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The 20 Biggest Problems in the World

The world has more than its fair share of problems. Understanding them is the step to saving lives, empowering action, and making society a better place for everyone. What challenges are facing the world right now? Here are twenty of the most significant ones:

#1. Pandemics

According to reports from the WHO at the time of writing, the COVID-19 pandemic has killed at least 6,887,000 people. While some places are acting as if things are normal now, more pandemics are likely on the horizon. Things like climate change, increased contact between humans and animals, and urbanization raise the likelihood of diseases spreading. According to the IFRC, the world is not adequately prepared and must improve equity in areas like healthcare access, sanitation, nutrition, and more.

#2. Rising global temperatures

Human activities warm the planet. The last nine years are the hottest on record since modern record-keeping began. According to NASA, the average global temperature has increased by almost 1.9° Fahrenheit since 1880. Most of the warming has happened since 1975. Research shows even a tiny bump in the global average increases the severity of weather events like storms and droughts while melting ice raises the sea level and threatens coastlines and islands.

#3. Food insecurity

According to the World Food Programme, around 345 million people could be food insecure in 2023. That’s more than double the people from 2020. Conflict is a big reason why (70% of the people living in hunger are from places affected by war), though climate change and its effects on crops are a leading cause, too. Humanitarian organizations are essential to feeding people, but sustainable solutions that address the root problems are just as important.

#4. Threats to refugees

According to the UN, there were almost 90 million forcibly-displaced people by the end of 2021. This includes 27.1 million refugees. According to Amnesty International Canada, wealthy nations have failed to protect or accept refugees; 86% of refugees seek shelter in developing regions. Refugees are also at an increased risk for human trafficking, sexual assault, and other human rights violations. As conflict and climate change drive even more people from their homes, the wealthiest nations in the world need to step up.

#5. Gender inequality

Gender inequality is a multi-faceted problem touching areas like education, political representation, employment, income, legal rights, and more. According to estimates from UN Women, the world is 300 years away from achieving gender equality. Why so long? COVID-19 erased a lot of progress made in the past few decades. According to Oxfam, the pandemic pushed around 47 million women and girls into extreme poverty, while maternal deaths increased between 8-39% in low-and middle-income countries. Even in countries with decent recovery, women have seen slower progress.

#6. Overconsumption

Overconsumption occurs when we consume resources at an unsustainable rate. UNICEF found that if everyone in the world consumed resources at the rate of EU and OECD countries, we would need 3.3 earths to keep up. At least 5 earths would be needed if the whole world consumed at the rate of Canada, Luxembourg, and the United States. Overconsumption is a problem for the rich. This contradicts the common assumption that if there were simply fewer people, issues like climate change wouldn’t exist. Africa, which is the second-most populous continent, accounts for just 2-3% of C02 emissions.

#7. Water scarcity

Water is essential to life, but four billion people (which is around ⅔ of the world’s population) experience severe water scarcity at least one month every year. Over 2 billion people live in areas with inadequate water supplies while half of the world could be dealing with water scarcity by 2025. Crop shortages and disease are just two immediate impacts of water scarcity, while poverty and conflict can quickly become problems, as well.

#8. Threats to LGBTQ+ rights

LGBTQ+ rights are frequently under attack. Recent years have been no exception. In March 2023, the Ugandan parliament passed one of the most extreme anti-LGBTQ+ bills in the world. It bans people from identifying as LGBTQ+ and makes “aggravated homosexuality” (which includes having sex with someone who has HIV) a crime punishable by death. At the time of writing, homosexuality is criminalized in more than 30 of Africa’s 54 countries. Even people living in places like the United States are facing more discrimination. The ACLU tracks attacks on LGBTQ+ rights and in 2023, it counted 435 anti-gay bills in the US, many specifically targeting trans people, education, and free expression.

#9. Poverty

About 8% of the world’s population lives in extreme poverty, which is defined as less than $2.15 a day. This represents an improvement over the past decades, but around half of the global population lives on less than $6.85 a day, which is still very low. The pandemic also halted progress; according to the World Bank, we lost about 3-4 years of progress toward ending extreme poverty. 97 million people fell into extreme poverty because of the pandemic. The full effects of the pandemic are still being analyzed while recovery has been uneven. Poverty will remain a major problem for many, many years.

