As 2018 has ended extreme poverty is at the lowest level in recorded history but is expected to become increasingly concentrated in one region. A record number of people have been forcibly displaced from their homes, and an influential new report confirms we’re running out of time to limit global warming. Yet, innovation and disruptive technologies are helping to bring clean energy to millions and connecting hundreds of millions of people to the financial system. These 14 facts tell a story about the challenges we face — and the actions needed to create a more inclusive, sustainable world.
1. Extreme poverty is at the lowest level in recorded history
In 1990, more than a third of people in the world lived in extreme poverty – living on $1.90 a day or less. In 2015, the most recent year with robust data, extreme poverty reached 10 percent, the lowest level in recorded history. Over the last three decades, more than one billion people lifted themselves out of extreme poverty, and about half of the world’s countries have reduced extreme poverty to below 3 percent.
This is one of the great achievements of our time, but we have a lot more work to do – 736 million people still live in extreme poverty, the pace of poverty reduction is slowing, and those living in extreme poverty will be harder to reach. The poverty rate in areas suffering from fragility, conflict, and violence climbed to 36 percent in 2015, up from a low of 34.4 percent in 2011, and that rate will likely increase.
2. Extreme poverty is becoming more concentrated in Sub-Saharan Africa
Unlike most of the rest of the world, the total number of extremely poor people in Sub-Saharan Africa is increasing, from 278 million in 1990 to 413 million in 2015. In 2015, Sub-Saharan Africa was home to 27 of the world’s 28 poorest countries and had more extremely poor people than in the rest of the world combined. Nigeria is expected to pass India as the country with the most people living in extreme poverty, if it hasn’t already. While the average poverty rate for other regions was below 13% as of 2015, it stood at about 41% in Sub-Saharan Africa. According to Poverty and Shared Prosperity 2018, the factors behind the higher levels of poverty in Africa include the region’s slower growth rates, problems caused by conflict and weak institutions, and a lack of success in channeling growth into poverty reduction.
3. 68.5 million people have been forcibly displaced
A record number of people around the world have been forced to flee from persecution, conflict, or violence, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency. About 40 million people still live in their own countries, and 25.4 million are refugees abroad. Contrary to widely-held perceptions, 85 percent of the world’s refugees were hosted by developing countries in 2017. About 55 high-income countries hosted the rest, with 970,000 in Germany.
Many hosting countries have found their resources strained, including Lebanon, which hosts the largest number of refugees per capita in the world, with about 1 out of every 4 of the population a Syrian refugee. Around 70 percent live below the poverty line. Uganda currently hosts more than 1 million South Sudanese refugees. Some 655,500 refugees fled Myanmar to Bangladesh in the space of 100 days in 2017, and today more than 1 million live in Cox’s Bazar in the largest refugee camp in the world. Roughly 3 million people have left Venezuela in recent years amid the deepening economic crisis there, but most are not officially designated as refugees. More than a million people leaving Venezuela have settled in Colombia, according to the International Organization for Migration.
4. The window for keeping global warming to 1.5 degrees C is closing – rapidly
In an influential report, the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change warned that the world must accomplish “rapid and far-reaching” low-carbon transitions in land, energy, industry, buildings, transport, and cities to keep global warming to 1.5°C. The IPCC said that human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide need to fall 45 percent from 2010 levels by 2030 and reach net-zero around 2050. The planet has already warmed to 1°C above pre-industrial times, causing “profound alterations to human and natural systems, including increases in droughts, floods, and some other types of extreme weather; sea level rise; and biodiversity loss.”
According to the report, “By 2100, global sea level rise would be 10 cm lower with global warming of 1.5°C compared with 2°C. The likelihood of an Arctic Ocean free of sea ice in summer would be once per century with global warming of 1.5°C, compared with at least once per decade with 2°C. Coral reefs would decline by 70 to90 percent with global warming of 1.5°C, whereas virtually all (greater than 99 percent) would be lost with 2°C.”
The World Bank Group’s Shock Waves study estimated an additional 100 million people could be pushed into extreme poverty by climate change. Internal climate migrants are rapidly becoming the human face of climate change. According to the new World Bank report Groundswell – Preparing for Internal Climate Migration, without urgent global and national climate action, Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Latin America could see more than 140 million people move within their countries’ borders by 2050. On December 3, the Bank announced that it would double its current 5-year climate-related investments to around $200 billion to support countries taking ambitious climate action, spur renewable energy, and help people adapt to climate change.
