All these extremely fragile and underdeveloped economies have either recently been through a civil war or are suffering from ongoing sectarian or ethnic conflicts. 

Author: Jonathan Gregson
Project Coordinator: Edith Updike
The Chinese port city of Xiamen. China is not one of the world's ten poorest countries.

Once again in 2016, all ten of the world's poorest countries are found in sub-Saharan Africa. The unenviable status of being the very poorest and least developed of them all goes again to the Central African Republic (CAR), where the citizen’s average wealth is just $659 a year. That is $20 higher than it was in 2015, and greater political stability could lead to further improvements in future.

Most of the "winners" in this ranking are ruled by authoritarian regimes and, in the absence of robust judicial institutions or a free press, corruption is widespread if not endemic. These factors, together with low levels of transparency, weak financial institutions, and inadequate infrastructure have acted as a deterrent to investment—despite the fact that countries like Guinea or the Democratic Republic of Congo have immense mineral resources. 

Four of the world’s poorest countries are landlocked, with no direct access to maritime trade. Three of them, Niger, CAR and Eritrea, are within the Sahel region of Africa where persistent droughts—possibly exacerbated by climate change—have caused food shortages and associated medical and social problems. All of these most fragile African countries are more or less reliant on small-scale farming, and where export crops are grown the depressed level of international commodity prices has dragged on their progress.

The prize for ‘most improved’ country in 2016 goes to Malawi, where following a return to democratic government, average GDP per capita increased $1,136—an improvement of more than $300 compared to the prior year.

GDP per capita is the standard method of measuring how wealthy or poor a given country is compared to others countries. Essentially, it reflects the average wealth of each person resident in that country. In order to compensate for huge differences in living costs and rates of inflation—particularly necessary in most sub-Saharan countries where local currencies have lost value against the US dollar over the past 12 months—GDP per capita is adjusted to reflect PPP (purchasing power parity) so as to gain a more realistic picture of an average resident's buying power in a particular country.

Values are expressed in current international dollars, reflecting a single year's (the current year) currency exchange rates and PPP adjustments. Data source: International Monetary Fund, World Economic Outlook Database, October 2018.


THE 10 POOREST COUNTRIESIN THE WORLD


10. Madagascar

Current International Dollars:  1,505 | Click To View GDP & Economic Data

Madagascar is the fourth largest island in the world, and the average Malagsy is 42% poorer today than he or she was 50 years ago, according to the World Bank. The country has experienced repeated bouts of political instability, and in reaction to the 2009 coup foreign aid was largely suspended. Three-quarters of the population are now estimated by the UN to live on less than US$1.25 per day. With the majority of the population dependent upon agriculture for their survival, the country’s economy is especially exposed to weather-related disasters. It is expected to be one of the ten countries in the world most affected by climate change.  Prospects for economic growth are driven by the services sector, including tourism attracted by the country’s unique biosphere, and industrial materials, particularly the metal and wood industries as well as mining for precious metals.  These two factors are often at odds. According to international observers pushing for free and fair elections, the country currently lacks economic guidance.


9. Eritrea

Current International Dollars:  1,321 | Click To View GDP & Economic Data

The strategically positioned state of Eritrea has a highly secretive and repressive government, making it difficult to obtain up-to-date economic figures. The one-party state, currently under sanctions from the UN Security Council over the government’s alleged role in the Horn of Africa’s grave security issues, has a poor record on human rights, and hundreds of thousands have fled the country in recent years, many of them hoping to reach Europe. The majority of the population are young, and overall 80% remain dependent upon subsistence agriculture using rudimentary farming methods.  Recurrent drought in the Sahel region makes food security a particular challenge for the country as a whole. There are, however, prospects that mining could bring further economic growth to this seriously under-developed country, with four new mines producing potash, gold, copper and zinc expected to be in operation by 2018. For the present, it remains the ninth poorest country in the world, a slight improvement on last year’s eight position.


