In 1990, more than 60% of people in East Asia were in extreme poverty. Now only 3.5% are. – Updated by Dylan Matthews Oct 2, 2016, 4:00p

Many more people have many more yuan. ChinaFotoPress/Getty Images

Many more people have many more yuan. ChinaFotoPress/Getty Images

Here’s an amazing fact: The number of people in extreme poverty fell by 114 million from 2012 to 2013.

That is a simply massive one-year decline, and it’s not even the biggest drop in recent years. From 2010 to 2011, global poverty fell by 132 million people. From 2008 to 2013, the number fell by an average of 88 million people per year. If that rate of progress keeps up, global poverty will be eliminated in less than a decade.

These numbers come from a new World Bank report, which, while recognizing what a massive achievement this is, argues that the pace of progress will likely slow down.

There are a couple of reasons for that. A major one is that much of the poverty reduction in the past couple of decades has happened in East Asia, while progress has been slower in sub-Saharan Africa. The result is that while a narrow majority of poor people in 1990 lived in East Asia, now fewer than 10 percent do, and a majority live in sub-Saharan Africa. If that region continues to lag on poverty reduction, we should expect the rate of progress to fall.

But the bigger problem is one that’s become all too familiar to developed countries: inequality. If developing countries figure out how to redistribute income effectively and share the benefits of growth with poor populations, then there’s no reason progress should slow down. Eliminating poverty by 2030 should be totally doable. But if, as in rich countries, inequality is allowed to increase, eliminating extreme poverty becomes that much more challenging.

Why the last leg of poverty elimination will be tough

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Andrew Youn: 3 reasons why we can win the fight against poverty – Filmed February 2016 at TED2016

Half of the world’s poorest people have something in common: they’re small farmers. In this eye-opening talk, activist Andrew Youn shows how his group, One Acre Fund, is helping these farmers lift themselves out of poverty by delivering to them life-sustaining farm services that are already in use all over the world. Enter this talk believing we’ll never be able to solve hunger and extreme poverty, and leave it with a new understanding of the scale of the world’s biggest problems.

Prosperity Rising – By Steven Radeltt January/February 2016 Issue

The Success of Global Development—and How to Keep It Going

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Since the early 1990s, daily life in poor countries has been changing profoundly for the better: one billion people have escaped extreme poverty, average incomes have doubled, infant death rates have plummeted, millions more girls have enrolled in school, chronic hunger has been cut almost in half, deaths from malaria and other diseases have declined dramatically, democracy has spread far and wide, and the incidence of war—even with Syria and other conflicts—has fallen by half. This unprecedented progress goes way beyond China and India and has touched hundreds of millions of people in dozens of developing countries across the globe, from Mongolia to Mozambique, Bangladesh to Brazil.

Yet few people are aware of these achievements, even though, in aggregate, they rank among the most important in human history. In 2013, the Swedish survey organization Novus Group International asked Americans how they thought the share of the world’s population living in extreme poverty had changed over the last two decades. Sixty-six percent of respondents said that they thought it had doubled, and another 29 percent said that it hadn’t changed. Only five percent knew (or guessed) the truth: that the share of people living in extreme poverty had fallen by half.

Perhaps that ignorance explains why Washington has done so little to take advantage of these promising trends, giving only tepid support to nascent democracies, making limited investments in economic development and in new health and agricultural technologies, and failing to take the lead in building more effective international institutions. Whatever the reason, many developing countries are now responding to what they perceive as the United States’ indifference by looking elsewhere—especially toward China—for deeper engagement and advice on how to keep growing. At the same time, climate change, the slowdown in global growth, and rising tensions in the Middle East and beyond have begun to threaten further progress. As a result, the United States now risks missing out on a historic chance to strengthen its global leadership and help create a safer, more prosperous, and more democratic world—just at the moment when it could help the most.


Global poverty is falling faster today than at any time in human history. In 1993, about two billion people were trapped in extreme poverty (defined by the World Bank as living on less than $1.90 per day); by 2012, that number had dropped to less than one billion. The industrialization of China is a big part of the story, of course, but even excluding that country, the number of extreme poor has fallen by more than 400 million. Since the 1980s, more than 60 countries have reduced the number of their citizens who are impoverished, even as their overall populations have grown.


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26 charts and maps that show the world is getting much, much better – by Dylan Matthews on December 29, 2014

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The press — and humans in general — have a strong negativity bias. Bad economic news gets morecoverage than good news. Negative experiences affect people more, and for longer, than positive ones. So it’s natural for things like Russia’s incursion into Ukraine or the rise of ISIS or the Ebola outbreak to weigh on us more than, say, the fact that extreme poverty has fallen by half since 1990, or that life expectancy is increasing, especially in poor countries. But for Thanksgiving it’s worth paying some attention to the latter factors. The world is getting much, much better on a whole variety of dimensions. Here are just a few.

Economic progress

  1. Extreme poverty has fallen

    This is probably the most important chart on this list. The extraordinary rate of economic growth in India and China — as well as slower but still significant growth in other developing countries — has led to a huge decline in the share of the world population living on less than $1.25 a day, from 52 percent in 1981 to 43 percent in 1990 to 21 percent in 2010. That’s a low bar for what counts as poverty, and some development experts are arguing we should be using a global poverty line of $10-15 a dayinstead, but that very debate is a sign of the tremendous progress made in recent decades.

  2. Hunger is falling

    This animated map shows the Global Hunger Index — a measure of undernutrition calculated by the International Food Policy Research Institute — across the world form 1990 to 2014. Red and orange countries have especially high levels of hunger and undernutrition, while green ones have lower rates. So it’s encouraging to watch the globe gradually get less red and more green over the past 24 years.

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Global warming could udercut efforts to eradicate poverty – November 24, 2014 12:54AM ET

World Bank report finds climate change would cut into crop yields, possibly set back anti-poverty efforts in many areas

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Climate change could undermine efforts to defeat extreme poverty around the globe, the World Bank warned Sunday.

In a new report on the impact of global warming, the bank said sharp temperature rises would cut deeply into crop yields and water supplies in many areas and possibly set back efforts to bring populations out of poverty.

“Climate change poses a substantial and escalating risk to development progress that could undermine global efforts to eliminate extreme poverty and promote shared prosperity,” the report said.

“Without strong, early action, warming could exceed 1.5-2 degrees Celsius and the resulting impacts could significantly worsen intra- and intergenerational poverty in multiple regions across the globe.”

An increase of 2 degrees Celsius is an increase of 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit.

Past and predicted emissions from power plants, factories and cars have locked the globe on a path towards an average temperature rise of almost 2.7 Fahrenheit above pre-industrial times by 2050, it said.

That means that extreme heat events, rising sea levels and more frequent tropical cyclones may now be unavoidable.

World Bank President Jim Yong Kim, in a telephone news conference on the report, titled “Turn down the Heat, Confronting the New Climate Normal”, called the findings “alarming.”

“Dramatic climate changes and weather extremes are already affecting millions of people around the world, damaging crops and coastlines and putting water security at risk,” Kim wrote in the report.

As examples of extremes, he pointed to the hottest November day in Australia during a recent Group of 20 summit “or the five to six feet of snow that just fell on Buffalo” in the United States.

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