The official international poverty line is defined (since 2015) at $1.90 or below per person per day using 2011 United States dollars purchasing power parity. (World Bank/IMF Global Monitoring Report).  This poverty threshold has seen incremental increases over the years, previously: $1.00 per person per day (1990), $1.08 (1993), $1.25 (2008).

Definitions of poverty matter: They define the standard at which we find being poor unacceptable and set the bar for responsibility and pro-active support. But we may shy away from talking about it through awareness - or guilt - of inequality.

Poverty alleviation is one of the greatest global challenges, thus Sustainable Development Goal #1 of the 17 Global Goals:

sdg #1: no poverty Earth changers supports the Sustainable Development Goals

sdg #1: no poverty
Earth changers supports the Sustainable Development Goals

SDG #1 "End poverty in all its forms everywhere"

Poverty can be relative - when people do not have a certain minimum level of living standard compared to the rest of society in the same or other country (Some nations develop their own poverty lines). Or it can be absolute (extreme, destitution) - a lack of means necessary to meet basic needs such as food, clothing and shelter, the same independent of location.

The former president of the World Bank, Robert McNamara, described absolute poverty as,

"a condition so limited by malnutrition, illiteracy, disease, squalid surroundings, high infant mortality, and low life expectancy as to be beneath any reasonable definition of human decency."

The United Nations (2011) notes that poverty is the inability of having choices and opportunities, a lack of basic capacity to participate effectively in society, insecurity, powerlessness and exclusion, a violation of human dignity. Poverty can even have an impact on the development of personality with regard to discrimination, behavioural and emotional disorders, conscientiousness and agreeableness.

Chumbe Island Tanzania's housekeeping & maintenance staff

Chumbe Island Tanzania's housekeeping & maintenance staff

Poverty is multifaceted and can comprise social, economic, environmental and political elements. For example, areas of poverty may seriously lack employment opportunities especially for women, who then don’t feel they have the right to contribute to household discussions and that they are not as well respected as men within the community. It also impacts on wider society, particularly important in areas where access to water, sanitation, medical care and employment opportunities is traditionally limited: Where women earn their own money, household spending on health and education increases.

Pangaea Exploration - Plastic Pollution: poverty affects environment & health

Pangaea Exploration - Plastic Pollution: poverty affects environment & health

So many of the Sustainable Development Goals affect and are affected by poverty - possibly why End Poverty was created as SDG Goal #1. There is a correlation between income inequality and higher rates of health and social problems (eg. obesity, mental illness, incarceration), lower rates of social goods (eg. life expectancy, educational level, social mobility) causing trust, anxiety, excessive consumption and further illness. Unsurprisingly, the downward spiral leads to greater volumes of people at the bottom of the pyramid: As wealth increases, so fewer people have it. The most have the least.

Such inequality may initiate growth from entrepreneurial value-demanding consumers, The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid, which, if sustained, may lead to improved wealth distribution. However, the gap between the Top of the Pyramid (ToP) and the Bottom of the Pyramid (BoP) is widening over time: Just 1% of the world population controls 50% of the wealth; the other 50% of wealth divided between 99% of the world. (The Guardian, 2016). Global inequality is growing.

Poverty Reduction?

According to the World Bank, between 1990 and 2015, the world's population living in extreme poverty fell from 1.75 billion people to 702.1 million (37.1% to 9.6%, falling below 10% for the first time).  The UN says if the poverty reduction rate prevails for the next 15 years, the global extreme poverty rate will likely fall to 4 per cent by 2030, assuming that growth benefits all income groups of the population equally.

However, as The Guardian (2015) points out, given the current economic model built on GDP, it would still take 100 years to bring the world's poorest up to the previous poverty line of $1.25 a day (regardless of the 2030 Agenda), even then missing the poorest 1%, or taking into account the revised poverty-line of $1.90 per person per day, the previous $1.25 having been deemed insufficient to survive on. Realistically, people may need more like $5 per day minimum, which could take 207 years:  Poverty reduction is possibly more realistic than eradication – and assuming no economic or ecological crises in the meantime.

Madagascar kids crowd to the St Luce school window

Madagascar kids crowd to the St Luce school window

Poverty alleviation involves improving the living conditions of the already poor. Development may be constrained by a lack of freedoms: Land and property rights, access to finance and technology; corruption and political instability can discourage investment and support by government in education, health and infrastructure. Foreign aid budgets may be reduced, tie governments into monopolistic trade relations and create unsustainable dependencies. 