8. Guinea

Current International Dollars:  1,271 | Click To View GDP & Economic Data

Guinea is potentially one of the wealthiest countries in the world due to its huge mineral deposits (the country holds a quarter of the world’s bauxite reserves alone). However it has slipped down one place to eighth in the list of the world’s poorest countries due to its continued dependence upon agriculture, with its farmers largely relying on outdated information and obsolete technology, alongside declining commodity prices. The country is only slowly recovering from the impact of the Ebola outbreak, which officially ended in December 2015 and had a severe impact on many households’ income generating activities. Meanwhile the mining industry has been affected by the suspension in July 2016 of the $20 billion Simandou iron ore project. Despite this, the government recently forecast an improvement in GDP growth based on an increase in the production of gold and bauxite. To date, an improvement in living standards has been slow to materialise, with rapid and poorly controlled urbanisation driven by the high poverty levels in rural areas adding to social pressures.
 


7. Mozambique

Current International Dollars:  1,228 | Click To View GDP & Economic Data

The former Portuguese colony of Mozambique remains this year at seventh in the table of the world’s poorest countries. The country has high hopes of transforming its economy based on the prospects of gas fields discovered off its coast in 2011, which are planned to come on stream in 2018. However, the discovery in April 2016 of previously undisclosed debt worth $1.4 billion (10.7% of GDP) led to the IMF suspending aid to the country. Mozambique’s fiscal position is now under severe stress, with debt obligations falling due well before the gas mega-projects yield significant revenues. The country does not expect to be able to repay loans until 2021 and urgent debt negotiations are underway. Meanwhile the last decade’s rapid economic expansion has yet to filter down to many of the population who continue to live well below the poverty line and whose livelihoods remain at risk from adverse climatic conditions.
 


6. Malawi

Current International Dollars:  1,139 | Click To View GDP & Economic Data

One of Africa’s smallest nations, Malawi has significantly improved its position from last year when it was the world’s third poorest country with per capita  GDP of $819.69. Its improved economic growth rate has been overseen by a stable and democratic government which has received considerable financial support from both the IMF and the World Bank. The country has traditionally suffered from poor fiscal control, but there are signs that this is now improving.  However, with its vital agricultural sector largely dependent upon rain-fed crops, the economy has recently experienced weather-related shocks which have delayed the predicted recovery. Risk management against drought, pests and disease continues to be a significant challenge as agriculture retains a central position in Malawi’s economy. Whilst living standards in urban areas are generally improving, continuing inflation and high levels of food insecurity mean that poverty in rural areas is currently increasing. According to the World Bank, an estimated 17% of the population were unable to meet their food requirements in 2015/16 and the need for outside aid remains high.
 


5. Niger

Current International Dollars:  1,113 | Click To View GDP & Economic Data

With 80% of its land surface 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.  The main driver of its economy is the extraction of valuable natural resources - mainly gold and uranium – so the economy is vulnerable to commodity price shocks as well as droughts and floods. There are hopes for increased revenues from oil exploration projects currently underway. The financing of major projects in the extractive industries has led to some concerns over the sustainability of debt, expected to peak in 2018 before some projects are completed. Politically, there are concerns over the army’s recent violent clashes with the armed group Boko Haram, which have led to large displacements of people. In a country where slavery was only outlawed in 2003 and literacy levels are especially low,  disease and mortality rates are exceptionally high. Niger remains one of the world’s least developed nations and has slipped from  sixth place to become the world’s fifth poorest country.
 


4. Liberia

Current International Dollars:  882 | Click To View GDP & Economic Data

Political attention in Africa’s oldest republic is now focussed on next year’s presidential elections, with President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf expected to remain in power until then.  The country has enjoyed peace and stability since the ending of the civil war in 2003, and the multi-national peacekeeping force handed over security responsibilities to the government this year. However the country’s fragile economy has struggled to recover from the twin shocks of the Ebola crisis, which reversed private investment inflows, and the decline in commodity prices. Some recovery in GDP growth is forecast, driven partly by a new gold mining concession coming on stream. But overall the economy is dependent upon exports of rubber, iron ore and palm oil, and so remains vulnerable to fluctuations in global commodity markets. A recent upswing in the services sector, due mainly to a recovery in the hotels and construction sectors, has improved the economic situation. But with many of Liberia’s population dependent upon agriculture and using out-dated farming techniques, overall living standards remain amongst the world’s lowest, with 85% of the people estimated to be living below the poverty line.
 


