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 2016