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The World Bank Group’s goals are to end extreme poverty and promote shared prosperity. This mission underpins our analytical, operational, and convening work in more than 145 client countries. For almost 25 years, extreme poverty — the first of the world’s Sustainable Development Goals — was steadily declining. 

Now, for the first time in a generation, the quest to end poverty has suffered a setback.

Global extreme poverty rose in 2020 for the first time in over 20 years as the disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic compounded the forces of conflict and climate change, which were already slowing poverty reduction progress. About 100 million additional people are living in poverty as a result of the pandemic.

In 2018, four out of five people below the international poverty line lived in rural areas.

  • Half of the poor are children. Women represent a majority of the poor in most regions and among some age groups. About 70 percent of the global poor aged 15 and older have no schooling or only some basic education.
  • Almost half of poor people in Sub-Saharan Africa live in just five countries: Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania, Ethiopia, and Madagascar.
  • More than 40 percent of the global poor live in economies affected by fragility, conflict and violence, and that number is expected to rise to 67 percent in the next decade. Those economies have just 10 percent of the world’s population.
  • About 132 million of the global poor live in areas with high flood risk.

Many people who had barely escaped extreme poverty could be forced back into it by the convergence of COVID-19, conflict, and climate change.

 The "new poor" probably will:  

  • Be more urban than the chronic poor.
  • Be more engaged in informal services and manufacturing and less in agriculture.
  • Live in congested urban settings and work in the sectors most affected by lockdowns and mobility restrictions.

Middle-income countries such as India and Nigeria will be significantly affected; middle-income countries may be home to about 80 percent of the new poor.

New research estimates that climate change will drive 68 million to 132 million into poverty by 2030. Climate change is a particularly acute threat for countries in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia — the regions where most of the global poor are concentrated. In a number of countries, a large share of the poor live in areas that are both affected by conflict and facing high exposure to floods — for example, Nepal, Cameroon, Liberia, and the Central African Republic.

The newest and most immediate threat to poverty reduction, COVID-19, has unleashed a worldwide economic disaster whose shock waves continue to spread. Without an adequate global response, the cumulative effects of the pandemic and its economic fallout, armed conflict, and climate change will exact high human and economic costs well into the future.

The latest research suggests that the effects of the current crisis will almost certainly be felt in most countries through 2030. Under these conditions, the goal of bringing the global absolute poverty rate to less than 3 percent by 2030, which was already at risk before the crisis, is now beyond reach without swift, significant, and substantial policy action.

History shows that urgent and collective action can help us tackle this crisis. 

Last Updated: Oct 14, 2021

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