5. 91 percent of the world’s population lives in places with poor air quality
Nine out of 10 people worldwide breathe polluted air, according to World Health Organization data covering 4,300 cities and settlements in 108 countries. The highest levels are in the Eastern Mediterranean Region and in South-East Asia, with annual mean levels of particulate matter often exceeding more than 5 times WHO limits, followed by low and middle-income cities in Africa and the Western Pacific. According to the latest air quality database, 97 percent of cities in low- and middle- income countries with more than 100,000 inhabitants do not meet WHO air quality guidelines. WHO estimates 7 million people die every year from ambient (outdoor) and household air pollution, with nearly 90 percent of deaths occurring in low- and middle-income countries. About 4.2 million deaths are attributed to outdoor air pollution whose sources are also sources of high CO2 emissions.
6. At least 33 percent of waste is mismanaged through open dumping or burning
Adequate waste treatment and disposal is almost exclusively the domain of high and upper-middle-income countries. In low-income countries, 93 percent of waste is burned or dumped in roads, open land, or waterways, compared with only 2 percent of waste in high-income countries.
At a global scale, solid waste contributes to climate change and is one of the largest sources of pollution in oceans. In 2016, the world generated 242 million metric tons of plastic waste—12 percent of all municipal solid waste, according to the What a Waste report. Some 90 percent of floating marine debris is plastic, of which nearly 62 percent is food and beverage packaging. Although plastics have been mass-produced for only about 60 years, they persist in open waters for decades and even centuries. The report observes that “plastic waste is choking our oceans, yet our consumption of plastics is only increasing. Cities and countries are rapidly developing without adequate systems in place to manage the changing waste composition of citizens.”
Waste management can be costly. Local governments globally on average can cover only 50 percent of their solid waste management investment costs – nearly half of waste operations are provided by the private sector, nonprofits, and civil society, leaving ample opportunity for financing and partnership.
7. Childhood malnutrition and stunting are linked to poor sanitation
More than 2.6 billion people don’t have access to a proper toilet or clean water for washing or drinking. Poor sanitation claims 1.6 million lives each year and contributes to childhood stunting. Worldwide, more than 150 million children are stunted – because of poor prenatal growth due to lack of care for mothers, malnutrition, lack of stimulation, and intestinal diseases acquired as babies or young children. Recent research shows that the brains of stunted children have fewer neuronal connections than children who are not stunted – leaving them at a disadvantage at school and at work in an increasingly competitive world. Besides $10 billion in sanitation investments, the World Bank Group has partnered with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to spur the adoption of cutting edge sanitation technology to bring safe sanitation to everyone.
8. Less than half of students in developing countries meet minimum educational proficiency standards
Globally, we are more educated than ever, but there are dramatic differences in how much children are learning. A new database covering 160 economies harmonizes international and regional test scores to calculate the effective years of schooling that children have experienced. Average test scores range from 600 in the best-performing countries to 300 in the worst-performing ones (with a score of 400 as the benchmark for minimum proficiency). The reasons for the differences include poorer health and nutrition of children in lower-income countries, fewer years in school (about 260 million children and youth are not in school at all), teacher absenteeism, teachers who don’t meet proficiency standards, and fragility, conflict, and violence. The learning database is part of the World Bank Group’s Human Capital Project, which includes an index ranking countries on their outcomes in health and education.
9. Demand for advanced skills is rising
While scores of tasks and some routine jobs will be replaced by technology, demand is rising for advanced cognitive skills, socio-behavioral skills, and skill combinations associated with greater adaptability. New jobs and entire industries are replacing old ones, and technology is changing the scope of many existing jobs. This trend is already evident in developed countries and is now starting to emerge in some developing countries. The World Bank’s World Development Report on the Changing Nature of Work details how work is constantly reshaped by technological progress and argues that Investing in human capital must be a priority for governments in order for workers to build the skills in demand in the labor market.
10. 2.7 billion women are legally restricted from having the same choice of jobs as men
Women still face widespread barriers, entrenched in laws, that keep them out of jobs and prevent them from owning a business. The World Bank’s Women, Business and the Law report finds that 104 economies prevent women from working in certain jobs; 59 economies lack laws on sexual harassment in the workplace; and in 18 economies, husbands can legally prevent their wives from working.
