21.7 Social and Environmental Issues

Globalization has spread new technologies, ideas, and greater prosperity to many nations and people. At the same time, the world faces enduring problems, such as poverty, hunger, and disease. Although such problems mainly affect the developing world, they have global dimensions that often require global solutions.

Photo of a child in torn clothing resting their head on a garbage bag outside.

A homeless child in Katmandu, Nepal, sleeps on the sidewalk. Half of the world's people live in extreme poverty.


  • Explain the impact of poverty, disasters, and disease on nations around the world.
  • Describe global efforts to protect human rights.
  • Evaluate the environmental challenges facing the world.

Key Terms

  • tsunami
  • epidemic
  • famine
  • refugee
  • acid rain
  • deforestation
  • erosion
  • global warming
  • indigenous peoples

Global Challenges

Worldwide Poverty

Among the great challenges facing the world is the gap between rich and poor. The gap is huge and growing. It exists in rich nations as well as in poor nations. The gap also exists between rich industrial and poor developing nations.

Half of the world's population, almost 3 billion people, live on less than $2 a day. Almost 1 billion people cannot read or write. Globally, the poor lack access to health care and education, They suffer from hunger and malnutrition and are susceptible to disease. They have little voice in government and face other obstacles that make it hard to escape poverty.

Global poverty is a complex issue with many causes. In the developing world, political upheavals, civil war, corruption, and poor planning hurt efforts to reduce poverty. Rapid population growth has made it harder for countries to provide basic services.

Poverty in the developing world is also due in part to dependence on rich nations, which compete to buy resources and products as inexpensively as possible.

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Table of Contents

World History Topic 1 Origins of Civilization (Prehistory–300 B.C.) Topic 2 The Ancient Middle East and Egypt (3200 B.C.–500 B.C.) Topic 3 Ancient India and China (2600 B.C.–A.D. 550) Topic 4 The Americas (Prehistory–A.D. 1570) Topic 5 Ancient Greece (1750 B.C.–133 B.C.) Topic 6 Ancient Rome and the Origins of Christianity (509 B.C.-A.D. 476) Topic 7 Medieval Christian Europe (330–1450) Topic 8 The Muslim World and Africa (730 B.C.-A.D. 1500) Topic 9 Civilizations of Asia (500–1650) Topic 10 The Renaissance and Reformation (1300–1650) Topic 11 New Global Connections (1415–1796) Topic 12 Absolutism and Revolution Topic 13 The Industrial Revolution Topic 14 Nationalism and the Spread of Democracy (1790–1914) Topic 15 The Age of Imperialism (1800–1914) Topic 16 World War I and the Russian Revolution (1914–1924) Topic 17 The World Between the Wars (1910–1939) Topic 18 World War II (1930–1945) Topic 19 The Cold War Era (1945–1991) Topic 20 New Nations Emerge (1945–Present) Topic 21 The World Today (1980-Present) United States Constitution Primary Sources 21st Century Skills Atlas Glossary Index Acknowledgments