The Least of These

Where we’ll help - people in the greatest need

The richest 20% of the world’s population has 74% of the income, while the poorest 20% has only 2%. Over a billion of these people are currently trying to live on less than $1 a day, a state commonly referred to as extreme poverty.

Percentage shares of world income

It has gotten worse over time. In 1980 the world’s poorest 10% lived on the equivalent of 72 cents a day or less.

The same number of people had 79 cents per day in 1990 and 78 cents in 1999, which, accounting for inflation, was worth only 58 cents.

Instead of women and children being put first, they are being left as the last to receive help. For example, 2.2 million people die each year of diarrhea, and most of them are children under the age of five. This is equivalent to one child dying from this cause every 15 seconds, or to 20 jumbo jets crashing every day.

The following chart shows the income per day of everyone in the world by region. The height indicates the number of people. The higher a blob goes at any given point, the more people who are making the amount at that level.

Over one-third of those living in extreme poverty are in Africa. Of the 630 million in Africa, 66% (420 million) are living in extreme poverty.

Regional income distribution

In other regions, 23% of the people (330 million) living in South Asia are in extreme poverty, 20% (480 million) of those in East Asia are, 8% (40 million) in Latin America, 2% (10 million) in Eastern Europe and 0% in the U.S., Canada, Western Europe, Japan and the other industrialized nations belonging to the OECD, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

By almost all measures, Africa is falling behind. According to the World Bank, the number of extremely poor people in Sub-Saharan Africa almost doubled from 1981 to 2001. This is a terrible human tragedy. Based on current trends, by 2015, Africa will go from having one-third of all its people living in extreme poverty to having more than half.

Africa has been hit by what is akin to a perfect storm of disease, lack of aid, warfare, drought, ethnic factionalism, unfair trade, challenging climate, corruption and other problems. The net impact of these has been devastating.

Child mortality in Sub-Saharan Africa in 2003 was 18%, while it was 9.2 in South Asia, 5.6 in the Arab African states, 4% in East Asia, 4.1% in Central and Eastern Europe, 3.2% in Latin America and .6% in the OECD.

Sub-Saharan Africa accounts for 45% of all child deaths with 4.8 million dying each year. In the seven seconds it took to read this paragraph, a child died there. An infant mortality rate of 18% means that if a friend of yours has a baby, there would be a roughly 1 in 5 chance you would be attending the child’s funeral in the next four years.

The balls on the chart below represent all of the world’s countries with their population size determining the size of the balls, and GDP per capita and infant mortality rate determining their locations on the chart. The lower the infant mortality rate, the higher a country is, and the greater the wealth, the further to the right it is.

As you can see, African countries are far below and behind most of the rest of the world.

Income and health by individual country

By the end of 2000, about 36 million people in the world had HIV/AIDS. 70% of them were in Sub-Saharan Africa — and just 0.1% of those had access to medical care. Due largely to the ravages of the AIDS epidemic, life expectancy in Botswana went from 46.75 in 1975 to 56.95 in 1992 to 22.95 in 2002.

The region accounts for 43 million of the 115 million children worldwide who are out of school.

For all of these reasons, we will focus on Africa first and expand elsewhere.

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