The report assesses gender legal equality in 189 economies based on 7 indicators, with scores ranging from 0 to 100. The global average score in getting a job is 67. For the building credit indicator, 42 percent of economies score 0, and four regions – East Asia and the Pacific, the Middle East and North Africa, South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa – have an average score of 20 or below. The average score for low income economies is 8. Research estimates that gender gaps cause an average income loss of 15 percent in OECD economies, 40 percent of which is due to entrepreneurship gaps. Losses are estimated to be significantly higher in developing countries.
Over the last two years, governments in 65 economies enacted 87 legal reforms to improve women’s economic inclusion. And the recently launched Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative is expected to mobilize over $1.6 billion for women entrepreneurs in developing countries to help close the gender financing gap.
11. Borrowing by low- and middle-income economies has more than tripled
Borrowing by low- and middle-income economies surged to $607 billion in 2017, up from $181 billion the previous year — the highest level in three years, according to International Debt Statistics. Total debt owed to external official and private creditors by these economies rose 10 percent in 2017 to $7.1 trillion, a faster rate of debt accumulation than the 4 percent increase in 2016. While their external debt burdens on average remained moderate, one third had a ratio of external debt-to-gross national income above 60 percent at the end of 2017 — which is considered high for developing economies. Eleven low- and middle-income countries have debt-to-GNI ratios of over 100 percent – meaning their debt is greater than their gross national income.
The increasing debt burdens of low- and middle-income economies come as concern rises about overall global debt, which by some estimates is 60 percent higher than before the 2008 financial crisis. The high debt level, combined with recent trade tensions, raises risks for global economic growth and for reducing poverty. The World Bank is working with countries to help them manage debt levels and strengthen their economies by crowding-in private sector investment and harnessing the power of technology like fintech.
12. By 2050, twice as many people will live in cities than in rural areas
A third of people on Earth lived in cities in 1960. In 2018, the percentage of city dwellers has risen to 55 percent, and the migration to cities continues as people seek jobs, education, and opportunity. Between now and 2050, 90% of the world’s urban population growth will take place in the developing world, with Africa and Asia (or specifically South Asia) the fastest growing continents. And just three countries – India, China and Nigeria – are expected to account for 35% of the growth in the world’s urban population between 2018 and 2050.
Cities generate 80 percent of global wealth, but they consume close to two-thirds of the world’s energy and account for more than 70 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. The speed and scale of urbanization has accelerated demand for affordable housing, well-connected transit systems and other infrastructure, basic services, and jobs, particularly for the nearly 1 billion urban poor who live in informal settlements to be near opportunities. It is estimated that half of the area that will be urbanized by 2050 hasn’t yet been built, which means the policies and decisions affecting cities that occur in the coming 15-20 years will shape the world we live in. The World Bank invests an average of $6 billion in urban development projects every year and works with partners to build climate-smart, resilient, well-financed cities.
13. 1.2 billion adults have gained access to financial services since 2011
Around 69 percent of adults today have an account with a financial institution or mobile money service – including 514 million people who gained access between 2014 and 2017, according to Global Findex data. In developing economies, the share of adults with an account rose from 54 percent to 63 percent. But in a world where people must be financially included to participate in the digital economy, close to one-third of adults – 1.7 billion people – still lack access to the financial system. Women in developing economies remain 9 percentage points less likely than men to have an account.
A 2017 survey found that lack of money and documentation, distance, and cost were factors in remaining outside the financial system. Financial products relying on technology as part of an evolving digital economy have the potential to include and expand access to hard-to-reach populations and small businesses. To that end, the World Bank Group and IMF are spearheading an initiative to accelerate financial inclusion.
14. About 118 million people gain electricity access each year
Electricity access has been accelerating since 2010, with 40 countries achieving universal access since 2010. Some of the strongest gains were in Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Tanzania. All increased their electricity access rate by 3 percent or more annually between 2010 and 2016. Over the same period, India provided electricity to 30 million people annually – more than any other country.
But roughly 1 billion people – or 13 percent of the world’s population – still live without electricity. The biggest gaps are in Sub-Saharan Africa and Central and South Asia. Almost 87 percent of the world’s population without electricity live in rural areas. The gaps are daunting, but there is also progress on many fronts. New large-scale approaches that combine grid and off-grid electrification have contributed to impressive gains in energy access in many countries. Mini-grids and solar home systems are showing promise in closing the access gap in others. Sharply lower costs for clean energy are aiding this transition. The World Bank Group committed $1 billion for a new global program to accelerate investments in battery storage for energy systems in developing and middle-income countries. The program is expected to help countries ramp up renewables – particularly wind and solar power – while improving energy security, grid stability and access to electricity.