“I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do.” ―Edward Everett Hale
Alarmingly, nearly 385 million children are living in extreme poverty; they live in households on a $1.90 budget per day. While extreme poverty is harmful to all humans, it is most threatening to the rights of children. From lack of health and education to harm and exploitation, this environment harms the development of children on a physical, mental and emotional level.
Each inequality caused by extreme poverty serves to amplify the effects of others on children. For example, women who must walk long distances to fetch water have limited time with their children, resulting in decreased health and development. Furthermore, traveling long distances for water interferes with a child’s ability to attend school, especially young girls.
Malnourishment coupled with limited access to healthcare, increases a child’s risk of contracting and dying from diseases caused by poor sanitation. Malnourishment alone contributes to over half of the deaths of children under five years of age. Preventable diseases, such as diarrhea and others, kill two million children annually because families cannot afford or even access necessary healthcare services.
However, we must be clear about one thing: it is possible to end extreme poverty. Spending $160 per person in extreme poverty for 15 years is the estimated amount needed to end world hunger. The average consumer in the United States spends $1,043 per year eating out for lunch. It will take $24 million to provide universal access to clean water. This is a small amount considering that people spend $40 million a year on lawn care in the United States.
Moreover, eradicating extreme poverty is actually not as difficult as it seems. To quote Muhammad Yunus, founder of the Grameen Bank, “[i]t is only our arrogance that prompts us to find unnecessarily complicated answers to simple problems.”
Ending extreme poverty simply takes motivation, commitment and passion to strategically target resources to achieve the greatest results. NGOs, governments and individual donors have already collectively made significant strides to fight extreme poverty, including:
Lifting one billion people out of extreme poverty;
Improving access to healthcare services and immunizations, which has helped 48 million children survive past their 5th birthday; and
Improving access to sanitation, such as toilets and cleaner drinking water sources.
Despite these gains, more work needs to be done, particularly for the 385 million children who are still living in extreme poverty. Many of these children (just under 50%) are concentrated in Sub-Saharan Africa, and more than four out of five of them live in rural areas.
A combination of targeted initiatives can lift these and other children out of extreme poverty, including quality early childhood education; access to healthcare, clean water and sanitation; and economic security. Equally important and a necessary foundation to ending the cycle of poverty is helping children learn their rights as global citizens and giving them a voice in the development of their communities.