A boy carries water at a refuge camp for impoverished citizens in Sudan.
A boy carries water at a refuge camp for impoverished citizens in Sudan.

According to UNICEF, approximately 600 million children in developing countries live on less than $1 per day. One person, usually a child under five, dies of hunger every 3.6 seconds. While poverty exists in every country and no one cause can be attributed to every country or region, there are several causes that affect large portions of the third world.


Many countries have never fully recovered from the effects of colonialism. For generations in parts of Africa, the healthiest of the young people were taken away by the slave trade. Even after the end of the slave trade, most colonies were used as sources of inexpensive labor and resources while providing little in terms of services and development to indigenous populations. These problems have continued into the 20th and 21st centuries as wealthier nations have supported dictatorships to insure a steady flow of inexpensive resources.

Corruption and Elitism

In many parts of the developing world, corrupt dictatorships and economic elitism contribute to income inequality and poverty. In a system where bribery is necessary for opportunities such as government contracts, those opportunities go to individuals with the money to pay the bribes. In corrupt governments opportunities also frequently go to those with friends and relatives inside the government itself. This tends to create a climate where a small group of already wealthy and powerful individuals become more wealthy and powerful, while the majority of the population is left in poverty.


According to the Centre for the Study of African Economies, education is one of the surest ways to lift people out of poverty. However, in many impoverished countries poor children do not go to school, either because educational opportunities are not available or because children have to work to help support their family. This creates a cycle of poverty where each successive generation needs children to work rather than go to school.

Environment and Resources

A lack of resources also frequently contributes to poverty in the third world. This includes a lack of basics such as fuel, water and land for producing food. Poor education contributes to this problem when poor land management leads to lower crop yields. Additionally, poor public health and environmental practices lead to increases in disease. According to UNICEF, one in five children worldwide have no access to sanitation facilities and one in four children do not have access to safe drinking water.