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End of extreme poverty by 2030? Not so fast

Big statements about ending extreme poverty by 2030 were tossed about last year.  It is a possible outcome, though far from certain.

Present estimates say that there are 1.2 billion people still experiencing extreme poverty. That means that they have, on average, less than $1.25 each day. That $1.25 is not the US dollar converted into a foreign currency. It is an equivalent to how much that $1.25 could buy in the US in 2005. Or something like this:


If the social, economic and cultural forces that keep people in poverty are not addressed soon, there could be as many as 1 billion people living in extreme poverty in 2030. That is the warning contained in The Chronic Poverty Report 2014-2015: The road to zero extreme poverty, a report from the Chronic Poverty Advisory Network, hosted by the London-based think tank the Overseas Development Institute.

To avoid this possibility, the authors recommend that the world invest in three things: social assistance, education and economic growth that reaches the world’s poorest.  Not doing so would represent a major slow down in anti-poverty progress that saw historic gains over the past two decades. According to the World Bank, 700 million fewer people live were living in extreme poverty in 2010 as compared to 1990.

The more than 1 billion people living in extreme poverty can essentially get one item from the McDonald’s menu each day. However they have to use that money to pay for food, school, medicine, shelter and more. Getting people above the point of extreme poverty matter both because they have more money for support and because it is the threshold where things start improving.

Though it is not a guarantee. The researchers reveal that some 30% to 40% of people in rural Kenya and South Africa who escaped poverty, did not stay out. The findings from Ethiopia are worse where only 40% of people remained out of extreme poverty in the period between 1999 and 2009. There is variance in the rate of return, but it happens in even the more successful nations.


Such a possibility is why the authors warn that as many as 1 billion people could be living in extreme poverty in 2030. The recommendation for education is meant to alleviate the problem. Ensuring that more people receive higher levels of education puts them in a better position to stay out of poverty.

“Education and social assistance are universally relevant, and require massive public resourcing and political support in the coming years,” write the authors.

Ethiopia is held up as a success story for attaining near universal enrollment of boys and girls in primary schools by 2008-9. The success is due to changes in priorities from the government. Public expenditure as a percentage of the overall budget tripled over 25 years. Further targeting of undeserved areas and the vulnerable by ensuring that regions had more leadership over education programs helped make sure that more people benefited.

Further suggestions in the report include universal healthcare and disaster risk management. They are in response to the many things that can keep people in extreme poverty, from natural disasters to conflict to unemployment. All is to say that the full report is a call for more. Keeping the course will maintain hype about ending extreme poverty while not moving the needle in any significant way.

Or as the authors write, “Such investment could create a virtuous circle of poverty reduction, national economic growth and expanded individual opportunity…Put simply, it will not be possible to ‘get to zero’ unless development policies put those living in chronic poverty front and centre.”


About Author

Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]