Historically successful amelioration shows state-led change combining economic and social policies: Social issues aren't a consequence of economic growth turned on their head, instead looking at structural causes and drivers of poverty, social inequality and environment degradation to create better conditions for economically, environmentally and socially sustainable futures.


Using GDP as a measure of poverty is perhaps unhelpful: Based as it is on extraction, production and consumption, growth doesn’t necessarily or really benefit the poor: The richest have been shown to benefit most, and ‘trickle-down’ ineffective. Absurdly, the average income would have to be $1.3 million per year simply so that the poorest two-thirds of humanity could earn $5 per day (The Guardian, 2015), and even if that were so, how much of the planet would we end up destroying in the meantime to create such levels of GDP?

Rather, social policies need to consider redistribution of wealth, or indeed other definitions and measurement of what it means to be “poor” - for example, aiming for the Happy Planet Index of nations’ sustainable well-being for all.

Ntchisi Kids, malawi - supported by responsible safari company

Ntchisi Kids, malawi - supported by responsible safari company

Global Poverty Location

Of the 702.1 million people now in extreme poverty, the greatest areas of poverty are Sub-Saharan Africa with about 347.1 million (35.2% of the population) and South Asia with 231.3 million in poverty (13.5% of the population). About one in five persons in developing regions lives on less than $1.25 per day

Poverty reduction is not uniform across the world; prospering countries such as China, India and Brazil have made more progress in the measures of absolute poverty reduction than other countries, butof course it may not benefit all.

How can tourism help poverty?

Of course, tourism cannot solve all poverty problems alone. But it is well positioned to foster sustainable growth and development in areas of poverty and lift people out of it. Pro-poor tourism pro-actively focuses on the end result of net benefits for poor.

  • Tourism represents 9.8% of global GDP : US$7.2 trillion

Lapa Rios Costa Rica built and support the local school

Lapa Rios Costa Rica built and support the local school

Tourism is one of the largest and fastest growing sectors, labour-intensive so employment-reliant, providing jobs, income and entrepreneurial opportunities at community level, empowering less favoured groups such as youth and women, and all in areas of a country that other sectors might not reach.

  • Growth of 3.1% out-performs the wider economy, manufacturing, retail.

  • Tourism represents 1 in 11 jobs: 284 million (108 million directly)

  • 2.5 million new jobs generated in 2015 (directly)

  • Ranked 3rd worldwide export category in 2015, after fuels and chemicals and ahead of food and automotive products. (UNWTO)

  • Developing countries account for over 45% of world tourism arrivals and more than 35% of international tourism receipts. (UNCTD, 2013)

  • In 2015, the 49 least developed countries (LDCs) earned US$ 21 billion from international tourism: 7% of LDCs’ total exports, or 10% for non-oil exporters. (UNWTO, 2016)

Tourism in many developing and least developed countries is the most viable and sustainable economic development option, and in some countries, the main source of foreign exchange earnings.

Whilst there is a risk that tourism further separates wealthy tourists in luxury hotels from poor locals prevented from accessing their own natural heritage such as beaches, local people can be the tourism beneficiaries.

There are now almost 1.5 billion international tourists whose expenditure can be a force for good worldwide. The potential for tourism to help eradicate poverty is enormous.

  • Jascivan Carvalho certainly believes it. He’s spent 20 years working with local communities to help eradicate poverty in Ecuador:

We act today for a better tomorrow”.

Income can provide people the opportunity to not just eat, but provide themselves better food for their health, which puts less pressure on already-oversubscribed health services, human-wildlife cattle conflict and poaching conservation issues, or even children 'orphanage care' placements for exploitative voluntourism. Income from tourism can be invested into responsible community projects to help develop and increase those same health services, birth control to limit further population demand, clean water and sanitation, family and work support.

villager Carrying hay in Supi village, india

villager Carrying hay in Supi village, india

RSC clean accessible Water project in Ntchis, malawi

RSC clean accessible Water project in Ntchis, malawi

  • In India, this was the reason for setting up these village to village trekking trips in the Himalaya foothills. At the core of the Village Ways is a homestay-like guesthouse, with the tourism set up to run alongside to support, but not displace, traditional rural livelihoods.

