In many ways we live in a world of plenty. Economic growth has produced incredible wealth. Many parts of the world have escaped from economic hardship. Countries like China, which were once very poor, are now solid middle income countries. But sustainable development calls for prosperity that is broad based. And, despite living in a world of plenty, there are still large numbers of people, more than a billion, more than one out of every seven persons on the planet, living in extreme poverty. What is the face of extreme poverty? If you look at a small farmer At this peasant living in Northern Ethiopia. There’s no modern transport around you don’t see electricity grids in the distance. You see a pretty parched environment. That’s not a complete coincidence. A dry land area. Of, poor farmers, eking out a living, trying to ensure enough annual food production to feed themselves their families. Maybe to get that surplus to bring to market for a little bit of cash income. Another part of poverty?
Have a look at a street in a slum of Nairobi. Millions of people live in the slums of African cities like Nairobi hundreds of millions of people live in urban slums around the world. This is another face of poverty. While it remains true to this day that more than half of the world’s population living in extreme poverty lived in rural areas, of course, the urban poverty is known to us.
Often the urban poverty is living right next to a great urban wealth, and what do we see in this street in Nairobi. You see an unpaved, muddy road. People living without modern power, probably without any modern sewerage or sanitation. In other words, even though these are people living in an urban area of several million people, they’re also like that peasant in Northern Ethiopia, unable to secure basic needs. Access to emergency healthcare. Access to basic clean power in the form of electricity or natural gas for cooking. Lack of access to safe drinking water and sanitation, and barely eking out a monetary living that can meet even the most basic of minimum needs of clothing and safe shelter.
When we speak about poverty, therefore, we’re necessarily speaking about a many dimensional concept. Poverty is usually viewed as lack of adequate income, but I want us to think about it as a lack of income, a lack of access to basic health services. A lack of access to basic amenities that most of the world takes for granted. Safe water, sanitation, electricity, access for children to, a decent education. People living in extreme poverty are people who cannot meet these basic needs. And while proportions of the world living in extreme poverty have been shrinking markedly in recent decades, the numbers are still staggering.
Depending on one’s estimate and one’s exact categorization of extreme poverty, it’s fair to say, that between one and two billion people in the world are struggling to meet basic needs. And probably fair to say, that around one billion people struggle for daily survival. Will they have enough to eat? Will polluted water cause a disease that threatens their lives? Will a mosquito bite carrying malaria carry away their child because they can’t get access to the $0.80 dose of medicine needed to cure the disease.
That’s the struggle of daily survival for people living in extreme poverty. Where is this poverty? Well, one place to look is the average incomes in different parts of the world. Take the national production of the economy, divided by the population so that one gets the amount of income generated per person, per year, in different countries of the world. And if you put them in a color code as you see here. You can see a huge variation in income levels around the world. Those dark blue areas, there aren’t too many of them. Canada, and the United States. Western Europe. Australia and New Zealand. Japan and South Korea. Those are the high income parts of the world. And by and large, extreme poverty has been eliminated from those countries. But take the bright red or beige parts of the world. There you’ll see the greatest poverty.
And what you can see very, very clearly in this world map, is that extreme poverty today is concentrated mainly in two regions of the world.
The first is in tropical Africa. That’s the part of Africa in between the northern African countries and the countries at the very south of Africa, and you see on average, a lot of poverty within those countries. Often half or so of the population, living in extreme poverty. And the other concentrated part of poverty in the world is in south Asia. India, Pakistan, Nepal, and Bangladesh, nearby countries that are sometimes experiencing economic growth but still with vast numbers of people, often in rural villages, living without security of their basic needs.
Thank goodness, in both Africa. And in South Asia. The proportions of households living in extreme poverty are coming down. Thank goodness for the world as a whole, the numbers have been coming down. But clearly, we still have a very serious challenge, a moral challenge and a practical challenge people living in extreme poverty, face risks of survival. Often countries where poverty rates are very high, succumb to violence, to terrorism, to epidemic diseases, to mass migrations, to environmental disasters, that not only are tragedies for them, but can trigger unrest and instability among their neighbors and in other parts of the world as well.
That make their lives distinctly more difficult, often more painful and tragic than lives of people in other parts of the world. Once again, where is the concentration shown in this map of high mortality rates of young children? In this particular map. What’s shown is the mortality of children under the age of five.
For every 1,000 births, how many children won’t survive til their fifth birthday? What’s called the under five mortality rate. Once again we see that Africa is really the epicenter and tropical Africa is where the highest burdens of disease still reside. It’s a stark fact that even in countries where there’s a tremendous amount of economic progress, there can still be very significant pockets of poverty that are unrelieved.
A lot of inequality, lack of social inclusion, and major gaps between rich and poor. And sometimes the starkness of that is right in front of our eyes as in the view of Rio de Janeiro that you’re looking at right now, where in the foreground, you see the low lying favelas, the slum areas of Rio. And in the background, of course, you see the, high rises, the, the modern, very high quality of life, of, the wealthier people of Rio de Janeiro. While there are some parts of the world where most of the population is poor. There are a number of countries that have reached what we call the middle income status. Countries like Brazil where there still are important pockets of poverty that need to be releived. As always with sustainable development, there’s hope.
There are things that can be done to help people meet their basic needs, to help them overcome that daily struggle for survival. One of those opportunities that I find most exciting is shown here in this picture of this valiant young woman a community health worker. Working, with her backpack of medical supplies, to make sure that if an illness does strike one of those very poor, small holder farmers, one of their children, that there’s a cure, a remedy on the way.And through that we can extend the benefits of modern health and medical sciences to reach everyone in the world. Well, we’ve already noticed that the degree of poverty has a kind of geography to it.
On this fascinating depiction of income on our globe, shown not as a maps, but as a globe where the height of each point on the globe measures the economic output of that point. You can see those startlingly high levels of GNP on the islands of Japan. You can see that in the east coast of Australia the very high levels of development shown by the markers, but you can also see the low lying areas in England, China, in India. And the point that I want to emphasize in looking at this alternative depiction, of the world economy, is that geography of wealth and poverty is complex. Not only broad regions. Say, Europe versus Africa. Or Japan versus India, show stark differences. But even regions within countries, the coastal areas versus the interior of countries show very, very big differences. When we analyze in depth the nature of extreme poverty, the causes of why it continues to this day even in a world of plenty.
We’ll spend a lot of time looking at some of these geographic features. Is the county, or the, city on a coast where trade is easy? Is it in the interior where it might be more economically isolated? Is it in a good climate zone where food production is easy? Or it is, is it in a dry land region as we saw in Karo, Ethiopia where food production is a lot more difficult because of the low level and the instability of rainfall. Is it a healthy climate, where, disease burdens are naturally low? Or is it a place where killer diseases like malaria are more easily transmitted? Geography still today plays a big role in shaping wealth and poverty. By understanding the role of geography, we’ll make a big advance, not only in understanding why extreme poverty continues in a world of plenty, but what we can do about it.