How many people living in poverty are there?

Back to the top

Some figures from the United Nations Development Programme:

  • More than a billion people live with less than a dollar per day.
  • 2.8 billion people, that is to say almost half of the global population, live with less than 2 dollars per day.
  • 448 million children are underweight.
  • 876 million adults are illiterate, two thirds of which are women.
  • Every day, 30,000 children under 5 die from avoidable diseases.
  • More than a billion people don’t have access to healthy water.
  • 20% of the global population have 90% of the wealth.

ATD Fourth World produces qualitative studies on extreme poverty through its Research Institute, but it is not a statistics-producing organisation. Since the 60’s, ATD Fourth World has asked the authorities, in each country it is present, in Europe then worldwide, to give themselves the means to meticulously measure how many people are victims of extreme poverty and the effects of policies designed to overcome destitution.

Gradually, studies have been carried out. Mostly these are statistics on the income of people and households, but also on access to work, accommodation, healthcare, an education system and adult training. These statistics can be found on the websites of global organisations such as the World Bank, UNDP; or Eurostat, the European statistical organisation and on national statistical sites.

However, most of the time, there is no simultaneous review of data to allow measurement of how many people or households have difficulties (no money, no accommodation, no work, no access to healthcare, no quality education etc.) and for how long. And yet the poorest people and families are known to be in gradually worsening situations.

ATD Fourth World asks statistic-producing organisations to work with representatives of people living in exteme poverty to define together all participative indicators of the fight against poverty and exclusion.

What are the definitions of poverty?

Back to the top

There are many definitions of poverty , which depend on the point of view of those who produce them. Over the centuries, these things have been viewed from various perspectives: religious: the poor, as an incarnation of God; moral: the poor as responsible and guilty for their situation; politics: the poor as victims of an exploitive system; etc.

ATD Fourth World aims to understand and make the points of view of people and populations in extreme poverty about the realities they live with known. Not only the description of these situations, but how these people feel and what explanations they give to themselves.

From this research linked to the poor, came the definition that Joseph Wresinski proposed to France’s Economic and social Council, which was then used by Mr Leandro Despouy in his UN report on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights:

“The lack of basic security connotes the absence of one or more factors enabling individuals and families to assume basic responsibilities and to enjoy fundamental rights. The situation may become widespread and result in more serious and permanent consequences. The lack of basic security leads to chronic poverty when it simultaneously affects several aspects of people’s lives, when it is prolonged and when it severely compromises people’s chances of regaining their rights and of reassuming their responsibilities in the foreseeable future.” (10 and 11 February 1987)

Is poverty increasing or diminishing?

Back to the top

It is very difficult to answer this question, because the answer depends on the definition of poverty that is adopted and the quantitative indicators that are used. Some measures can have the result of supporting people and populations living in precariousness and leaving aside those in extreme poverty, making their life even more difficult.

An example for clarification: A country’s “GDP per capita” indicator is used to compare poverty in one country to that in another and also measures poverty from one year to the next in the same country. It is used extensively. It is calculated by dividing a country’s GDP indicator by number of inhabitants. If the wealth of the country’s 10% richest inhabitants increases, the GDP rises, and therefore the indicator will go up, whilst nothing is to say that the situation of the country’s poorest people is improving.

In 2000, the UN launched the Millennium Goals, of which the most well-known is that to reduce by half the number of people living with less than 1 $ per day (in 2009 1.25$). This goal is unfair, because it does not say what aims there are for the other half who remains below this threshold and whose situation may get worse at the same time. For example, it is the poorest people and populations who pay the highest price in food, financial and economic crises.

This is why ATD Fourth World asks that this is not only based on numbers, but also that the views of people living in poverty are taken into account to answer this question seriously. They also ask that if some people’s situation improves in a particular domain, we endeavour to understand why the situation hasn’t improved for others. Because it is likely that policies can be improved so that no-one is left aside.

What is needed to eliminate extreme poverty?

Back to the top

With experience in over 30 countries ATD Fourth World movement has launched several discussions and plans of action:

Extreme poverty is not to be accepted as fate, it is the work of mankind which can be ended. This conviction spurs action in the field with people in extreme poverty and the different social and economic players. It also spurs responsibility on all levels in the society: local, regional, national and international to create ambitious policies for fighting against extreme poverty.

Extreme poverty affects all aspects of life : education, professional training, work, resources, housing, access to health care, participation in social, political, cultural and spiritual outlets in life. Fighting against extreme poverty includes taking into account simultaneously all of these aspects which are so strongly intertwined.

To effectively fight against extreme poverty, it is best to create conditions conducive to the active contribution of people and social groups that live in extreme poverty and fight as hard as they can. Winning their contribution creates an environment of trust and exchange of ideas.

To reach the people and groups affected most by extreme poverty, it is necessary that available persons go to the places where they are forced to live or seek refuge and establish with them lasting and trustworthy alliances. These alliances will help to create and gear up for the necessary changes.

The evaluation of any program and policy for fighting against extreme poverty must be made by calculating the benefits that will be derived for the people and groups that suffer the most and undergo the most severe exclusion. This type of evaluation must be done with them.

Eliminating extreme poverty would therefore be an implementation of ambitious policies on the local, national and international scene, equipped with verifiable financial and human means, which can only lead to a profound change in mentality by everyone.

