Nigeria Replaces India as Home to Most in Extreme Poverty

Extreme poverty is increasingly common in Africa according to a Brookings Institution report.

A snapshot of what poverty means in Nigeria (Source: Daily Trust).

A snapshot of what poverty means in Nigeria (Source: Daily Trust).

Imagine living on $1.90 or less a day, struggling even to access basic necessities. 767 million people in the world fit that description, according to a 2013 survey (the last comprehensive survey on global poverty): 1 in 10 people. The World Bank describes such people as “predominantly rural, young, [and] poorly educated.” For a long time India has been home to the most people living in extreme poverty. But Nigeria is now number one for most people in extreme poverty, according to Brookings Institution, a DC public policy nonprofit.

This change reflects a geographical shift in extreme poverty. Once extremely common in Asia, economic progress has helped to eliminate a significant proportion of extreme poor. The trend in Asia reflects worldwide trends since the 1990s that have seen rates of extreme poverty decrease by more than 60% according to the World Bank. Progress in India also reflects progress with the international Sustainable Development Goals, set in 2016, that seeks to eliminate extreme poverty by 2030. Since the goals were set in 2016, 83 million have escaped extreme poverty.

However, the progress in India has not been praised by everyone. Some wonder if the reported progress illustrates continued rural distress and worries about job creation in India. Another potential criticism is about what poverty means. For India, a middle-income country based on its per capita income, its poverty line is $3.20 or less per day according to the World Bank. This means poverty is less defined by living on the edge of hunger and more on having an income that can access opportunities of a growing economy, according to a financial editorial in Mint.

Meanwhile, extreme poverty has become the unwelcome status quo in Africa. This is most notable in statistics, calculated through the IMF’s World Economic Outlook and household surveys, provided by the World Poverty Clock. It states as six people enter extreme poverty per minute in Nigeria, 44 leave it in India. More generally, 87 million Nigerians (44% of the population) live in extreme poverty while 70.6 million (around 5% of the population) live in extreme poverty in India.

Further, Nigeria is only a part of the extreme poverty in Africa. Two-thirds of Africans live in a state of extreme poverty and 14 of the 18 countries that have rising numbers of extreme poor are located in Africa. Indeed, on track to be number two for extreme poor is the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The theme of poverty in Africa also depicts difficulties in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. When it was implemented in 2016, the pace required to eliminate poverty by 2030 was 1.5 people every second. However as countries have slowed down in eliminating poverty, the actual pace is remarkably less—by 2020 it could be 0.9 people per second. The difference in pace will make it difficult to eliminate poverty by 2030 if not impossible, especially as the required pace to get back on track for the goal is 1.6 people per second.

In spite of the difficulties, eliminating global poverty is a priority for many charitable organizations. One is The Borgen Project, a Seattle nonprofit who hopes to be “an influential ally” for the world’s poor by building “awareness of global issues and innovations in poverty reduction.”  The Borgen Project builds awareness by advocating for poverty-reducing legislation by meeting directly with members of Congress or staff. They also hold members of Congress accountable for blocking poverty-reducing legislation.

The Borgen Project’s success is especially evident in the passing of the 2017 Reinforcing Education Accountability in Development (READ) Act. The Act holds the US accountable for ensuring access to basic education in war-torn and developing countries. Basic education encourages economic growth by equipping people with skills needed to participate in the global marketplace— an important step to reducing poverty.

Another successful organization is international organization Oxfam, which hopes to create “lasting solutions to poverty, hunger, and social justice.” Oxfam strives to create such systemic change through social justice advocacy of legislation that reduces poverty; disaster response improvements; and public education about the causes of poverty. Oxfam also focuses on programs that educate individuals about their rights or address inequalities in resource accessibility— such as clean water initiatives.

These programs cultivate local partnerships and networks with a focus on “locally informed and locally driven solutions.” For example, after over ten years of working with local communities and government authorities to minimize the impact of disasters on poor people, El Salvador was able to swiftly respond to the October 2011 flood. More importantly, when a village (La Pelota) received unclean drinking water, they asserted their right to clean water by sending it back to the authorities.

Both organizations show work that has been directly done to eliminate poverty. Like other organizations that focus on global poverty, they strive to enforce systemic change by targeting root issues. These include a lack of education— of individuals about their rights as well as the general public, a lack of adequate resources, and a lack of legislation that addresses the poor. Whether it is by 2030 or later, it is possible to imagine a future where extreme poverty does not exist. Many individuals already do.



TERESA NOWALK is a student at the University of Virginia studying anthropology and history. In her free time she loves traveling, volunteering in the Charlottesville community, and listening to other people’s stories. She does not know where her studies will take her, but is certain writing will be a part of whatever the future has in store.

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