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Extreme poverty is one of the most pressing issues of our age. It is the source of much of the world's suffering and makes mere survival into a struggle. No doubt you have heard some of the powerful statistics on what life is like for the world's poorest people, but they bear repeating. Of the 6.7 billion people in the world today:1
- 2.5 billion people live on less than $2 per day
- 1.4 billion of these live on less than $1.25 per day
- More than 1 billion people lack access to clean drinking water
- More than 800 million people go to bed hungry each day
- More than 6 million children die each year from preventable diseases
- More than 100 million children are not getting even a basic education
- More than 800 million adults cannot read or write
Extreme poverty has many causes: harsh climate, lack of fertile land, war and political strife, corruption at all levels, unfair trade policies, debt, disease, and famine. Many of these causes are themselves byproducts of poverty, creating a vicious cycle that is hard to escape.
The shape of poverty is complex. The world can no longer be cleanly separated into a group of rich nations and a group of very poor nations. Over the past fifty years, many of the poor nations have begun to slowly catch up with the rich ones. We now have a spectrum of countries from the wealthiest to the most impoverished, each with their own challenges and needs. This change should give us hope, as it shows that countries really can be pulled out of poverty through a combination of external aid and internal progress.
However, we should not let ourselves be blinded by the complexities. While some countries have made great progress, others have remained where they were, or even fallen backwards into deeper poverty. While there is no clear line on which to divide the richest from the poorest, there are nevertheless countries where poverty is endemic. Some of these can be found in Asia, some in Latin America, and many in Africa. They all need our help.
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