What can I do ?

Back to the top

There are thousands of ways to contribute to the fight against extreme poverty.

With ATD Fourth World:

You can participate in the celebration of World Day to Overcome Extreme Poverty in your area or in organize an event if there isn’t one planned in your area.

You can join a similar organization dedicated to the fight against extreme poverty in your country.

You can demand that the fight against extreme poverty be made a priority by contacting your local representative, union leaders, local associations, religious groups or discussion groups of which you are a member.

What causes extreme poverty?

Back to the top

Extreme poverty is the work of mankind and only mankind can destroy it.
Joseph Wresinski

This quote greatly explains that extreme poverty is not to be accepted as inevitable or fate. It also gives responsibility not just to a certain class of people, but to all classes and the responsibility and the work to end it to all classes of people.

Everyone can contribute to initiatives that increase or reduce the exclusion of the less fortunate at school or at work, in your social life, peer groups and action by political groups, unions, cultural or religious organizations that contribute or do not contribute to human rights efforts.

In every country, where the freedom of expression exists, ATD Fourth World, does not hesitate to denounce private and public systems, behavior by individuals or groups that contribute to exclusion and extreme poverty and proposes change through humanitarian organizations. The objective is to create an environment for unity in order to re-establish human rights anywhere they are being violated due to extreme poverty.

Isn’t it more important to fight poverty in Southern countries rather than in Northern countries?

Back to the top

The difference in the average level of income between populations living in Southern countries and Northern countries is startling. But in both the South and in the North, the experience of extreme poverty is characterized by being worthless, being rejected and being made to feel guilty because of one’s situation. It is therefore as important to act in the North as it is in the South.

ATD Fourth World started in France in 1957 and for more than 20 years the movement prioritized development in Northern countries. Between 1960 and 1990 the very existence of poverty in some of these countries was denied as economic riches were created and so-called full employment reigned. However, ATD Fourth World was already meeting people and groups of people that had been rejected because of a history of poverty. This rejection had very grave consequences such as having their children taken away from them. It was important to stand with these people in the fight against poverty as it had torn their lives apart and yet they were generally judged to be responsible for their situation and the efforts that they made were not recognized.

From the 80s onwards ATD Fourth World has had a presence in Southern countries. People in the South requested the establishment of the movement in their countries after they learnt of its existence in Northern countries. We discovered that, as in Northern countries, people and families were often badly treated and sometimes even rejected by their local communities. It was these people that had the hardest lives.

ATD Fourth World movement concludes that rejected people in both the North and in the south are held responsible for their situation. They are not trusted, the effort that they make is not appreciated, and their opinion about how to fight against their situation is not valued. Changing this will come through action that is taken to improve material living conditions and also through the exchange of knowledge in order to tear down ignorance and shame. These actions must be anchored in the realities on the ground and must also be supported by local, regional, national and international government. In the South as in the North, ATD Fourth World has met people that fight for the reduction and eventual destruction of poverty and the movement endeavors to insure that no one is isolated in their solidarity with the poorest.

How is ATD Fourth World financed?

Back to the top

ATD Fourth World is financed by:

  • Membership fees from members in countries where ATD Fourth World has created a legal association
  • Tens of thousands of people throughout the world who contribute financially either occasionally or on a regular basis
  • Grants obtained for projects and programs that fight against poverty that come from local, regional and national government, as well as international bodies such as the European Community, the Council of Europe, and certain NGO agencies and private foundations
  • Donations from industry in countries where this is authorized.

Why does ATD Fourth World talk about Joseph Wresinski?

Back to the top

Joseph Wresinski is the founder of ATD Fourth World. The strength of his ideas and his capacity to meet with people from all works of life, from the poorest to the leading members of our societies, and ask them to engage personally and radically in the struggle against poverty made him captivating to all that met him.

His philosophy and his life were marked by his personal childhood and family experience of poverty and exclusion. He became a catholic priest. His life experiences gave him a very original vision of life and of society. He continued to develop this vision by confronting the realities of the world and by talking to people that he met.

The Joseph Wresinski centre gathers together all the texts, photos, videos, and recordings that allows us to discover who Father Joseph Wresinski was, and what he thought and achieved.

What’s the difference between ATD Fourth World and other NGOs that fight against poverty?

Back to the top

ATD Fourth World shares with many other NGOs the objective of ending poverty and the concern that actions undertaken respect people in the greatest difficulty.

NGOs that fight against poverty are generally the response of society to the tragedy of poverty: people from different social classes organize themselves to think and act together.

ATD Fourth World was started by people living in poverty

The movement was initiated by Joseph Wresinski, a man who was himself born into poverty, and by the inhabitants of a slum near Paris. It was, therefore, poor people themselves who started this NGO and who went to look for help in the rest of society as they could not realize their aims by themselves. Right at the beginning and to this day the people who had known or who knew great poverty were part of the movement. This influences all of the running and the choice of objectives of the NGO. It means that those who have had the hardest lives are at the center of the movement and that they bring their thoughts, experiences and propositions with them.

People that have not had an experience of poverty are, of course, welcome to join. The movement requires them to learn to think in this way and to act in a way that gives priority to those that have had the greatest difficulties.

Back to the top