#10. Wealth inequality

Poverty is a major problem, but so is wealth inequality. A 2023 Oxfam report calculated that the world’s richest 1% grabbed almost ⅔ of all the new wealth created since 2020. In the past ten years, the richest have gotten around half of all new wealth. While 1.7 billion workers live in areas where inflation rises faster than their wages, the richest are adding $2.7 billion per day to their wealth. In places like Australia, the UK, and the United States, bloated corporate profits are driving at least half of the inflation.

#11. Threats to children’s rights

Every problem we’ve covered so far – pandemics, climate change, water scarcity, poverty, etc – hits children especially hard. In 2022, they faced challenges like conflict, huge spikes in hunger, disrupted education due to COVID, and more. On top of these vulnerabilities, children are often not treated as full human beings. Their rights are enshrined in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, but many countries fail to protect them.

#12. Avoidable deaths

Every year, millions of people die from preventable causes. According to the WHO, noncommunicable diseases kill 41 million each year, which accounts for about 74% of all deaths globally. 86% of these deaths happen in low- and middle-income countries and, according to the WHO director of non-communicable diseases, most of these deaths could be prevented. How? Equity, better public health interventions, better healthcare systems, and sustainable development are major solutions

#13. Police brutality

A 2021 report from the World Organisation Against Torture found that police violence increased due to the enforcement of COVID-19 restrictions. The report cited examples such as the use of rubber bullets in Chile (which blinded 200 people) and the violent suppression of demonstrations in Algeria, Colombia, Hong Kong, Iraq, and Russia. The United States, which is often centered in discussions about police brutality, saw an increase in police killings in 2022. It was the highest number in the past decade.

#14. Rising authoritarianism

According to the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA), global democracy is facing increased threats. Around half of the world’s democracies are weakening while authoritarian governments are cracking down harder. Crises like COVID-19, climate change, and conflict often provide cover for these harsher restrictions. Things like protecting the free press, holding fair elections, and encouraging youth activism are necessary to hold off authoritarianism.

#15. Nuclear war

According to the Federation of American Scientists, nine countries control around 12,500 warheads. The United States and Russia have about 89% of the world’s total stock of nuclear weapons, and while the inventory of nuclear weapons has been declining, it’s happening more slowly. In February 2023, President Putin suspended Russia’s participation in the last nuclear treaty with the US. People are also concerned about North Korea, which appears to be arming itself. As long as there are nuclear weapons, there’s a risk of nuclear war.

#16. Threats to biodiversity

Biodiversity is necessary for every ecosystem, whether it’s soil, forests, or the ocean. Things like urbanization, deforestation, and climate change all threaten biodiversity, which can lead to extinction. When even one species disappears, it threatens every other species in that ecosystem. Impacts can include pandemics, accelerated climate change, poorer health outcomes for humans, and more.

#17. Threats to freedom of the press

According to the Council of Europe, journalists in Europe are facing increased risks. In 2022, the COE’s platform for safety for journalists published 289 alerts across 37 states on threats or attacks on media freedom. That includes attacks, harassment, smear campaigns, imprisonment, and murder. In the wake of Russia’s war against Ukraine, at least 12 journalists and media workers were killed. 21 were injured. It’s a global problem. A UN expert warned in 2022 that media freedom and safety were “diminishing.”

#18. Cost of living

There are a few reasons for the cost of living crisis, including the impact of the war in Ukraine and supply-chain issues due to COVID-19. The price of things like gas, corn, and sunflower seed oil exploded, affecting places like Armenia, Ghana, Kenya, Haiti, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka the worst. According to the UN Development Programme, food and energy prices were responsible for 71 million people falling into poverty in a three-month period.

#19. Extreme weather events

A recent report from the IPCC stated that human activities are causing more frequent and intense weather events. Even small changes in global warming can cause more extreme temperatures, heavy rain, tropical cyclones, and worse droughts. Using data from the World Meteorological Organization, the World Economic Forum says that from 1970-2019, the number of yearly extreme weather events increased by a factor of five. These extreme weather events are unpredictable, costly, and deadly.

#20. Disinformation

Is disinformation as big of a problem as pandemics or climate change? It is because it can make every problem on the list worse. According to a WHO review, inaccurate interpretations of health information – which often occur during crises like a pandemic – can make people delay healthcare, experience worse mental health, and distrust vaccines. Climate change information is also a frequent target. Even the “both sides” reporting popular in mainstream media can cause major problems, as it makes people doubt the scientific consensus on climate change. Disinformation matters because as an article in The Journal of Ethics and Social Philosophy found, online misinformation weakens trust in democratic institutions.