“Extreme poverty is not inevitable. We can [wipe it out],” says Nick Galasso of Oxfam, an international aid group. “It’s going to take a lot of hard work, but we can get there.”

CORE QUESTION: How does increasing access to health care and education help people rise out of extreme poverty?

Global Goals

Last September, the United Nations adopted 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) aimed at tackling poverty, hunger, climate change, and other global problems by 2030. Here are a few of the goals:

End hunger.

To ensure that everyone has access to affordable, healthy food, the U.N. has pledged to invest in rural development programs and improve farming practices. 

To ensure that everyone has access to affordable, healthy food, the U.N. has pledged to invest in rural development programs and improve farming practices. 

Combat climate change.

Experts say climate change is one of the greatest barriers to economic growth. Rising global temperatures contribute to droughts, floods, and other extreme weather events, which disproportionately affect the poor. World leaders have vowed to increase the use of renewable energy, such as wind and solar, as part of the SDGs. 

Experts say climate change is one of the greatest barriers to economic growth. Rising global temperatures contribute to droughts, floods, and other extreme weather events, which disproportionately affect the poor. World leaders have vowed to increase the use of renewable energy, such as wind and solar, as part of the SDGs. 

Ensure gender equality.

Many women and girls face discrimination and violence, especially in developing nations. By 2030, the U.N. wants to increase girls’ access to education and guarantee that women are allowed to play active roles in their communities. 

Many women and girls face discrimination and violence, especially in developing nations. By 2030, the U.N. wants to increase girls’ access to education and guarantee that women are allowed to play active roles in their communities. 

Join the Fight!

Eradicating extreme poverty requires everyone’s help. Here are a few ways to get involved:

Stay informed.

Read more about the mission to end extreme poverty worldwide by 2030 and the U.N.’s other targets at globalgoals.org. 

Read more about the mission to end extreme poverty worldwide by 2030 and the U.N.’s other targets at globalgoals.org. 

Donate.

Give to an aid organization that helps the world’s poor, such as Oxfam, Save the Children, UNICEF, or Global Citizens Network. 

Give to an aid organization that helps the world’s poor, such as Oxfam, Save the Children, UNICEF, or Global Citizens Network. 

Raise awareness.

Let others know about the extreme poverty crisis. Spread the word on social media with the hashtag #globalgoals.

Let others know about the extreme poverty crisis. Spread the word on social media with the hashtag #globalgoals.

Extreme Poverty Around the World

This map shows the rate of extreme poverty by country.

This map shows the rate of extreme poverty by country.

Jim McMahon/Mapman®

QUESTIONS

1. Which country has the world’s highest extreme poverty rate?

2. That nation is an island in which body of water?

3. Most countries with high rates of extreme poverty are on which continent?

4. Which countries in the Americas have extreme poverty rates above 20 percent?

5. Which Asian country has the highest rate of extreme poverty?

6. What percent of Nigerians live in extreme poverty?

7. In which direction would you travel to get from Haiti to Turkmenistan?

8.  The equator runs through which country with an extreme poverty rate above 60 percent?

9. Which country with an extreme poverty rate of 44 percent shares a border with India?

10. Why might data be unavailable for certain countries, such as Syria?

1. Which country has the world’s highest extreme poverty rate?

2. That nation is an island in which body of water?

3. Most countries with high rates of extreme poverty are on which continent?

4. Which countries in the Americas have extreme poverty rates above 20 percent?

5. Which Asian country has the highest rate of extreme poverty?

6. What percent of Nigerians live in extreme poverty?

7. In which direction would you travel to get from Haiti to Turkmenistan?

8.  The equator runs through which country with an extreme poverty rate above 60 percent?

9. Which country with an extreme poverty rate of 44 percent shares a border with India?

10. Why might data be unavailable for certain countries, such as Syria?

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