What is Poverty? A Definition from Five Talents

Five Talents serves the poorest and most vulnerable communities in developing countries

Most dictionaries define poverty as having "inferior quality or insufficient amount." 

The World Health Organization defines poverty as when individual or household income is below what is needed for sustenance.

More specifically, The World Bank identifies extreme poverty when per capita income is below the international poverty, which is currently set at $1.90 per day.

Extreme Poverty is defined by the United Nations as "a condition characterized by severe deprivation of basic human needs, including food, safe drinking water, sanitation facilities, health, shelter, education and information. It depends not only on income but also on access to services."

While these definitions are helpful, they are also inadequate. Poverty must be experienced to be understood. Among the poor, poverty is understood in terms of shame, powerlessness, hopelessness, and humiliation. Walk in the shoes of the poor and you will understand that:

Poverty is an unmet need and an unfulfilled longing. Poverty is lack of food, shelter, and everything good. Poverty is being sick and unable to see a doctor. Poverty is never having an opportunity to go to school. Poverty means not knowing how to read and write. Poverty is clothes that don't fit. Poverty is standing on the outside looking in. Poverty is dirty water you must drink. Poverty is a man without a job and a family without a home. Poverty is a long walk without shoes. Poverty is illness without treatment. Poverty is pain in the stomach. Poverty is vulnerability to every scheme, lie, and cheat. Poverty is an empty refrigerator. Poverty is no refrigerator, no stove, no electricity. Poverty is one toilet for one hundred neighbors. Poverty is a thief in the night. Poverty is a drunk father. Poverty is a child lost to preventable disease. Poverty is a mother weeping. Poverty is injustice without appeal. Poverty is cruel. Poverty is stress. Poverty is shame. Poverty is famine. Poverty is war. Poverty is pain. Poverty is life without life. Poverty marginalizes, poverty suffocates, and poverty kills.

More than 3 billion people live in poverty. In the time it took you to read this definition, twenty six of them just died. Eight died of lower respiratory infections. Six died of starvation. Five died of water borne disease. Four died of HIV/AIDS. Two died of malaria. One died in childbirth.

At Five Talents, we fight poverty. Find out how.


  1. World Health Organization. Multidimensional Poverty. Accessed 2018.
  2. World Bank. The 2017 global poverty update from the World Bank. 10/16/2017.
  3. United Nations. Report of the World Summit for Social Development. March 6th - 12th, 1995.
  4. Narayan, Deeta. (2000). Poverty is powerlessness and voicelessness. 37. 18-21.
  5. Maternal and child undernutrition and overweight in low-income and middle-income countries. Black, Robert E et al. The Lancet, Volume 382, Issue 9890, 427 - 451.
  6. Top Ten Causes of Death by Country Income Group, World Health Organization (2012)
  7. Pneumonia and diarrhoea: Tackling the deadliest diseases for the world's poorest children, UNICEF (2012)
  8. Levels and Trends in Child Mortality; UNICEF, WHO, World Bank, UN-DESA Population Division (2015)