Nearly 10% of the world’s people (696 million people in 2021) live in extreme poverty, or on less than $1.90 per day. Poverty is linked to many global issues, including undernourishment, poor public health, and even issues relating to climate change. The causes of poverty are complex, and many poor communities across the world find themselves stuck in the “poverty trap” – a reinforcing cycle that enables poverty to persist across generations. With the world population increasing by about 154 people every minute, how will this growth impact global poverty?


According to the UN, 768 million people in the world were undernourished in 2020. Continued population growth may increase this number even further, threatening our ability to feed all people. Arable farmland is a finite resource, and disasters such as droughts can initiate widespread famine. Hunger is tied to geopolitical and economic conflict as well. For example, when Russia declared war on Ukraine in early 2022, countries and populations relying on Ukrainian wheat exports were faced with a shortage of food and an intense hike in prices

Undernourishment means more than going hungry; it implies not receiving a steady, varied diet in order to meet our complex nutritional needs. Chronic undernourishment is especially harmful to children, impairing their development and causing lasting health problems that make it difficult for families to break out of poverty.

Community Health

  • Urban growth: Currently, 55% of the world lives in urban areas. By 2050, it’s projected to be 68%. This rural-to-urban migration often occurs when families move to urban areas in search of economic opportunities. Urban infrastructure cannot always keep up with population growth, leading to the development of slums, where families live in crowded, poorly-built housing zones that enable the spread of disease and water-borne illness. One billion people around the world currently live in slums, and this number is projected to triple in the next 30 years.
  • Strain on public services. How will communities provide safe drinking water, sanitation infrastructure, and other essential public services to a growing population? Many areas already struggle to provide adequate medical services; Madagascar, for example, spends under $20 per person per year for health – nowhere near sufficient to cover preventative, emergency, or maternal care. An increasing population will only put further strain on such public services.

Inequalities in Wealth and Resources

Income inequality slows economic growth while also creating social and political instability. This problem exists between countries and within countries, as seen within developed countries where the income gap is rising. High rates of population growth are linked to income inequality, meaning that as population continues to swell, the gap between rich and poor will likely remain substantial. Higher-income means greater access to energy and resources, creating a disparity between the amounts of resources consumed by people in different regions. The U.S., as the world’s wealthiest country, consumes 17% of the world’s energy while only accounting for 4% of the population. Diets of those living in wealthy countries require more energy to produce because of higher meat consumption and more food waste. While some people struggle to find adequate energy resources and food to survive, others in the world consume far more than what they need.

Poverty and the Future

Despite the troubling statistics on global poverty, improvements are being made. In 2000, the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) created a deadline of 2015 for meeting eight human development goals. One of these, cutting extreme poverty in half, has already been met. In 2015, the UN launched the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to continue the work of the MDGs. The first of the 17 SDGs is total poverty eradication

Although we weren’t able to meet the goal of universal education by 2015, huge achievements have been made. For example, the number of children not attending primary school has decreased by 35% over the last two decades to 64 million in 2022. While there is a lot of work ahead, these achievements remind us that conquering poverty is possible, provided that we find ways to use resources more wisely, reduce inequality, and address population growth.