Are People’s Basic Needs Being Met in 2019?

The definition of a basic need is anything that is fundamentally connected to an individual’s physical or mental well-being. (And we recently wrote a piece outlining the six basic needs of humans today.) Despite the essential nature of these needs, there are still significant barriers toward ensuring that these needs are met for all people. As population continues to grow worldwide, it becomes even more critical that basic needs are guaranteed.

The United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, adopted in 2015, address many of these basic needs in their blueprint for an equitable and sustainable future. Assessing our progress on meeting the needs of all people is key to understanding which efforts are making a tangible difference in people’s lives and which strategies need to be reassessed to better suit the needs of our expanding global family.

The current status of people’s six basic needs

1. Food

People cultivating crops

Global agriculture produces enough food to feed the world’s population, yet 1 in 3 people worldwide is affected by malnutrition or chronic food insecurity. This lack of access has many causes, from conflict to lack of infrastructure, and the share of people affected will only increase as climate change reduces arable land and biodiversity. At the same time, the Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that food production will need a 50% increase in the next 30 years to feed the world’s people.

2. Drinking Water and Sanitation

Lack of water and poor sanitation is the leading cause of death worldwide. More than 40% of the global population is affected by water scarcity, and 26% lacks access to even basic sanitation services. Safe water and sanitation are inextricably related to other issues. Where water is scarce, women are disproportionately responsible for safe water collection, which takes up much of their time and can expose them to unsafe conditions. Where sanitation facilities are lacking, waste can infiltrate water supplies and spread disease through agriculture. More clean water will be needed for more people, yet water use has grown at a rate more than twice that of population increase.

3. Healthcare

There are 400 million people globally with no basic healthcare, and more than 1.6 billion people for whom healthcare access is fragile and often insufficient to meet their health needs. Access to healthcare is critical not just for the treatment of existing illnesses and conditions, but for preventing these conditions in the first place. Though neglected tropical diseases are preventable with adequate healthcare, 1.5 billion people worldwide still required treatment in 2016. The growing global population will also eventually become an ageing population. An older population will overall suffer from more noncommunicable diseases and require higher healthcare costs, yet many of the countries whose populations will significantly age by 2050 don’t have the healthcare infrastructure necessary to care for this greater share of elderly people.

4. Shelter

Mumbai - Bandra station surroundings

The UN estimates that by 2050, more than two-thirds of the world’s population will live in cities. Though urbanization is increasing rapidly, many cities’ infrastructures have not been able to keep up with this increased number of people. In 2018, 883 million people lived in slums, or densely populated neighborhoods that usually lack durability and access to sanitation. When people live in inadequate housing, they are often more susceptible to the spread of disease and are more vulnerable to the effects of natural disasters.

5. Education

Equity in education still faces significant barriers all around the world. Globally, 265 million children are not in school, and nearly 60% of all children don’t meet basic reading and mathematics standards. Women and girls are disproportionately affected by a lack of educational opportunities: two-thirds of the world’s illiterate population is female. Where women have access to education, their fertility rates go down, and the health of both mothers and children goes up.

6. Access to Information

Around 50% of the world’s population has internet access, though that share varies significantly across countries and even within countries themselves. In an increasingly digital world, Internet access is key to connecting with services like banking and helps people to stay informed about political and social issues in their communities and countries. The free flow of information helps combat corruption and is critical for development.

Though much of the world population still faces significant challenges in having their basic needs met, progress is steadily being made on eliminating the problems that fundamentally affect a person’s well-being. At the same time, rapid global changes, including a growing population, may worsen existing problems or create new challenges. Guaranteeing that everyone’s needs are met will require thoughtful, specific strategies for people everywhere.

Image credits: Crop cultivation (Oregon State University); Mumbai (Wikimedia Commons)