The Hard Facts Of World Poverty And What You Can Do

One of the biggest issues affecting societies across the globe is poverty, and its many causes and effects. Most volunteers naturally want to travel to developing areas of the world, as these areas are perceived, rightly, to be more in need of assistance when it comes to tackling issues like lack of education and basic skills, and resources in general.

But even Westernised first-world countries can be affected badly by poverty caused by general economic changes or in a sudden crisis – for example, the steep rise in homelessness in the USA that was caused by the 2008 economic crash, or the Hurricane Katrina disaster that hit mostly low-income areas along the Gulf of Mexico – there’s nowhere on Earth that’s immune!

In past history, only a tiny elite group of people enjoyed a life that was not (by today’s standards) one of extreme poverty. Middle classes were non-existent and the vast majority lived hand-to-mouth, by hard labour and subsistence farming. With the onset of industrialisation and rising productivity, the number of people living in poverty started to decrease, and the health of the population has improved over the last two centuries – which in turn led to more people living to adulthood, and more babies being born, and of course population increase. So the absolute number of poor people in the world has now increased – and while living standards have generally improved for much of the world’s population, most people still live in conditions unimaginable by most people who were born and raised in modern, affluent cities.

As a prospective volunteer, you will probably already be aware of some of the hard facts of global poverty, and you may have been inspired to pursue volunteering by a knowledge of these issues and a desire to help your fellow man in any way you can. However, in our busy day-to-day lives, we often forget the enormous scale and severity of the issues that the rest of Planet Earth faces. It helps to be reminded of these things sometimes.

  1. Nearly a full half of the world’s population — more than 3 billion people — live on less than €2 a day.
  2. More than 1.3 billion people live in extreme poverty — on less than €1 a day.
  3. More than 1 billion children worldwide are living in poverty. UNICEF statistics report that upwards of 23000 children die each day due to poverty.
  4. 80% of the world population lives on less than €10 a day.
  5. 805 million people worldwide do not have enough food to eat.
  6. Hunger is the number one cause of death in the world, killing more than HIV/AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis combined.
  7. More than 750 million people lack adequate access to clean drinking water. Diarrhoea caused by inadequate drinking water, sanitation, and basic hygiene kills an estimated 842 000 people every year globally, or approximately 2 300 people per day.
  8. Preventable diseases like diarrhoea and pneumonia take the lives of 2 million children a year whose families are too poor to afford proper treatment.
  9. As of 2013, 21.8 million children under 1 year of age worldwide had not received vaccinations against three of the most deadly childhood diseases: diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis.
  10. About 72 million primary school age children in the developing world were not in school in 2005 (43% boys and 57% girls).
  11. Nearly a billion people were unable to read a book or even sign their names by the turn of the 21st century.
  12. A quarter of all humans live without any electricity — approximately 1.8 billion people.
  13. Less than one per cent of what the world spends every year on weapons was needed to put every child into school by the year 2000…
  14. Oxfam estimates that it would take about €55 billion annually to end extreme global poverty - less than a QUARTER of the income of the world’s top 100 richest billionaires!

These statistics are difficult to read, and perhaps even harder to truly comprehend – how is it possible that numbers that belong in a physics textbook are now to be applied to the problems of living human beings? How can such imbalances exist, and so much money be ploughed into things like military spending when people are needlessly suffering? You might feel that whatever you can possibly offer in the face of such overwhelming problems is pointless. You’re just one little drop in a huge ocean! 

But before you get disheartened, remind yourself that what you’re doing is DEFINITELY important.  Volunteering is a powerful, practical and sustainable way to tackle poverty and inequality. Volunteers across the board, in whichever program you choose, are helping in the development of local, national and global communities. 

What impact can I have on poverty?

For a start, you are contributing your skills and knowledge to communities that have a shortage of them. But beyond WHAT you are bringing to communities, you are also contributing with HOW you work with organisations and communities - supporting change through the building of relationships.

Volunteers develop increased self-confidence in their power as individuals to influence change and inspire others. They help to encourage a collective responsibility by collaborating and working together to develop grassroots, locally-managed outcomes. They inspire changes in behaviour and attitude within a far wider group than they might realise. 

Volunteering – is it valuable?

The simple answer is, of course! No, the big scary numbers you read online or see on the news are not going to get smaller overnight.  But volunteering has been described as the ultimate expression of human relationships – people acting on behalf of their communities, because of a desire to contribute and help in the bigger picture that extends beyond just their own families and friends. Volunteers are usually highly engaged and committed to the results of their efforts, and volunteering is truly democratic, in a sense – every day that you contribute by volunteering is a step closer to what you believe the world should be like. If you take that one step as a local, national or global citizen – you are already making sustainable change happen.

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