A world without poverty?

By Kelsi Wilsher and Joris Voorhoeve

More than 700 million people, almost 10% of the world population [1], have to subsist on an income of just $1.90 a day [2] living in poverty-stricken areas like Sub-Sahara Africa and much of South and Southeast Asia. To many of us, living in rich societies, two dollars is just loose change we might not notice if they were lost. Whilst over the years more countries and more people have been able to escape the clutches of poverty, progress is slowing.

The world is very much behind in achieving this Sustainable Development Goal (SDG 1) [3]. The present Covid-19 (Corona) crisis makes things much worse. If things do not change profoundly, a similar share of world population will still live in poverty in 2030 which is the year in which the worst forms of poverty are supposed to be eradicated [1]. The solemn promise of all the world government leaders in 2015 was that SDG 1 should be achieved by that year.

SDG 1 affects the success of achieving all other SDGs like zero hunger [4]. In fact, all the SDGs, such as basic education, health care, drinking water and sanitation are interlinked; progress in one goal, or a decline in progress in another, has a domino effect on other SDG goals.

Is poverty inevitable? No. Does poverty exists because the world does not have enough resources and money to distribute? No. Poverty exists because mankind fails to use and distribute the earth’s resources and potential income in a remotely just way. Mankind lacks the political will, not the economic means, to end the most ugly and basic ‘poverty once and for all’ [5]. The poor lack political backing. Governments and corporations lack enough courageous people demanding economic reform, such as decent wealth and income taxes on wealthy businesses and individuals. Poverty lacks conscious world citizens calling an end to the waste of resources on less urgent goals.

There are many ways in which the world could eradicate the worsts forms of poverty and their consequences such as hunger, preventable diseases, and economic suppression.

Many studies have estimated the costs of ending poverty. Expert calculations concluded that poverty in low developed countries in 2015 could have been eliminated through social protection measures at $49 per person per year [6]. It is now five years later, and we have to conclude that little progress was made and most recently, the number of the very poor has started to rise again.

Another estimate looked at the combined social sector costs (health, education and social transfers) to end poverty in low-income countries (LICs). The total social sector cost for LICs is $137 billion ($2.4 trillion for LICs & middle-income countries) and per capita it is $188. Social transfers alone cost an average of $65 per capita. For 48 of the world’s poorest countries, funding the three social sectors themselves is still not achieved. Maximising the tax effort of the governments of the poorest states would still leave them facing a financing gap of $150 billion a year. This study concludes that if poverty rates stay as predicted, in 2030 the world will still have 400 million people in extreme poverty, mainly in LICs [7]. The Corona crisis, causing wider unemployment and many more victims of starvation, makes things even worse.

Another report, based on Prof.  Jeffrey Sachs [8] estimate of what it takes to end world poverty, concluded that extreme poverty (living below $1.90 a day) could be eradicated almost immediately if the wages of the poorest were increased by $0.50 per day, or $130 per year per person [9].  To many of us 50 cents is nothing, but to those living at the bottom of the world’s economy this daily small amount can mean the difference between life and death.

Ending poverty is not as simple as providing everyone with a job, as many employed people still find themselves locked in very low paying jobs or even economic slavery [1].

To end poverty there needs to be a change to the world’s income distribution. Governments should consistently apply policies to combat poverty and its causes. A vast increase in investment from domestic and foreign sources is needed [10]. This is not just a matter of donations from the world’s richest countries and people. Economic growth that ‘improves the income-generating opportunities of the poor’ is crucial [11]. That means education, health care, jobs that yield a liveable income, and foremost: good governance which attacks corruption and misuse of resources.


[1] UN (no date) ‘Goal 1: End poverty in all its forms everywhere.’ [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/poverty/ [Accessed 8 June 2020]

[2] Roser, M., Ortiz-Ospina, E. (2019) ‘Global Extreme Poverty. Our World in Data’ [ONLINE] Available at: https://ourworldindata.org/extreme-poverty [Accessed 11 November 2019]

[3] UN (2019) ‘Economic and Social Council. Special edition: Progress towards the SDGs: Report of the Secretary-General.’ [ONLINE] Available at:   https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/content/documents/22700E_2019_XXXX_Report_of_the_SG_on_the_progress_towards_the_SDGs_Special_Edition.pdf [Accessed 8 November 2019]

[4] IFPRI (2018) ‘The multibillion-dollar question: How much will it cost to end hunger and undernutrition?’ [ONLINE] Available at: https://news.trust.org/item/20180313162224-jqsvk  [Accessed 13 November 2019]

[5] Current Affairs (2019) ‘5 Myths About Global Poverty’ [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.currentaffairs.org/2019/07/5-myths-about-global-poverty   [Accessed 23 October 2019]

[6] Development Initiatives (2015) ‘Getting poverty to zero: financing for social protection in least developed countries.’ Development Initiatives, UK [ONLINE] Available at:  http://devinit.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/Getting-poverty-to-zero.pdf [Accessed 9 June 2020]

[7] Manuel, M., Desai, H., Samman, E. and Evans, M., (2018) ‘Financing the end of extreme poverty. ODI Report.‘ [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.odi.org/sites/odi.org.uk/files/resource-documents/12392.pdf [Accessed 9 June 2020]

[8] Sachs, Jeffrey D. (2005) The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for Our Time. New York: Penguin Press.

[9] Anieskli, M., (2016) ‘The real cost of eliminating poverty in 2016.’ [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.anielski.com/real-cost-eliminating-poverty/ [Accessed 30 October 2019]

[10] Chandy, L., Noe, L., and Zhang, C., (2016) ‘The global poverty gap is falling. Billionaires could help close it. Blog post, Brookings Institution. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.brookings.edu/blog/up-front/2016/01/20/the-global-poverty-gap-is-falling-billionaires-could-help-close-it/  [Accessed 9 June 2020]

[11] World Bank (2016) ‘Feature story. Ending Extreme Poverty.’ [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.worldbank.org/en/news/feature/2016/06/08/ending-extreme-poverty [Accessed 7 November 2019]