How Do More Than a Billion People Live on a Dollar a Day?


It is hard to get exact figures on global poverty but it is widely accepted that in the world there are currently well over a billion people who live on a dollar a day or less. In fact, 80% of the planet’s population is said to survive on less than $10 a day.

Just reading the figures on global poverty it is impossible to grasp the scale of the problem. Travelling round some of the Earth’s poorest spots – Africa, Asia, South America – gives you a better idea of what life is like on a dollar a day. If you are used to a comfortable lifestyle in a developed country then it is an eye opener to see how people manage to live on so little money. So how do they do this and what kind of problems does it lead to?

Child Labour and Begging

Go to a developing country in your fancy western clothes and you can expect to be besieged by children asking for money or offering services such as carrying your luggage or selling you something. You will then take a look at your watch and wonder why they aren’t at school. Going by the latest estimates it is believed that well over 120 million children who should be attending school aren’t doing so, with more than half of that number being girls. One of the knock on effects of this is found in the statistic that, at the start of the 21st century, close to a billion people were unable to read or write. Sending the kids to school sounds simple but many families simply can’t survive without the extra income they bring in, no matter how little it might appear to be to us. Of course, tourists who don’t give them money feel bad about it and those who do so often feel bad about potentially making the problem worse by making them more dependent on this source of income.

Poor Nutrition

At this point we might point out that a dollar a day must go a lot further in a poor country than in a rich one. Sure it does, but not that far. Try buying food for one person never mind for a family in any country in the world and you will find that a dollar doesn’t go very far at all. Things like milk, fresh fruit and vegetables can seem like a luxury if you only have enough for something which will let you make a weak soup or stew. This is why so many people need to take the decision to forsake basic items in their meals. This leads to poor diets which leads to underdeveloped bodies, bad teeth and a whole host of other medical issues. Over a quarter of children in the world’s poorest countries are said to be underweight or stunted due to poor nutrition.

Poor Health

childThe last point touched on one of the main reasons for poor health among people living on a dollar a day. However, when your income is so low almost anything can be a huge problem for your health. A huge percentage of the people who live on this miserly amount of money are the exact same people who don’t have access to basic sanitation facilities or adequate medical treatment. In the US the average household uses 600 litres of water a day, while many poor families living under the poverty line elsewhere spend hours of their day fetching just 20 litres to last them all day long. In this sort of environment it is no surprise to hear that 1.8 million children around the world die from diarrhoea every year.

What Can We Do?

If there were an easy solution to the problem then presumably it would have been implemented by now. There is no simple answer but the more aware we are of the issues faced by families in other parts of the planet the more we can understand how they live and see it is a problem we all need to think about. The next time you are in a poor country try to get by on a dollar for just one day and then consider how lucky you are that you will never have to do it again.

8 Responses to How Do More Than a Billion People Live on a Dollar a Day?

  1. I have visited some really poor countries and it’s really sad to see the way that they live. It really makes you feel lucky to have so much opportunity.

    • I know Sean, we do have so many provisions and opportunities over here. Yet when you think about them in relation to what others have, many of them are luxuries rather than necessities.

  2. I think I once referenced in a blog post something that really hit me hard. When I was in India I would have the kids run up to me and fight over who could have my empty water bottle. They would follow me until I was finished and ask me for it. They loved them so they could refill them and bring water back home. These little moments made me realize how we take the smallest things for granted sometimes. I wish there was an easy answer, I wish we could do more.

  3. Pauline says:

    The minimum wage here is around $200 so people live on less than $10 a day, sometimes as a one income family. They build their own house with wood and metal scraps as they go, one room at a time. Food is mostly corn, rice and beans, but no one is hungry in my village. The mountains are dryer and poorer, the land doesn’t give that much so it is not unusual to see people live on $1 a day, many relying on a relative gone to work to the US illegally. It is sad to see, we try to help by providing jobs and short 0% loans when people have an emergency.

  4. I am helping with a charity golf tournament for a village in Uganda Africa to help build water wells. The experience is changing me by the day opening my eyes on what goes on around the world.

    • Robert Bell says:

      That’s fantastic Cedric. It is quite something to see how other people live and appreciate what we often take for granted

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