Human Rights Index #41: Poverty Disparity

TIR staff

The Human Rights Index is prepared three times a year by the University of Iowa Center for Human RightsThe Iowa Review is proud to feature the Index on our website, to suggest the global political and socioeconomic context within which we read and write.

Human Rights Index #41

Prepared by The University of Iowa Center for Human Rights (UICHR)*

At the landmark Millennium Summit of the United Nations in 2000, representatives from 189 UN Member States (including the United States) adopted a UN General Assembly resolution known as the “Millennium Declaration.” In so doing, they committed to a global partnership to help the world’s poor achieve a better life by 2015, and in a manner that would share the benefits and costs of globalization across all regions fairly. The framework for this project was outlined in eight international development goals known as the “Millennium Development Goals” (“MDGs”), which focused on the most pressing development challenges of our time.  Based on targets and indicators for measuring progress between 1990 and 2015, the goals included: (1) the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger; (2) the achievement of universal primary education; (3) the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women; (4) the reduction of child mortality; (5) the improvement of maternal health; (6) the combat against HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases; (7) the ensuring of environmental sustainability; and (8) the development of a global partnership for development.

According to the Millennium Development Goals Report 2014: “[T]he MDGs have made a profound difference in people’s lives.” The Report continues:

Global poverty has been halved five years ahead of the 2015 timeframe. Ninety per cent of children in developing regions now enjoy primary education, and disparities between boys and girls in enrolment have narrowed. Remarkable gains have also been made in the fight against malaria and tuberculosis, along with improvements in all health indicators. The likelihood of a child dying before age five has been nearly cut in half over the last two decades. That means that about 17,000 children are saved every day. We also met the target of halving the proportion of people who lack access to improved sources of water.

There remains, however, much more to be done. As we enter 2015, the majority of the MDGs have not been realized, and the different regions of the world have demonstrated uneven results. For example, poverty in the US according to 2014 US Government estimates may be defined as US$11,720 or less for a single person and US$23,282 or less for a family of four, whereas poverty for 17 percent of people in the developing world is estimated at or below $1.25 a day according to the most recent World Bank estimates in 2011. What is more, some countries have not met any of the quantitative targets whatsoever.

Accordingly, after creating and consulting a High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons drawn from the private and public sectors, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon established a post-2015 UN System Task Team to establish an agenda on development. Comprising representatives from more than 60 UN agencies and international organizations, the Task Team is developing a framework both to improve the existing targets and to create targets for inclusive economic and social development, environmental sustainability, and peace and security. As the 2014 Report asserts, optimistically: “The MDGs show that progress is possible.” The task ahead, however, is immense and complex.

1 — Number out of every 16 Americans who, in 2012, were considered to be living in “deep poverty” (defined as having income 50 percent below the poverty line) and constituting 6.6 percent of the population or 20.4 million people (National Center for Law and Economic Justice 2014)

3 — Number in pounds of a nine-month-old child in Bangui, Central Africa Republic who was admitted into a pediatric nutrition complex, illustrative of approximately 8 percent of children living in the capital city who suffer from acute malnutrition (ACF International 2014)

4 — Approximate number of miles women in Africa and Asia walk each day to collect clean water (WaterAid 2014, Practical Action 2014)

14.5 — Percent of persons living in poverty in the United States in 2013, approximately 45.3 million people (US Census 2014)

17 — Approximate percent of calories world agriculture produces per person annually above the level needed to feed everyone in the world at recommended daily calorie levels, yet nearly 870 million people worldwide suffered from chronic undernourishment between 2010 and 2012 ( 2013)

18 — Number of times more likely that a child born in a low-income country is to die before reaching age five than a child in a high-income country (The Independent 2013)

27.2 — Percent of African Americans living in poverty in 2012, representing 10.9 million people―in contrast to 9.7 percent of non-Hispanic white Americans or 18.9 million people considered to be living in poverty (National Center for Law and Economic Justice 2014)

