Top 7 poorest countries in the world you may not know
Photo: Unicef

What determines the world’s poorest countries isn’t as clear-cut as dollars and cents. Moreover, categorizing the poorest countries in the world isn’t as simple as ranking total wealth. Data are often hard to come by in some of the most vulnerable countries and only relying on the gross domestic product (GDP) as a ranking factor doesn’t account for all of a country’s wealth.

Focus on the 2019 United Nations Human Development Report, we rank these countries based on not only their GNI but also the life expectancy at birth, expected years of schooling, mean years of schooling, and their own human development index (HDI) value.

All these extremely fragile and underdeveloped economies have either recently been through a civil war or are suffering from ongoing sectarian or ethnic conflicts. It’s never a complete picture, but it gives us a more intersectional look at how we may approach ranking countries around poverty.

1. Niger

With 80% of its this landlocked territory covered by the Sahara desert and a rapidly growing population largely dependent upon small-scale agriculture, Niger is under threat from desertification and climate change. Food insecurity is high, as are disease and mortality rates, and the army’s recurrent clashes with jihadist group and Islamic State (ISIS) affiliate Boko Haram have displaced thousands of people. One of the main drivers of the economy—the extraction of valuable natural resources such as gold and uranium—has also suffered from volatility and low commodity prices.

A combination of a GNI per capita of $906, life expectancy of 60.4 years, and a mean 2 years of schooling (against an expected 5.4) lead to Niger topping the UN’s human development report as the world’s poorest country. World Bank data from 2014 estimate 44.5% of the country’s population of 21.5 million living in extreme poverty.

2. Central African Republic

Top 7 poorest countries in the world you may not know
Photo: Concern Worldwide US

Despite rich in national resources such as gold, oil, uranium and diamond; this world’s hungriest country claim the title of the poorest in the world for the best part of the decade with over half a million citizens to flee to neighboring countries and large swaths of the country still controlled by anti-government rebels and militia groups the path to recovery is still very long.

In the 2018 Global Hunger Index (GHI), the Central African Republic was the only country with hunger levels classified as “extremely alarming.” The connection between hunger and poverty is apparent here: 2008 estimates from the World Bank suggest 62% of Central Africans are living at or below the poverty line, with the UN indicating a life expectancy of just 52.9 years. The country’s GNI per capita is $663, with a mean of 4.3 years of schooling completed against the expected 7.2 years.

3. South Sudan

Top 7 poorest countries in the world you may not know
Photo: Concern Worldwide US

South Sudan is the newest nation in the world. The Republic of South Sudan gained independence in July 2011, but has experienced a long history of conflict, displacement, and deepening humanitarian needs. As of 2016, the World Bank estimates over 82% of the South Sudanese population are living in extreme poverty. While mean years of schooling are comparable to expected years (4.8 and 5 years, respectively), life expectancy is just 57 years old, and GNI per capita is $1,455. Widespread displacement puts undue pressure on people’s ability to cope, with over 2.3 million South Sudanese refugees living abroad and another 1.74 million internally displaced.

4. Burundi

The small landlocked country of Burundi, scarred by Hutu-Tutsi ethnic conflict and civil war, has high level of the world's poverty ranking. With about 90% of its nearly 12 million citizens relying on subsistence agriculture (and the overwhelming majority of them living on $1.25 a day or less) food scarcity is a major concern: the level of food insecurity, in fact, is almost twice as high as the average for sub-Saharan African countries. Furthermore, the World Bank notes, access to water and sanitation remains very low, and less than 5% of the population has electricity.

Unlike many other countries on this list, its GNI per capita has dropped in 2019 compared to 2018 — from $702 to $660 (although life expectancy has gone up by nearly 5 years). Most children only complete 3 years of schooling, against an expected education of 11 years. With 740 deaths per 100,000 live births, the country is one of the most dangerous places in the world to have a child.

5. Eritrea

Top 7 poorest countries in the world you may not know
Photo: Global Finance

This small East African nation of just 3.5 million is one world’s least developed. With about 65% of its people living in rural areas and 80% of them relying on subsistence agriculture for their livelihoods, Eritrea was ranked 47th among 47 nations in the Sub-Saharan Africa region in the 2020 Index of Economic Freedom of the Heritage Foundation. Nearly 12% of the country’s population has also been uprooted due to social and political instability and violence, creating one of the world’s largest current refugee crises.

6. Liberia

Africa’s oldest republic has also ranked amongst the poorest nations for the longest time. While the country has enjoyed peace and stability since the ending of the civil war in 2003, its governments failed to adequately address serious systemic problems and structural challenges. To add to the difficulties, this country of just 4.9 million struggled to recover from the decline in commodity prices and the major Ebola epidemic that hit West Africa in 2014.

GNI per capita is a mere $667 with a life expectancy of 63. Liberia was also hit hard by the West African Ebola epidemic of 2014-16, which infected 10,675 Liberians and killed 4,809. The outbreak has had a lasting impact on the livelihoods of survivors; the World Bank’s most recent survey of the country in 2016 estimated nearly 51% of the population living below the poverty line. While education is expected to last 10 years, most Liberians only complete 4.7 years of schooling.

7. Mozambique

Top 7 poorest countries in the world you may not know
Photo: Global Finance

Mozambique is a country rich in natural resources and has made great strides towards becoming one of Africa’s fastest-growing economies. However, the country is still recovering from a 16-year civil war that began when it gained independence from Portugal in 1975 and ended in 1992. The 2018 UN Human Development Report estimates a gross national income (GNI) per capita of $1,093 and a life expectancy of 58.9. According to the World Bank’s most recent estimate in 2014, over 46% of Mozambicans live below the poverty line. While it’s anticipated that citizens will complete 9.7 years of schooling, the mean years of schooling completed is just 3.5.

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