3. Burundi

Current International Dollars:  818 | Click To View GDP & Economic Data

The small landlocked country of Burundi, scarred by Hutu-Tutsi ethnic conflict and civil war, has moved two places down the table since last year.   President Pierre Nkurunziza, a former Hutu rebel who won a third term last year in controversial elections boycotted by the opposition after a failed coup, has come under international pressure. In March 2016 the European Union, Burundi’s largest donor, cut funding to the government in an attempt to force Nkurunziza into talks over the political deadlock. The political crisis has pushed the country back into recession and the Burundian government’s ban on trade with neighbouring Rwanda in July 2016, citing concerns over food security, has contributed to rising prices for staple foodstuffs such as potatoes. There has also been a fall in the production of coffee, the country’s main export. According to the latest UNDP Burundi survey, 82.1% of the populations live on $1.25 a day or less and 90% of the Burundian population rely on agriculture. As a result, the population is exceedingly vulnerable to price fluctuations, export restrictions, and food scarcity.
 


2. Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)

Current International Dollars:  784 | Click To View GDP & Economic Data

While the DRC contains vast natural resources, it still retains an unenviable position as the second poorest country in the world. The country is currently experiencing severe political unrest. President Kabila, who has held the position since the assassination of his father in 2001 and was subsequently re-elected with some controversy in 2011, recently postponed presidential elections scheduled for last November to April 2017. This has triggered warnings of renewed civil war from opposition groups unless he steps down when his mandate ends.  An 18,000 strong UN peacekeeping force remains in the country and the World Bank reports that ‘peacebuilding and economic recovery efforts are being carried out in a challenging social context’, with corruption an endemic problem.  Having achieved GDP growth rates ahead of most sub-Saharan African countries until this year, the decline in both demand and the international price for copper and other minerals, combined with domestic political uncertainty, has led in recent months to a sharp increase in inflation, the CDF’s value falling against the US dollar, and foreign currency reserves declining to cover just 4.5 weeks of imports.
 


1. Central African Republic (CAR)

Current International Dollars:  656 | Click To View GDP & Economic Data

For the first time since its independence from France in 1960, the CAR has a democratically elected President, former maths professor and prime minister Faustin-Archange Touadera.  The successful presidential election is seen as an important step towards national reconstruction and the lifting of the ban on diamond exports. Taken together with the activation of forest concessions and a revival of both agricultural and mining sectors, these changes are expected to boost real GDP growth. For the moment, however, the CAR retains its place as the poorest country in the world, with three-quarters of its population estimated by the World Bank to live in extreme poverty. Continued peacekeeping efforts led by the UN aim to encourage the return of the estimated 1.2 million people uprooted in 2013 through sectarian violence whilst keeping open and secure the corridor for trade.  The World Bank recently approved an ambitious US$250 million program to help rebuild the country.
 

Gross domestic product (GDP) based on purchasing-power-parity (PPP) per capita.

Values are expressed in current international dollars, to the nearest whole dollar, reflecting a single year's (2016) currency exchange rates and PPP adjustments.

Rank

Country

GDP-PPP ($)

