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What is Extreme Poverty?

By MOHI on May 24, 2024 4:07:43 PM

When you hear the term "poverty," you might picture anything from homelessness in your local city to severe hunger in distant parts of the globe. But there’s an important distinction between poverty and "extreme poverty." Extreme poverty describes a critical, life-threatening lack of basic resources, but it’s often hard for us to imagine until we’ve seen it.

If you've recently started sponsoring a child through MOHI, grasping the realities of extreme poverty will improve your understanding of the challenges your sponsored child faces daily, and how your sponsorship is helping them.

For those of you still considering sponsorship, or trying to understand why we need such initiatives when there is poverty here at home, recognizing the hard realities of extreme poverty will help show why support like sponsorship is so critical.

Both poverty and extreme poverty are often misunderstood, so let’s take a look at two families in different parts of the world, to see how their lives compare.

What does poverty actually look like?

The Johnson family lives in a small, economically depressed town in the US. Both parents work—Mr. Johnson is a part-time janitor and Mrs. Johnson works as a cashier at a local grocery store. They have three children. Here is a glimpse of what their lives look like:

  • They live in a modest, rented two-bedroom apartment. It's cramped and needs repairs, but it provides basic shelter.
  • The family shares an old sedan that is often unreliable, which could jeopardize their ability to get to and from work to make money.
  • Their combined income barely covers their living expenses (including rent, utility bills, and food), and they may be behind in covering bills.
  • They qualify for some government assistance, which helps them afford healthcare and their children’s school lunches, but medical bills may put them in debt if it goes beyond basic care.
  • The children attend public school, which is free, and they benefit from programs like basic after-school tutoring and summer meals.
  • The family visits a local food bank as their budget often falls short.

The Johnson family lives below the poverty line in the US, and their struggles are real. This level of poverty is challenging and impacts the family in great ways. However, it’s very different from extreme poverty, as we’ll see next.

An example of extreme poverty

The Otieno family lives in an informal settlement (a slum) in Kenya. The parents are both casual laborers. Mr. Otieno looks for odd jobs at construction sites and Mrs. Otieno washes clothes. They have three children. Notice the differences between their lives and that of the Johnson family:  

  • They live in a 10' x 10' one-room shanty made of tin sheets. The floor is dirt.
  • Their home lacks running water and proper sanitation.
  • The community does not have proper drainage or waste disposal systems.
  • Their income is based on daily opportunities and they don't always find work.
  • The family can only afford one meal a day.
  • The children cannot attend school regularly so they spend time collecting waste plastic to sell at a recycling plant.  
  • Affordable, quality healthcare is difficult to access, so diseases often go undiagnosed and untreated.

Globally, poverty takes many forms, from homelessness in major American cities to communities in Africa or South Asia without access to clean water. In every case, poverty involves barriers that prevent people from securing basic life necessities and improving their situation.

Extreme poverty is a daily fight to survive

In developed countries, even those living below the poverty line may still have access to some social services, like emergency healthcare, public education, and food assistance programs.

In contrast, those in extreme poverty in developing countries often lack these basic safety nets. In many developing nations, the absence of strong government infrastructure means that there is little to no support for the desperately poor.

The World Bank defines extreme poverty as living on less than $1.90 a day (USD). This is a scarcity of resources so severe that it threatens daily survival — living under this threshold means every day is a battle against hunger, malnutrition, and lack of access to healthcare.

Globally, millions of children die annually from diseases that are easily treated in wealthier countries simply because they lack access to basic healthcare services. This stark reality highlights the severity of extreme poverty — and the critical need for targeted aid.

Learn more: what causes poverty in Africa?

You can make a difference

Ending extreme poverty across the globe might seem daunting, but individual actions like child sponsorship can have profound impacts. MOHI's holistic approach tackles extreme poverty in Africa by integrating education, healthcare, and economic empowerment, directly improving children's lives and community conditions.  

Sponsoring a child through MOHI ensures they receive crucial education and healthcare, equipping them with skills for better employment opportunities. This strategy doesn't just support individuals, but fosters broader community development, creating sustainable improvements and brighter futures across regions, demonstrating that every effort contributes significantly to combating poverty.