On the poorest continent, the plight of children is dramatic

Africa is considered the poorest continent on Earth. Almost every second person living in the states of sub-Saharan Africa lives below the poverty line. Particularly affected by poverty in Africa are the weakest members of society, their children and women.


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Poverty in Africa - the indicators

According to the World Bank, the International Poverty Line refers to those who have less than 1.25 US dollars a day to live, and thus live on the very edge of existence. The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) sets various indicators in its Human Development Index (HDI) to measure poverty in Africa and all other countries in the world. This includes:

  • life expectancy at birth,
  • average school attendance period,
  • expected school attendance period as well
  • per capita income.

As the indicators show, education is closely linked to poverty by the United Nations - because those who can not read and write have little chance of getting a skilled job and build their livelihood.

In the annual report on human development published by the United Nations (UN), the African countries of Malawi, Liberia, Burundi, Eritrea, Chad, Sierra Leone and Niger are regularly in last place - this has not changed until 2014.

A mother with a baby in front of her mud hut near Gode, Ethiopia

Especially in rural areas of Africa extreme poverty continues to increase: A mother with a baby in front of her mud hut near Gode, Ethiopia - Photo: M.Morosini

Poverty in Africa - facts and figures

  • Extreme poverty leads to hunger in Africa: More than a quarter of the hungry in the world live on the African continent. One fifth of people living in Africa are considered malnourished. This gives the continent the highest rate of malnourished people worldwide.
  • More than 30 percent of African children suffer from growth disorders such as stunting due to their chronic malnutrition. This disease causes a physical and mental underdevelopment in children.
  • Sub-Saharan Africa is the region with the highest infant mortality. On average, one in 11 children dies before his fifth birthday. Three of the four countries with the highest infant mortality worldwide are on the African continent: Ethiopia, Nigeria and Kenya. In addition to complications at birth and malnutrition, there are diseases such as pneumonia, diarrheal diseases and malaria, which lead to the early death of many children.
  • In sub-Saharan Africa, 59 million children between the ages of 5 and 17 work instead of playing and going to school. They fight poverty for their families. In Africa, every fifth child is cheated out of childhood and forced into child labor.
  • 25 million Africans are infected with the HIV virus, including approximately 2.9 million children. Many have lost one or even both parents and live as AIDS orphans on the street.


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Poverty in Africa - causes

The extreme poverty in Africa has many reasons, some of which are closely linked. Key causes of poverty in Africa and the suffering of millions of people include:

Growth of population

Population growth on the African continent is rapid, despite numerous prevention and education campaigns. Developmental success and economic growth cannot keep pace with this. The result: more and more Africans live in poverty. According to a recent study by UNICEF, the population of Africa will double by 2050 to two billion people.

War and crises

Of the world's 20 war-related conflicts in 2013, 11 alone were fought on the African continent - all in sub-Saharan Africa. This includes the wars in Sudan and South Sudan, Somalia, Nigeria, Mali, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic. In the crisis regions, agricultural production usually comes to a standstill. Many people flee, are forcibly expelled from their homes and are dependent on outside help. Poverty in Africa is increasing as a result of these wars.

Climatic conditions

The African continent has been suffering more and more from climate change in recent decades: devastating floods and extraordinary drought periods lead to crop failures. The consequences are regular hunger crises and famine in Africa. Particularly affected are East Africa and the Sahel region.


Diseases such as AIDS, malaria or Ebola are the cause but also the result of poverty in Africa. Lack of education and inadequate medical care in many regions means that diseases spread faster and cannot be treated. The average life expectancy of the population is decreasing and the number of orphans is increasing. Loss of labor is particularly noticeable in agriculture and leads to reduced food production.

Inadequate agricultural infrastructure

Roads, wells, irrigation systems, storage facilities, agricultural machinery - in many regions of Africa, agriculture lacks both infrastructure and expertise. That's why local self-help is so important in helping to fight poverty in Africa.

Unjust trade structures

Rich countries create unjust trading structures by shielding their markets with high agricultural tariffs and heavily subsidizing their own agriculture. This slows down the development of agriculture on the African continent, causing it to suffer from the outset. The governments of the U.S., the countries of Europe and other prosperous states thus contribute to poverty in Africa with their policies.

African girl in school class

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A unique solution for every child: SOS Children's Villages in the fight against poverty in Africa

The SOS Children's Villages in Africa work in 46 countries. Orphaned and abandoned children find a new home in the 147 children's villages across the continent, and we run 720 SOS programs throughout Africa. With our long-term development projects and emergency humanitarian aid, SOS Children's Villages has been fighting poverty in Africa since 1970.

There isn’t one solution that can be applied across the region, despite some of the overarching similarities in the challenges that children in Africa face. The extent to which children are empowered, the access to medical care, the local infrastructure, and the level of governmental support and stability are among the factors that determine how SOS Children’s Villages responds on the national, local, familial and individual levels. 

Preventing children from losing their families

The number 1 cause of child abandonment is poverty. 

Families across the world are more vulnerable today than ever before. Adverse circumstances like poverty, armed conflict and disease present overwhelming challenges for parents and threaten family stability.

When families are at risk of falling apart, children are at a much greater risk of being abandoned and left vulnerable to child labor, child trafficking and other threats to their safety.

SOS Children's Villages' family strengthening programs empower families to overcome hardships. We strengthen families at risk of falling apart, giving them the support they need to grow stronger, stay together and keep their children safe. This comprehensive approach builds resilient families that go on to better their own lives and strengthen their communities.

In partnership with governments, NGOs and other relief organizations, SOS builds effective community support systems. Our short-term assistance to vulnerable families includes food, medical care and access to education. Our long-term services, which focus on making families self-reliant, include savings and loan associations, income-generating activities, childrearing classes, health education and more.

Youth empowerment: breaking down barriers

SOS Children's Villages is invested in Africa for the long term, building schools in the communities where SOS villages are located, and empowering young people to learn about their rights and become their own advocates. We strive to build leaders of the future by giving youth the tools to handle adversity in all its forms, and we work not just within SOS villages but within the larger community as well.  

To prepare SOS alumni for employment success, we partner with national and local associations to offer mentoring and a variety of programs that enable youth to acquire the hard and soft skills required for today’s – and tomorrow’s – job market. In some areas, entrepreneurship training might be key; in others, training in local industries might be more beneficial; in still others, computer and language skills might be the most advantageous skills to have.  

Emergency response: helping people who have lost everything

Some of SOS Children's Villages' most urgent work in Africa is related to responding to disasters, whether human-caused or natural. Over the years, SOS has developed the know-how and the local foundations to quickly respond to large-scale humanitarian disasters. 

Whether drought, conflict, epidemics or other dire situations, disasters have a disproportionate effect on children and families. We currently maintain 10 emergency response programs in Africa, helping people who have lost everything and have nowhere else to turn.

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