Highly Vulnerable Children

The Problem of Poverty in Asia

According to the World Bank, more than 320 million people in Asia live in extreme poverty, which means hundreds of millions of people are living on less than $2.15 a day — the standard economic definition of poverty. Everything they need to survive – food, shelter, clothing, transportation – has to come from this small amount of money.

As a result, hunger in Asia is a huge problem. The poor go hungry on a regular basis. What food they can afford is cheap and often lacking in the essential proteins, vitamins and minerals necessary to survive, let alone thrive.

The Inequality of Economic Growth in Asia

Asia and the Pacific have experienced steady economic growth in recent decades. Job opportunities have increased, and many of those jobs pay more than they used to.

Unfortunately, the benefits of Asia’s recent economic growth are not available to everyone. Far too many people still live beneath the global poverty line. Poverty reduction efforts that have lowered the poverty rate in recent decades have slowed and are expected to reverse in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Too many people living in Asian countries are struggling to survive.

A large percentage of the Asian population is employed by the agricultural sector. Farms are located in rural areas, and at least three out of every four people in rural communities in Asia Pacific are poor.1

In fact, more than four out of every five people in South Asia who suffer from hunger live in rural communities, and the situation in rural communities in East Asia and the Pacific isn’t much better. Seventy-five percent of the people living in rural East Asia and the Pacific are poor and struggling to afford food.

Economically, most jobs that pay enough to help people live above the poverty line are found in sectors other than agriculture. Most of the jobs are also only available in urban areas. But many families cannot afford to move in an attempt to find a better job. Even if a family can relocate, these other jobs may require training or education that adults don’t have access to.

Poverty is a Cycle

Although global poverty is often defined in economic terms (i.e. living on less than $2.15 a day), poverty is ultimately about a lack of opportunity, and a number of factors work against the poor on a daily basis.

When people are constantly struggling to survive, they don’t have the freedom to make choices that will benefit themselves or their families in the long --term. This lack of opportunity, or a lack of hope, can also lead to extreme discouragement. When opportunities do arise, someone who is discouraged may be less likely to take advantage of that opportunity, or a lack of hope, can also lead to extreme discouragement. When opportunities do arise, someone who is discouraged may be less likely to take advantage of that opportunity.

A young boy outside

Factors That Make Poverty Worse

In addition to the economic inequality the poor in Asia experience, access to health care, sanitation, proper nutrition and education is also inadequate. Additionally, many communities have struggled to recover from a series of natural disasters that have hit Asia hard in recent years, such as cyclones, floods, tsunamis and earthquakes.

Natural Disasters

Asia-Pacific has been home to more natural disasters in recent years than any other region of the world. In 2014-2017 alone, over 870 million people in Asia were killed, lost their livelihoods, or had to relocate due to a natural disaster.2


According to the World Food Programme, it’s the emphasis on proper nutrition throughout life that changes lives and will break the cycle of poverty.

Over 380 million children and adults in Asia are not getting proper nutrition in their diets. This lack of food and proper nutrition can cause problems with physical and cognitive growth during early childhood development.

Malnourished children can experience stunting (low height for age), wasting (low weight for height) and a host of other physical problems. On top of that, cognitive development can be slowed or hindered, making life as an adult much harder than it would be for a child who had received proper nutrition.

According to the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, more than 60% of all of the world’s malnourished children live in Asia.
Inadequate Sanitation

According to UNICEF, “610 million people in South Asia still practice open defecation (over 60% of the global burden),” and the World Health Organization (WHO) lists diarrheal diseases as the second leading cause of death among children ages 5 and under. WHO estimates more than half of these deaths could be prevented or adequately treated with access to proper health care, clean water and proper nutrition.3

Health Care

It is estimated that 45% of all deaths of children under the age of 5 are largely related to child malnutrition.4 Chronic undernourishment and malnutrition often lead to other health problems, which, when left untreated, lead to illness, disease and sometimes death.

For example, children who are chronically malnourished are much more likely to die from diarrhea, pneumonia and malaria. Yet these illnesses and diseases are all treatable. The problem isn’t that these young children can’t be saved when they fall sick. The problem is that they don’t have access to or cannot afford quality health care when they need it.

A young girl

How Can I Help Reduce Poverty in Asia?

Breaking the cycle of poverty involves a holistic approach to development. It involves providing food and access to clean water, health care and education. It also involves creating healthy environments where children can grow and learn in safety, places where they know they are being cared for and protected. This protection is especially critical in areas where children are so often taken advantage of.

Financial assistance is part of the solution, but money alone will not solve the problem. Since poverty affects every aspect of a person’s existence, ending poverty requires addressing all the different ways that poverty has told its victims, “You are helpless, and you don’t matter.”

Reducing poverty in Asia requires holistic support addressing everything from social development and physical health, to education and vocational training, protection and justice for victims of abuse, and economic and agricultural productivity.

We offer several ways to support holistic care for Asian children in poverty, including sponsoring a child in Asia or donating to one of our many initiatives benefiting impoverished children in Asia and around the world.

A girl and boy standing outside

Helping Vulnerable Children in Asia

Our Highly Vulnerable Children’s Fund helps support and protect children vulnerable to abuse, exploitation, homelessness and trafficking — regardless of whether they are in Asia, Africa, South America or Central America.

By offering holistic care and providing safe places to study, play and be a child, our frontline church partners help protect vulnerable children.

Your tax-deductible donation to our Highly Vulnerable Children’s Fund helps fight the damaging effects of poverty on children by providing benefits that supplement our Child Sponsorship Program, such as foster care, trauma counseling, safe shelter, trafficking prevention awareness and legal resources to help find missing children.

Make a donation today!
Blue line icon of heartEmotional Intervention

Prayer, counseling, rehabilitation and foster care for children who are hurting.

Blue line icon of hand holding childParental Support

Support can include legal resources to find missing children, trafficking prevention awareness, and income generating opportunities so that their children aren't exploited for income.

Blue line icon of fork and plateBasic Human Needs

Medical care, nutritious food, shelter, clothing and shoes for children in immediate need.

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1 Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO). 2018. Asia and the Pacific Regional Overview of Food Security and Nutrition 2018 – Accelerating progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Bangkok. License: CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 IGO.

2 Wood, J. (2018, December 6). Why Asia-Pacific is especially prone to natural disasters. Retrieved August 21, 2020, from https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2018/12/why-asia-pacific-is-especially-prone-to-natural-disasters/

3 World Health Organization fact sheet, Diarrhoeal Disease, 2 May 2017.

4 World Health Organization fact sheet, Children: Reducing Mortality, 19 September 2019.