42 — Percent of American males raised in the bottom quintile of incomes who remain there as adults while, by contrast, Denmark and Britain (countries famous for class restraints), evince lower levels of 25 percent and 30 percent, respectively (New York Times 2012)

50 — Estimated liters of water per day necessary for meals and personal hygiene to avoid disease, whereas, in contrast to the average person in Africa who uses about 20 liters per day (the equivalent of a 1.5-minute shower), each person in the U.S. (with the highest water usage per capita) uses approximately 600 liters of water per day (Global 2014, Water for Africa Institute 2014)

230 — Times more likely a woman in sub-Saharan Africa will die in childbirth than a woman in North America (Borgen Project 2013) 

17,441 — Years of life lost per 100,000 residents in the Chicago neighborhood of Englewood with a per capita income of $12,250 compared to 2,971 years of life lost per 100,000 residents in Lincoln Park neighborhood with a per capita income of $73,130 (Chicago Reader 2014)

1,400,000 — Approximate number of children worldwide who die each year from lack of access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation, 1.5 million under age five who die each year from diarrhea (UNICEF 2005, 2009)

3,000,000 — Approximate number of people worldwide (almost half the world’s population) who live on less than US$2.50 each day (World Bank 2011)

4,300,000 — Estimated number of people worldwide who die from illnesses caused by exposure to smoke from coal, wood, dung, and biomass cooking stoves—over 80 percent in sub-Saharan Africa, 50 percent of the populations of India and China (Huffington Post 2014, Do 2014)

22,000,000 — Approximate minimum number of children worldwide left unvaccinated as reported in 2011 for such preventable diseases as measles, pneumococcal ailments, tetanus, and diarrhea, of which 29 percent resulted in death for children between one month and five years of age (The Independent 2013)

66,000,000 — Approximate number of elementary school-age children across the developing world who attend class hungry each day, with 23,000,000 in Africa alone (The Hunger Project 2014)

443,000,000 — Approximate number of school days missed worldwide in 2013 due to water-related illnesses; in the same year, approximately three children died every minute from water-related illnesses ( 2014)

567,000,000 — Approximate number of people living in the 41 most heavily indebted poor countries which jointly make less Gross Domestic Product than the world’s seven richest people (Global 2014)

774,000,000 — Estimated number of persons worldwide, 15 years old and older, who were illiterate in 2011, two-thirds of them women (493 million), including jurisdictions with both the highest literacy rates (Andorra, Finland, Greenland, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Norway, and Vatican City, each at 100 percent) and the lowest literacy rates (Afghanistan, Niger, and South Sudan with 28.1, 28.7, and 27 percent respectively) (UNESCO 2013)

1,200,000,000 — Approximate number of people worldwide living in extreme poverty in 2013 (i.e., US$1.25 dollars or less per day); and of this number, 596 million come from South Asia, 388 million from Sub-Saharan Africa, 316 million from East Africa and the Pacific, 45 million from Latin America and the Caribbean, 17 million from Europe and Central Asia, and 11 million from the Middle East and North Africa; in the same year, approximately 3 billion people lived on less than $2.50 per day and approximately 5.7 billion people lived on less than $10.00 per day (World Bank 2014, World Health Organization 2014, World 2014)

58,000,000,000 — Estimated billions in US dollars needed as of 2014 to provide basic education, clean water, sanitation, reproductive health for women, and basic health and nutrition to every individual in every developing country―less than 8 percent of the US military budget of $756.4 billion for 2015—while the world’s military budget totaled approximately US$1,747 billion as of 2013, 2.4 percent of world GDP, and exceeding Cold War standards (SIPRI 2013-14; Do 2014; US Comptroller 2014)

* Copyright © 2014 by The University of Iowa Center for Human Rights (UICHR). Prepared by Bessie Dutton Murray Distinguished Professor of Law Emeritus and UICHR Senior Scholar Burns H. Weston with the generous assistance of Damian Bakula, Ma Jin, Zachary Nichols, and Alparslan Zora, each students at the UI College of Law. For additional facts concerning poverty and human rights generally, please visit the UICHR web site: