Poverty in Asia

Poverty in Asia

Asia has achieved remarkable economic progress in recent decades. Despite this, it is home to nearly half of the world’s poorest people, rendering poverty a key issue to be addressed. According to World Bank’s report in 2018, of the 783 million extremely poor who live below the poverty line of US$1.9 (HK$15) a day, about 33% live in South Asia and 9% live in East Asia and the Pacific.

While most of the developing world’s poor live in rural areas, the proportion of the poor living in urban areas is increasing. In Asia, the number of urban poor has risen in several countries. It is obvious that urban poverty appears to be a growing challenge Asia has to face as the economy becomes more prosperous and urbanised.

Reshma (left) is celebrating her son's second birthday. For children and families living in poverty, like Reshma, everyday struggle can be a matter of life and death. "It was a miracle for us to have survived a day, because we were so poor," says Reshma’s mother (right).

"A birthday means my child survived another year and that is a reason to celebrate," says Reshma.

Let’s explore the sections here and find out more on poverty in Asia.

Source: World Bank


Let's look closer at some poverty-related facts in Asia:


Adult Literacy Rate:


Open Defecation:

Urban Poverty

Asia has become more urbanised. Out of the world’s 37 megacities, the eight most populated are all in Asia, so are eight of the world’s 10 most densely populated cities. Migration from rural to urban helps the rural poor to seek new job opportunities and improve their access to social welfare services. However, urbanisation in developing Asian countries has also led to increasing urban poverty. Over 60% of the world’s total slum population live in Asia.

Source: Asian Development Bank, World Bank, UN-Habitat, Demographia


In facing poverty, the following groups often bear the brunt of impact.

Urban Poor

The urban poor are vulnerable to high unemployment, poor-quality housing, limited access to water and sanitation, electricity, transport services, education and healthcare.

Dharavi Slum of India is one of the largest slums in Asia where people are living in unhygienic and densely populated conditions. According to the World Bank, Asia has over 60% of the world’s total slum population, and many more live in slum-like conditions in areas that are classified as “non-slum” officially.

Watch an interview of a young boy in a slum in Delhi, India, with World Vision’s Anti-Child Labour Ambassador. Watch Video


Women are particularly vulnerable to risks under urban poverty, for example:

  • Single mothers and their children are more prone to evictions and exploitation in shared tenures or by landlords
  • Women are likely to contract diseases due to poor water supply system and sewage management
  • In an urban setting, where streets are poorly lit and unemployment rate is high, women and girls are vulnerable to exploitation, assaults, and social diseases such as HIV infection and other reproductive health problems


Nearly half of the world’s child labourers are in the Asia Pacific region (ILO, 2017). Families trapped in cycle of poverty often send their children to work for a living, especially when education is unaffordable and decent work for adults are rare. Children are deprived of their childhood, their potential and their dignity due to child labour. Some of them are engaged in hazardous work that exceed reasonable hours and interfere with their education.

“The first day I felt bad, I thought it wasn’t good. I was too small. I was surrounded by other older people. That first day, I cried,” Bithi recalls the starting day of her factory life when she was 12.

Abject poverty and a sick father have forced Bithi’s family to send the two oldest daughters to the garment factories in Bangladesh. Everyday, Bithi helps create a minimum of 480 pairs of pants, for 83.3 taka (about HK$8). When Bithi sees other girls her age in their blue-and-white chequered school uniforms, she admits to feeling “painful”. She once had a dream for the future – to become a doctor – but she has given up on that dream.

Source: UH-Habitat, Asian Development Bank, International Labour Organisation


Natural Disaster & Climate Change

People affected by the quake are trying to get whatever they can from their damaged houses.
Many Asian countries, especially those depending on agriculture, forestry, fishery and tourism, are often affected by natural disasters. Asia Pacific is the world's most disaster-prone region. In 2015, almost half of the world’s recorded natural disasters occurred in the Asia Pacific region which include floods, extreme temperatures, earthquakes, storms, wild fires and drought. In addition, natural disasters have been increasing in both frequency and severity in Asia in recent years because of climate change. Disasters not only lead to fatalities and injuries, but also damage to farming and livestock production, housing and infrastructure, causing various kinds of economic losses.

In 2017, after passing through Hong Kong and Macau, Typhoon Hato and its related torrential monsoon rains further hit Vietnam, Bangladesh, India and Nepal, claiming over 900 lives and affecting 41 million people.


According to the UNDP, corruption is a result of malfunctioning state institutions due to poor governance. Corruption, development and poverty are inter-related at state level.

“When public money is stolen for private gain, it means fewer resources to build schools, hospitals, roads and water treatment facilities. When foreign aid is diverted into private bank accounts, major infrastructure projects come to a halt. Corruption enables fake or substandard medicines to be dumped on the market, and hazardous waste to be dumped in landfill sites and in oceans. The vulnerable suffer first and worst,” says Ban Ki-moon, the UN Secretary-General, for 2009’s International Anti-Corruption Day.

Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index measured the corruption level of 180 countries around the globe in 2017. Over 70% of the Asia Pacific countries scored below 50, which indicates serious corruption problem. This implies hindrance to the progress of poverty reduction in the region.

Source: UNESCAP, UNDP, Asian Development Bank, Transparency International


The map below shows the 10 poorest countries in Asia based on GDP per capita.

Source: World Bank (2017)

How We Help

Aiming to create lasting change in the lives of children, families and communities living in poverty, World Vision works with communities in different Asian countries to carry out programmes on various aspects including health and nutrition, water and sanitation, education and economic development. Below are some of the examples.

Positive Deviance/Hearth (PD/Hearth) Programme

PD/Hearth is a popular approach used by many international organisations. World Vision conducts research and identifies “positive deviants” – families that are raising well-nourished children despite poverty, and finds out what they are doing right, for example, the food and the way they cook, and their healthcare and hygiene practices. “Positive practices” that are unique to the local context, low-cost and effective in improving children’s nutritional status will be shared with others, often by the mothers themselves, in teaching sessions conducted at the “hearth” or home.

Leader Mother Sujani (centre) in Sri Lanka, serves children a second round of food prepared by their mothers in the PD/Hearth programme. “In the past, getting children to finish their meal was not easy. Now look at them, asking for another serving!” says Sujani.

Improving Access to Water, Sanitation & Hygiene (WASH)

World Vision works with community members to construct wells, boreholes, water harvesting facilities and water treatment facilities to ensure safe use of water. Sanitation projects such as construction and promoting use of improved latrines are widely conducted. Good hygiene practices such as hand washing and ending open defecation are also promoted at personal and community levels.

Empowering Child Labourers

While ending child labour is a long-term progress, World Vision reaches out to child labourers through children’s centres. At these centres, working children can play with their peers, learn to deal with dangers, take part in educational activities and relax in a safe place. Child workers also enjoy access to informal education at the centre, where they can continue to build literacy skills despite dropping out of school.

Hossain (centre) is quite different from the traditional employers at his area in Dhaka, Bangladesh. He is an active member of the local Child Labour Committee formed by 15 members with the assistance of World Vision.

Unlike all the members, Hossain is also concerned about the future of the children. He says, “I always encourage these children not to waste their time after work and go to school.” He assists children working at his shop to enrol at the learning centres run by World Vision and its partners.

Fostering Economic Development

Ramu, who lives in a slum in India, receives a rickshaw from World Vision through livelihood support programme.
Through livelihood programmes such as provision of small tools or asset for economic development, vocational training, setting up savings and loans groups and producers groups, and linking small producers to microfinance, we seek to improve family income, thereby ensuring the well-being of children and lessening the chance of child labour.

Education & Advocacy

We share the world's needs and stories through different ways with the hope of touching more people's lives, so that in the end even more lives across the globe can be touched and transformed. They include:

Ways you can help :