  • Community, employment, education and health are also the focus for Tiger Mountain Pokhara Lodge in Nepal, to lift the locals out of poverty, who also make sure guests don't give directly, so as to not encourage begging (disempowering), sweets (bad for teeth) or kids to be out of school.

  • At Lake Nicaraugua, owner Karen committed to building Jicaro Island Ecolodge as a local asset for the local people and economy from the outset.

  • In Malawi, RSC run trips specifically designed around the Sustainable Development Goals, offering incredible insight into key challenges facing rural communities in Africa, all the while helping eradicate them through the tourists’ immersive learning experiences. Educational workshops for groups run in conjunction with local partners include Healthcare, Education, Environment, Climate Change, Water, Fair Trade, Sustainable Agriculture and Local Economic Development.

    Investment in infrastructure - roads &  transportation – is also required for tourism services, often to the benefit of local people too. Tourist services may support more training and education, capacity building in the community, as well as local educational needs like school building, equipment and meal provision to reduce absenteeism.

Chumbe Island Tanzania snorkel lesson

Chumbe Island Tanzania snorkel lesson

  • Chumbe Island Coral Park not only employs and trains local people, including supporting illegal fishermen to become guides, but also created a huge marine conservation education programme for the whole of Tanzania, as well as teaching local school students, including Muslim girls, to swim and appreciate the beauty of the environment through snorkelling.

Income from tourism can support the local environment, including marine conservation and key species, the sense of place, engendering in local custodians a strong sense of responsibility, pride and value for their home.

  • In Madagascar, SEED Madagascar‘s mission to foster Sustainable Environment Education and Development is to tackle extreme poverty in this, one the planet's most unique and endangered environments. Despite its flora and fora abundance, it’s one of the world's least developed and most impoverished countries, ranking 161/189 in the 2018 UN Human Development Index: 70% of people in live in multidimensional poverty (UNDP, 2011), with 92% living below the poverty line of $2 per day (World Food Programme). SEED Madagascar enables you to hands-on help with solutions for health, conservation, education and livelihoods as a volunteer.

Maasai pastoralists Spring Maasai Wilderness Conservation trust Kenya

Maasai pastoralists Spring Maasai Wilderness Conservation trust Kenya

The right and access to land, ownership and microfinance can also bring the opportunity for local tourism enterprise to develop, creating more opportunity for self-sustaining wealth generation. In buying from local businesses (hotels, restaurants, tour operators), tourists can support the local supply chains, and in turn the poorest of consumers thus contribute to sustainable development.

Tourism also provides a way for local people to support, promote and even keep alive their culture. While over-tourism can commoditise culture, carefully managed tourism can bring a great deal of pride and empowerment to communities’ traditional skills, sense of their place and importance in the world.

Sewing pastimes supporting rural village livelihoods & community in india

Sewing pastimes supporting rural village livelihoods & community in india

  • Tropic Ecuador are co-creating the first community-based tourism programme on Floreana Island, The Galapagos, where historically islanders have felt negative impacts of tourism but received few benefits.

  • In India, Village Ways ensures tourism supports but does not displace traditional skills and livelihoods. Wherever possible all necessary work is undertaken by the villagers: Hosts, guides, cooks, housekeepers and porters are all drawn from different families through the villages, all undertaking training to improve skills and sharing the benefits. Supplies (food, building materials, furnishings etc.) are sourced locally and the use of local skills is encouraged and developed, with training and guidance provided where needed, for example, in selling craft products.

Orang Laut Traditional Community near Nikoi island

Orang Laut Traditional Community near Nikoi island

  • Nikoi Island, as well as employing nearly 100% local people and offering them fantastic training and health benefits, have always supported the local suppliers indigenous Orang Laut people and their cultural identity.

    They’ve seen their traditional fishing net sewers introduced to jewellery making, and the creation and exhibition of a Swarovski crystal fishing net, displayed at the National Museum. And the Island supports the local traditional jong (model sailing boats) race twice a year, helping continue interest in this coastal cultural event from younger generations.

By 2030, The Sustainable Development Goals aim to eradicate extreme poverty for all people everywhere, and reduce at least by half the proportion of men, women and children of all ages living in poverty in all its dimensions according to national definitions