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750 Million Struggling to Meet Basic Needs With No Safety Net
World

750 Million Struggling to Meet Basic Needs With No Safety Net

by Neli Esipova, Julie Ray and Ying Han
750 Million Struggling to Meet Basic Needs With No Safety Net

Story Highlights

  • One in seven adults worldwide struggle to afford food, shelter with no help
  • At least some percentage in every country is "highly vulnerable"
  • Highly vulnerable in developed, developing world as likely to have health problems

This article is the first in series based on results from Gallup's new Basic Needs Vulnerability Index.

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Imagine being unable to afford food or to put a roof over your head, or maybe you are struggling to do both. On top of this, you don't have family or friends who can help you.

Now, imagine this is all happening and a pandemic hits.

Gallup's new Basic Needs Vulnerability Index, based on surveys in 142 countries in 2019, suggests this was the reality for hundreds of millions worldwide just as COVID-19 arrived.

About one in seven of the world's adults -- or about 750 million people -- fall into this index's "High Vulnerability" group, which means they are struggling to afford either food or shelter, or struggling to afford both, and don't have friends or family to count on if they were in trouble.

Globally, at least some adults in every country fall into the High Vulnerability group, which is important because Gallup finds people in this group are potentially more at risk in almost every area of their lives. Worldwide, these percentages range from 1% in wealthy countries such as Denmark and Singapore to roughly 50% in places such as Benin and Afghanistan.

20200602_vulnerability@2x

Heat map. People in the High Vulnerability group on Gallup's Basic Needs Vulnerability Index say there were times in the past year when they were unable to afford food or shelter or say they struggled to afford both and say they do not have family or friends who could help them in times of trouble. The percentages worldwide who fell into this category ranged from 1% to 50%.

Gallup's Basic Needs Vulnerability Index gauges people's potential exposure to risk from economic and other types of shocks like a pandemic. Beyond measuring people's ability to afford food and shelter, this index also folds in whether people have personal safety nets -- people who can help them when they are in trouble.

People worldwide fall into one of three groups:

High Vulnerability: People in this group say there were times in the past year when they were unable to afford food or shelter or say they struggled to afford both and say they do not have family or friends who could help them in times of trouble.

Moderate Vulnerability: People in this group say there were times in the past year when they were unable to afford food or shelter or say they struggled to afford both, and they do have family or friends to help them in times of trouble.

Low Vulnerability: People in this group say there were not times in the past year when they struggled to afford food or shelter and say they do have family or friends to help them if they were in trouble.

Before the pandemic, most of the world was at least moderately vulnerable, falling into either the High Vulnerability group (14%) or the Moderate Vulnerability group (39%). The rest, 47%, fell into the Low Vulnerability group.

The life experiences in these three groups illustrate the difference that not having family and friends to count on in times of trouble can make in people's lives.

Highly Vulnerable Most Likely to Experience Health Problems, Experience Pain

While people in the High Vulnerability group are potentially more at risk in almost every area of their lives than those in the other two groups, they are particularly at risk when it comes to their health.

More than four in 10 (41%) of the highly vulnerable say they have health problems that keep them from doing activities that people their age normally do. This percentage drops to 29% among those who are moderately vulnerable and to 14% among those with low vulnerability.

World's Most Vulnerable Most Likely to Have Health Problems
Have health problems Experienced physical pain
% Yes % Yes
High vulnerability 41 53
Moderate vulnerability 29 37
Low vulnerability 14 20
Based on 142 countries and territories
Gallup World Poll, 2019

The same is true for experiences of physical pain. The highly vulnerable are also far more likely to say they experienced physical pain the day before the interview (53% have) compared with 37% in the moderately vulnerable and 20% in the lowest vulnerability group.

Looking at who the highly vulnerable are within the global population reinforces why the greater risks to their health are so important. Globally, people in the high vulnerability group are just as likely to be male or female (14% of each fall into this group), and percentages are similar in the 15 to 29 age group (12%) and 60 and older group (14%).

However, the highly vulnerable are more likely to live in rural (16%) rather than urban areas (10%) and be in the poorest 20% of the population (21%) than the richest 20% of the population (7%).

Highly Vulnerable in Developed and Developing Countries Poor Health in Common

As might be expected, most of the countries with the highest percentage in the High Vulnerability group are a mix of developing economies and notably one emerging economy -- India -- and the countries with the lowest percentage are developed, high-income economies.

Countries With the Highest Percentage of High Vulnerability
High Vulnerability
%
Afghanistan 50
Benin 49
Malawi 36
Togo 34
Sierra Leone 32
Zambia 32
Congo (Brazzaville) 32
Morocco 31
India 30
Those in the High Vulnerability group on the Basic Needs Vulnerability Index were struggling to afford food or shelter, or struggling to afford both, and do not have family or friends to count on in times of trouble.
Gallup World Poll, 2019

Countries With the Lowest Percentage of High Vulnerability
High Vulnerability
%
United Kingdom 1
Singapore 1
Sweden 1
Denmark 1
Lithuania 1
Iceland 1
Switzerland 1
Those in the High Vulnerability group of Gallup's Basic Needs Vulnerability Index struggled to afford food or shelter, or struggled to afford both, and did not have friends or family to count on in times of trouble.
Gallup World Poll, 2019

However, regardless of where they are located or their level of development, the highly vulnerable populations look a lot alike. In fact, when it comes to health problems, among the highly vulnerable populations, almost the exact same percentage in developing economies (41%) and high-income economies (42%) report having them.

The highly vulnerable in developing countries are only slightly more likely to report experiencing physical pain (53%) than this group in developed, high-income economies (47%).

Highly Vulnerable in Developed, Developing Economies Experence Similar Health Outcomes
Among the highly vulnerable population
Developed economies Developing economies
% %
Have health problems 42 41
Experienced physical pain 47 53
Based on 142 countries and territories
Gallup World Poll, 2019

Implications

As massive as the highly vulnerable group was before the pandemic, it could have been even larger, taking children and other household members into account. As such, this new layer of vulnerability among populations will be important to monitor as the pandemic threatens to push tens of millions more people into extreme poverty and hunger this year and beyond.

Anita Pugliese and Dato Tsabutashvili contributed to this analysis.

See where your country falls on the Basic Needs Vulnerability Index (PDF download).


Gallup https://news.gallup.com/poll/312401/750-million-struggling-meet-basic-needs-no-safety-net.aspx
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