Acute kidney injury (AKI) has become increasingly prevalent in both developed and developing countries, and is associated with severe morbidity and mortality, especially in children. Uncertainty regarding the true incidence of AKI limits awareness of the problem, thereby reducing political visibility of the disorder and hampering efforts to prevent its occurrence. In developed countries, AKI occurs predominantly in urban intensive care units and is associated with multiorgan failure and sepsis, high mortality, and occurrence in older populations. While cases of AKI in urban areas of the developing world have similar characteristics to those in the developed world, AKI in rural regions commonly develops in response to a single disease and specific conditions (e.g. gastroenteritis) or infections (e.g. severe malaria, leptospirosis, or hemolytic-uremic syndrome) and in younger otherwise healthy individuals. Many causes of AKI in rural settings, such as diarrhea, poisoning, malaria, or septic abortion, can be prevented by interventions at the individual, community, and regional levels. Treatment with dialysis is often unavailable or too costly in developing regions, so there must be community-wide efforts to eradicate causes of AKI, expedite diagnosis, and aggressively manage prerenal conditions and specific infections. We have reviewed recent literature on AKI, identified differences and similarities in the condition between developed and developing areas, analyzed the practical implications of the identified differences, and made evidence-based recommendations for study and management.