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World's richest have same wealth as 3.5 billion poorest

Monday, 20 Jan 2014 | 12:18 AM ET
Frank Bienewald | LightRocket | Getty Images

The combined wealth of the world's richest 85 people is now equivalent to that owned by half of the world's population – or 3.5 billion of the poorest people – according to a new report from Oxfam.

In a report titled "Working for the Few" released Monday, the global aid and development organization detailed the extent of global economic inequality created by the rapidly increasing wealth of the richest, warning of the major risks it poses to "human progress."

According to the report, 210 people have become billionaires in the past year, joining a select group of 1,426 individuals with a combined net worth of $5.4 trillion.

(Read more: Holiday spending highlights US wealth gap)

It added that the wealth of the richest one percent of people in the world now amounts to $110 trillion, or 65 times the total wealth of the bottom half of the world's population.

"This massive concentration of economic resources in the hands of fewer people presents a significant threat to inclusive political and economic systems," the report said.

"Instead of moving forward together, people are increasingly separated by economic and political power, inevitably heightening social tensions and increasing the risk of societal breakdown," it added.

The report comes ahead of the World Economic Forum in Davos which kicks off later this week, and Oxfam is calling on the global political and business leaders attending the meeting to take steps to turn around the rapidly exacerbating inequality.

(Read more: Pope attacks mega-salaries and wealth gap in peace message)

Some recommendations include refraining from the dodging of taxes and avoid using economic wealth to seek political favors.

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Oxfam said that based on its polls conducted across the world, it is believed that there are many laws and regulations designed to benefit the rich.

"A survey in six countries (Spain, Brazil, India, South Africa, the UK and the U.S.) showed that a majority of people believe that laws are skewed in favor of the rich," the report said.

Oxfam singled out India as an example, where the number of billionaires increased from less than 6 to 61 in the past decade, concentrating approximately $250 billion among a few dozen people in a country of 1.2 billion.

(Read more: The real facts about inequality)

"What is striking is the share of the country's wealth held by this elite minority, which has skyrocketed from 1.8 percent in 2003 to 26 percent in 2008," the report said.

Oxfam said that India's billionaires acquired their wealth in 'rent thick' sectors – industries where profits are dependent on access to scarce resources – "made available exclusively through government permissions and therefore susceptible to corruption by powerful actors, as opposed to creation of wealth."

- By CNBC's Li Anne Wong. Follow her on Twitter @LiAnneCNBC

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