Goal: Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger

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Targets by 2015:
Reduce by half the proportion of people living on less than a dollar a day.

Reduce by half the proportion of people who suffer from hunger.

Reducing poverty starts with children.

Poverty hits children hardest. While a severe lack of goods and services hurts every human, it is most threatening to children’s rights: survival, health and nutrition, education, participation, and protection from harm and exploitation. It creates an environment that is damaging to children’s development in every way – mental, physical, emotional and spiritual.

Some regions of the world have more dire situations than others, but even within one country there can be broad disparities – between city and rural children, for example, or between boys and girls. An influx or tourism in one area may improve a country’s poverty statistics overall, while the majority remains poor and disenfranchised.

Each deprivation heightens the effect of the others. So when two or more coincide, the effects on children can be catastrophic. For example, women who must walk long distances to fetch household water may not be able to fully attend to their children, which may affect their health and development. And children who themselves must walk long distances to fetch water have less time to attend school – a problem that particularly affects girls.

Children who are not immunized or who are malnourished are much more susceptible to the diseases that are spread through poor sanitation. Poverty exacerbates the effects of HIV/AIDS and armed conflict. It entrenches social, economic and gender disparities and undermines protective family environments. It contributes to malnutrition, which in turn is a contributing factor in under-five deaths in developing countries. 

The best start in life is critical in a child’s first few years, not only to survival but to her or his physical, intellectual and emotional development. So these deprivations greatly hamper children’s ability to achieve their full potential, contributing to a society’s cycle of endless poverty and hunger.

Fulfilling children’s rights breaks that cycle. Providing them with basic education, health care, nutrition and protection produces results of many times greater magnitude than these cost-effective interventions.  Their chances of survival and of a productive future are greatly increased – as are the chances of a truly fair and peaceful global society.

UNICEF responds by:

Building national capacities for primary health care. The improvement of child health is one responsibility among many in the fight against poverty. Healthy children become healthy adults: people who create better lives for themselves, their communities and their countries. Working in this area also helps to further Goal 4 – to improve child survival rates.

Helping the world's children survive and flourish is a core UNICEF activity, and immunization is central to that. A global leader in vaccine supply for children in developing countries, UNICEF operates and supports immunization programmes that usually include other cost-effective health initiatives – like micronutrient supplementation to fight disabling malnutrition and insecticide-treated bed nets to fight malaria.

Along with governments and non-governmental organizations at the national and community levels, UNICEF works to strengthen local health systems and improve at-home care for children, including oral re-hydration to save the lives of infants with severe diarrhoea, and promoting and protecting breastfeeding.

Getting girls to school. An education is perhaps a child’s strongest barrier against poverty, especially for girls. Educated girls are likely to marry later and have healthier children. They are more productive at home and better paid in the workplace, better able to protect themselves against HIV/AIDS and more able to participate in decision-making at all levels. Additionally, this UNICEF activity furthers Goals 2 and 3: universal primary education and gender equality.

To that end, UNICEF calls on development agencies, governments, donors and communities worldwide to step up efforts on behalf of education for all children, and then coordinates those efforts. Programmes differ from country to country, according to needs and cultures, but may include help with funding, logistics, information technology, school water and sanitation, and a child- and gender-friendly curriculum.

Supporting good nutrition. UNICEF seeks to help stem the worst effects of malnutrition by funding and helping countries supply micronutrients like iron and vitamin A, which is essential for a healthy immune system, during vaccination campaigns or through fortified food. UNICEF, governments, salt producers and private sector organizations are also working to eliminate iodine deficiency, the biggest primary cause of preventable mental retardation and brain damage, through the Universal Salt Iodization (USI) education campaign. UNICEF also works through communities to talk with child caregivers about how to provide sound nutrition for children, particularly via breastfeeding.

In emergency situations, UNICEF assesses the nutritional and health needs of affected people, protects and supports breastfeeding by providing safe havens for pregnant and lactating women, provides essential micronutrients, supports therapeutic feeding centres for severely malnourished children, and provides food for orphans.

Assisting in water and sanitation improvement. Millions of children in the developing world have no access at all to sanitation facilities or safe water. Meanwhile, unsafe water and sanitation cause thousands of child deaths per day. Through advocacy, funding and technical assistance, UNICEF works around the world to improve water supplies and sanitation facilities in schools and communities, and to improve and promote safe hygiene practices.

In emergencies UNICEF provides safe water and helps displaced communities replace or find new water resources and build latrines. Increasingly, UNICEF emphasizes preventive programs that strengthen the capacity of governments and partners to prepare for these worst case situations.

Creating a protective child environment. Conflicts are most frequent in poor countries, especially in those that are ill governed and where there are sharp inequalities between ethnic or religious groups. An environment of unrest heightens the risk of abduction, sexual violence and exploitation of children, as well as the struggle for shelter, education and survival.

Toward fulfilling a central goal of the Millennium Declaration, protection of the vulnerable, UNICEF advocates for awareness and monitoring of these issues, and for tougher laws for child exploiters. Working with individuals, civic groups, governments and the private sector in the field, UNICEF helps establish and strengthen local safety nets for children, like community child-care centers, schools, and basic social services.

Advocating, raising awareness and helping effect policies for children’s well-being. Lastly, UNICEF complements these on-the-field activities with policy advocacy at every level of government. Spreading awareness and offering technical assistance, UNICEF aids countries in forming and effecting programs that help ensure children’s rights to survive and thrive.

These include working with governments on developing broad national planning frameworks like Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSPs) and Sector-wide Approaches to Programming(SWAPs), which help countries and donors identify needs and form a results-based plan for change.

These policies and programmes don’t take shape in a void. Along with national committees, other UN agencies and international private groups, UNICEF helps countries carry out assessment research to define and measure child poverty, and then helps put a system in place to monitor results.


Some countries have made progress meeting this Goal, but success is mixed. India and China are on track to meet the income target at least, but in a classic example of national disparities, hundreds of millions of people in India and China are still chronically or acutely malnourished. Most sub-Saharan African countries will likely miss both targets.

Read Thematic Paper on MDG 1: Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger [PDF]