The causes of hunger, poverty and disease


Every single day, 30,000 children are dying as a result of extreme poverty. That means over a thousand children will have died during one lesson – all the children at your school dying every hour, every day.

Problems in developing countries are complex, and one set of problems can lead to another in a ‘vicious circle’. Difficulties faced include:


Lack of education
Poor sanitation
Lack of development
Trade restrictions

Child labour

Infant mortality


Poor climate

The North/South divide

If you get a map of the world, you can separate the poorer countries from the wealthier countries with a straight horizontal line. Apart from a few exceptions, such as Australia, this gives an accurate picture of where the wealth lies:



Developed countries Developing countries
25% of the world’s population 75% of world population
Use 4/5ths of the world’s resources, e.g. food and fuel Use 1/5 of the world resources
4/5th of world income 1/5th of world income – most get less than £1.25 a week
Life expectancy – 70 years

Life expectancy – less than 50 years

12 children out of 1000 die before age 5 100+ out of 1,000 die before age 5
94% of the world’s healthcare 6% of the world’s health care
470 people per doctor, 140 people per nurse 14,000 people per doctor, 3,000 people per nurse
Easy access to medical care Most (70%) never encounter medical care

Water - 100% access to clean water. No droughts.

Water - 70% get disease ridden, dirty water. 1 in 7 have serious droughts and water shortages
Food - virtually no hunger Food - 1 billion people (20% world population) – not enough food
Malnutrition kills virtually nobody Malnutrition causes 4 million childhood deaths per year; 40,000 people die every day of starvation, malnutrition, hunger and disease – most of which is preventable

90% of children get secondary education

10% of children get secondary education

Absolute poverty

"Absolute poverty is a condition of life so characterised by malnutrition, illiteracy, disease, high infant mortality and low life expectancy as to be beneath any reasonable definition of human dignity."

Robert Macnamara

1 billion people, 1/5 of the world's population, live in absolute poverty. While we worry about dieting, 35,000 people starve to death every day. They will never realise their full potential. They are caught in a poverty trap of no schools, hospitals, employment, technology, transport or communications.

Many of the world's poorest countries in South America and Africa are caught in debt, environmental problems and overpopulation. The majority of people earn less than £100 a year (the average wage in the UK is £17,000). While you are reading this some 450 million people are starving to death.

The Brandt Report

Willy Brandt chaired a commission which looked at the extent of world poverty, differences between rich and poor, and the reasons for these differences. The Brandt Report said that:

Main causes of poverty

Population explosion

The world’s population will double to 14 billion by 2050.

Main problems this will cause

Many people believe that “It’s their own fault for having too many kids!”

However, they have large families because of poverty. They need large families to survive –e.g. grow crops; make sure some children live to be adults; look after parents when they grow old (there is no old age pension).


Disasters seem to occur regularly in the Developing World, e.g. floods, disease and famine. Because of poverty, their homes are flimsy and easily destroyed. There is little extra food or medicines. They have few resources or an infrastructure to deal with serious disaster.


Major cause of poverty in developing countries is war, either against another country, or civil war. Instead of spending money on education, health or agriculture, countries spend money on weapons. War destroys schools, infrastructure and hospitals. Landmines and bombs destroy farming land. People are fighting instead of planting and harvesting crops. Many become refugees.


For every £1 given in aid, £9 is taken back in debt repayments. Debt is a major problem. In the 1960s and 1970s, Developing Countries took out loans from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and rich countries. The debts have to be paid back with interest, and countries often end up owing far more than they can afford to pay back. The IMF then imposes “Structural Adjustment Programmes”, which forces the country to cut down on healthcare and education, so they can pay the debt.

Africa’s interest repayments cost four times as much as is spent on health care.

In Zambia, between 1990 and 1993, debt repayments cost 34 times as much as the country was able to spend on primary school education – education spending fell by more than 80%.


Rich Developed Countries buy goods such as sugar, cotton and coffee from the poor South. However, poor countries receive low prices because people in the North want cheap groceries. This keeps people in poverty.

Education and child labour

250 million+ children between 5 and 14 work (often dangerously) in factories, fields, and on the streets. In the poorest countries, most adults cannot read or write. Most children never get a secondary education because they work to bring in money for the family. Most of these are girls.

Lack of education brings problems such as:

Rich countries need education, too. They do not deliberately buy goods from companies that cheat the poor - they simply do not know what is going on.

Church teaching on the causes of poverty

Roman Catholic teaching on the causes of poverty

The Roman Catholic Church says the underlying cause is SIN

Humans disobey God’s laws, and think more about politics, power and money instead of morals, human rights, justice, fairness, and the way God wants the world to be. The world is in this state because of human greed and selfishness. It is not enough to pray about the situation if we are the cause of it.

“True happiness is not found in riches or well-being, in human fame or power, or in any human achievement… God blesses those who come to the aid of the poor and rebukes those who turn away from them. Rich nations have a grave moral responsibility towards those which are unable to ensure the means of their development by themselves.”

Roman Catholic Catechism

“ The Synod [believes] that, as a matter of common humanity and of our mutual interest in survival, the world requires a new and more equitable system of economic relationships between nations.”

General Synod of the Church of England, 1981

Make Poverty History campaign

Many of the problems that poor people face are caused by the way we (in wealthier countries) treat them. That’s why so many people have joined in the campaign to ‘make poverty history’ by focussing on:


These 9 words sum up the campaign, and are worth remembering for your exam.