Over one fifth of the global population living in extreme poverty

(AP)A homeless man huddles under an umbrella as he sits on the beach in Durban, South Africa, Saturday, January 26, 2013

A new study indicates that more than one in five people across the globe, more than half of whom are in sub-Saharan Africa, live on $1.25 a day or less.

These meagre earnings mark them as living under the World Bank's definition of 'extreme poverty'.

US-based research organisation Gallup studied data taken from 131 countries and also found that 34 per cent, roughly one in three, live on less than $2 a day.

The statistics show that Africa is by far the poorest continent. The 10 countries with the highest proportion of people living in extreme poverty are all in sub-Saharan Africa, each with at least two-thirds of the population living on $1.25 a day or less, rising to nearer 90 per cent in such countries as Burundi and Liberia.

In fact, a total of 54 per cent of residents across 27 sub-Saharan African countries are currently living in extreme poverty, which is the highest proportion among global regions worldwide by far.

The figures are lower in Southeast Asia at 33 per cent, 9 per cent in Latin America.

In the US, Canada, Europe (excluding the Balkans), Australia and New Zealand, only 1 per cent of the population lives on $1.25 a day or less.

The figures are more positive in China, where the extreme poverty rate has fallen quite significantly in recent years. In 2007, 26 per cent of Chinese people lived on $1.25 a day or less. This figure fell rapidly to 14 per cent in 2009, and the latest statistics from 2012 show extreme poverty is now at an all time low of 7 per cent.

The overall decline in world poverty rates is being put down to China's rapid growth. World poverty fell by half from an estimated 40 per cent in 1990 to about 20 per cent in 2010.

Hundreds of millions of Chinese have been lifted out of extreme poverty in recent years as the average income across the country has risen dramatically through rapid industrialisation and a major shift of people from poorer, rural areas to urban centres. The Asian superpower has also reported improved education and healthcare.

Though the worldwide extreme poverty rate may be falling, the shocking figures from sub-Saharan Africa in particular indicate that substantial growth and job creation is needed on a global scale in order to reach the World Bank Group's ambitious goal of reducing it to less than 3 per cent by 2030.

Many countries in Africa and Asia would need to cut their extreme poverty rates by over 50 per cent for this to be a reality.