1 Central African Republic 712
2 Burundi  733
3 Democratic Republic of the Congo 816
4 Malawi 1,202
5 Niger 1,218
6 Mozambique 1,295
7 Liberia 1,327
8 South Sudan 1,527
9 Sierra Leone 1,618
10 Madagascar 1,626
11 Comoros 1,633
12 Eritrea 1,658
13 Togo 1,738
14 Haiti 1,875
15 Guinea-Bissau 1,951
16 Burkina Faso 1,996
17 Afghanistan 2,018
18 Kiribati 2,032
19 Rwanda 2,231
20 Soloman Islands 2,243
21 Mali 2,271
22 Guinea 2,277
23 Ethiopia 2,344
24 Yemen 2,380
25 Zimbabwe 2,381
26 Benin 2,411
27 Chad 2,428
28 Uganda 2,490
29 The Gambia 2,763
30 Vanuatu 2,850
31 Nepal 2,902
32 Tajikistan 3,354
33 São Tomé and Príncipe 3,359
34 Lesotho 3,374
35 Tanzania 3,446
36 Micronesia 3,525
37 Papa New Guinea 3,627
38 Senegal 3,676
39 Marshall Islands 3,678
40 Kenya 3,694
41 Djibouti 3,788
42 Kyrgyz Republic 3,812
43 Cameroon 3,820
44 Tuvalu 4,055
45 Zambia 4,120
46 Côte d'Ivoire 4,170
47 Sudan 4,222
48 Cambodia 4,323
49 Mauritania 4,564
50 Bangladesh 4,598
51 Ghana 5,026
52 Nicaragua 5,683
53 Pakistan 5,714
54 Honduras 5,817
55 Timor-Leste 5,832
56 Samoa 5,941
57 Nigeria 6,030
58 Tonga 6,179
59 Angola 6,782
60 Myanmar 6,797
61 Republic of Congo 6,881
62 Moldova 7,104
63 Uzbekistan 7,338
64 Cabo Verde 7,400
65 Vietnam 7,482
66 India 7,796
67 Bolivia 7,944
68 Lao P.D.R. 7,956
69 El Salvador 8,388
70 Guatemala 8,414
71 Belize 8,467
72 Guyana 8,525
73 Philippines 8,933
74 Morocco 8,956
75 Ukraine 9,182
76 Jordan 9,406
77 Jamaica 9,434
78 Bhutan 9,546
79 Dominica 9,727
80 Fiji 10,252
81 Armenia 10,274
82 Eswatini 10,347
83 Libya 10,797
84 Venezuela 10,968
85 Kosovo 11,505
86 Namibia 11,516
87 Georgia 11,600
88 Ecuador 11,732
89 St. Vincent and the Grenadines 11,966
90 Nauru 12,335
91 Tunisia 12,370
92 Indonesia 13,176
93 Albania 13,330
94 Egypt 13,374
95 Paraguay 13,471
96 Sri Lanka 13,500
97 Bosnia and Herzegovina 13,513
98 South Africa 13,775
99 Mongolia 13,904
100 Peru 14,252
101 Palau 14,755
102 Colombia 15,021
103 St. Lucia 15,225
104 Suriname 15,363
105 FYR Macedonia 15,523
106 Algeria 15,611
107 Grenada 16,034
108 Serbia 16,090
109 Brazil 16,112
110  Iraq 16,927
111 Costa Rica 17,645
112 Botswana 17,888
113 Azerbaijan 17,955
114 China 18,120
115 Dominican Republic 18,323
116 Gabon 18,648
117 Montenegro 18,862
118 Barbados 18,866
119 Thailand 19,126
120 Turkmenistan 19,526
121 Lebanon 20,028
122 Islamic Republic of Iran 20,069
123 Belarus 20,176
124 Maldives 20,212
125 Argentina 20,610
126 Mexico 20,645
127 Bulgaria 23,207
128 Uruguay 23,267
129 Mauritius 23,597
130 Chile 25,891
131 Romania 26,176
132 Croatia 26,216
133 Panama 26,794
134 Kazakhstan 27,495
135 Antigua and Barbuda 27,495
136 Turkey 28,270
137 Russia 29,032
138 St. Kitts and Nevis 29,099
139 Greece 29,112
140 Latvia 29,488
141 Seychelles 30,516
142 Malaysia 30,815
143 Hungary 31,561
144 Poland 31,647
145 Portugal 32,023
146 Trinidad and Tobago 32,197
147 The Bahamas 33,516
148 Estonia 33,553
149 Equatorial Guinea 34,421
150 Lithuania 34,829
151 Slovak Republic 35,099
152 Slovenia 36,826
153 Czech Republic 37,423
154 Israel 37,856
155 Aruba 38,435
156 Cyprus 39,302
157 Italy 39,472
158 Puerto Rico 39,764
159 New Zealand 40,266
160 Spain 40,371
161 Korea 41,416
162 Japan 44,550
163 Malta 44,587
164 France 45,601
165 United Kingdom 45,643
166 Oman 46,522
167 Finland 46,559
168 Belgium 48,179
169 Canada 49,936
170 Bahrain 50,751
171 Denmark 51,841
172 Austria 52,224
173 Australia 52,363
174 Sweden 52,719
175 Germany 52,897
176 Taiwan Province of China 52,960
177 Iceland 54,753
178 Saudi Arabia 55,926
179 Netherlands 56,571
180 San Marino 61,580
181 United States 62,518
182 Hong Kong SAR 64,794
183 Switzerland 64,988
184 Kuwait 66,982
185 United Arab Emirates 70,262
186 Norway 74,318
187 Ireland 77,670
188 Brunei Darussalam 81,612
189 Singapore 98,255
190 Luxembourg 109,199
191 Maraco SAR 118,099
192 Qatar 128,487
     

*Data collected from International Monetary Fund, World Economic Outlook Database, October 2018