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Poverty Row: The World’s 12 Poorest Countries

Updated on May 12, 2013
Shanty in Indonesia
Shanty in Indonesia

These nations comprise the poorest of the poor

It’s been estimated that about half the people in the world live in poverty. In the United States, for instance, anybody making less than about $12,000 per year is considered impoverished, though these fortunate people may live considerably better than poor folks in countries such as Mali, Panama or Indonesia.

For the sake of this article, the poorest countries are ranked by their per capita gross domestic product (GDP). For the U.S., that’s about $50,000 per year, sixth highest in the world, while the poorest countries have an amount that may be only a few hundred dollars. In fact, most of the world‘s poor people survive on $2 per day or less.

Please note that since the world holds nearly 200 countries, the author could have missed one or two of the poorest ones. This is not an absolute list, just one meant to be educational to me and everyone else.

Let’s find out a little more about the world’s poor people. Shouldn’t we all learn more about them? Please keep reading!

12. Haiti $758 per capita GDP

Haiti, often considered the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, still reels from the devastating earthquake in January 2010. This is understandable since 80 per cent of its people live below the poverty line and need all the help they can get, no matter what the circumstances. Moreover, the country itself receives billions of dollars in foreign aid, comprising 30 to 40 per cent of its income. Haiti’s largest donor is the U.S., followed by Canada and the European Union. Fortunately, Haiti has some natural resources and a tourism industry to help generate needed income.

Diamond miners
Diamond miners

11. Sierra Leone $613 per capita GDP

Like many African countries, Sierra Leone has been racked by civil war, though since 2002 hostilities have ceased. Rich in natural resources, particularly diamonds, ranking it as one of the world’s top ten producers, Sierra Leone has improved its economic situation in recent times. But the mining and marketing of diamonds has brought about much corruption by public officials. So if the government can maintain some control in the economic sector, Sierra Leone has the resources to greatly improve its standard of living and thereby not appear on a list such as this.

10. Somalia $600 per capita GDP

Economic matters have improved dramatically in this country since the end of the civil war in 2009, as well as the end of an extended drought at about the same time. The subsequent founding of a federal government in 2012 has helped matters too. Interestingly, it’s hard to estimate what the per capita GDP of Somalia actually is, because much of the economy is based on informal transactions in the agricultural sector. Therefore, per capita GDP could be between $300 and $600, give or take. Nevertheless, nearly half of the country’s inhabitants survive on less than $1 per day, so great improvement is needed.

9. Afghanistan $585 per capita GDP

Afghanistan certainly belongs to the so-called Third World and is thereby one of the least developed countries in the world. Decades of war and lack of foreign investment have created an agrarian economy whose major crop is opium, though commodities such as pomegranates, grapes and apricots are produced and highly valued. Possessing great natural resources and a relatively small population, Afghanistan’s economic future could become a bright one if the country can establish a stable government and effective military, both of which will be needed to subdue intrusive terrorist groups such as the Taliban and al-Qaeda.

8. Eritrea $546 per capita GDP

The economy of this African country is mostly based on subsistence farming and herding. It’s hard enough to make money this way, but the country’s war with Ethiopia from 1998 to 2000, which Eritrea started and lost, hasn’t helped its economy. This war cost the country $600 million and greatly reduced its GDP as well. Interestingly, Eritrea has an 837-mile coastline along the Red Sea that it has protected from development. So perhaps in the future Eritrea can benefit from ecotourism.

7. Ethiopia $513 per capita GDP

Although Ethiopia’s economy surged from 2004 to 2009, it has slowed in recent years because of inflation and debt. Mostly a nation of farmers, Ethiopia produces cash crops such as coffee and maize, some of which it exports. But perhaps Ethiopia’s greatest wealth is its fresh water. Its borders hold the “water tower” of 14 rivers, including the Blue Nile; but very little of this water is used for irrigation or hydroelectric production. Perhaps with an influx of foreign investment, leading to the construction of dams, Ethiopia could increase its GDP considerably.

6. Zimbabwe $487 per capita GDP (ppp)

The aforementioned GDP amount includes an adjustment for “purchasing power parity,” since Zimbabwe experienced hyperinflation in 2008 and 2009, though it's not as bad these days. At one point, the inflation rate was estimated to be 6.5 sextillion per cent – almost certainly a record! Now the country uses foreign currency, lowering inflation somewhat. This economic calamity was brought about because President Robert Mugabe, a murderous despot since he rose to power in 1980, took massive amounts of white-owned farmland and gave it to his cronies, who have mismanaged the land, creating a collapse in the country’s GDP. It seems Zimbabwe will remain a poor country as long as Mugabe runs the show.

5. Madagascar $458 per capita GDP

Ninety per cent of Madagascar’s people live on less than $2 per day, making it a poor country indeed. But, since the country has great natural resources, its GDP should improve. Perhaps Madagascar’s greatest attribute is the biodiversity of its unique flora and fauna, particularly lemurs, found nowhere else in the world. So ecotourism is something this island nation needs to emphasize. To do this, habitat must be maintained, because 90 per cent of its original forest has already been cut down. Therefore, nature reserves must be designated and remain protected as well. Maintaining biodiversity seems to equate with economic success for Madagascar.

4. Central African Republic $446 per capita GDP

Another country rich in natural resources, the Central African Republic remains an underachiever. Racked by civil wars in the early years of the twenty-first century, it’s still trying to recover. Interestingly, diamonds are the country’s most important export, comprising more than 50 per cent of export revenues, but many are marketed secretively, escaping GDP inclusion. The country also produces various foods for export, as well as cotton. The country also has large areas of pristine forest, so the potential for ecotourism is great. It appears that with effective economic development, this nation can escape infamous lists such as this one.

Monrovia, Liberia
Monrovia, Liberia

3. Liberia $436 per capita GDP

Liberia’s economy has suffered greatly since a series of civil wars erupted from 1989 until the present era. These days the country suffers from an unemployment rate of 85 per cent, and about that many people live below the international poverty line. Nevertheless, like many countries in Africa, Liberia has many natural resources, including iron ore, rubber and timber, and may have vast oil reserves, for which offshore oil leases have been sold to foreign oil companies such as Chevron. If Liberia can reap the rewards of such natural riches, perhaps it can become a much more prosperous nation in the coming years.

2. Niger $399 per capita GDP

Niger suffers as much from its location as any other country. As most of the country rests within the vast Sahara Desert, it has shortages of fresh water, arable land and must contend with periods of drought, sweltering temperatures, periodic locust infestations and the desertification common in present day sub-Saharan African nations. In Niger’s favor, it does have vast deposits of uranium ore, providing over 70 per cent of its exports. It is also known to have significant deposits of gold, coal and oil. Therefore, if for no other reason, since Niger has escaped civil war, perhaps in the future it can raise its per capita GDP

1. Democratic Republic of the Congo $236 per capita GDP

This nation has suffered grievously from civil wars, which have claimed the lives of over five million people. In fact, the Second Congo War, often described as the African World War (1998 to 2003), involved no less than nine African countries. So, understandably, the DRC has sustained great economic hardship. Fortunately, like other central African countries, the DRC has abundant natural resources – perhaps the most in the world, or about 24 trillion dollars worth - so if this nation can avoid war and the rampant corruption endemic in Africa, its economic status could advance dramatically.

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    • Kosmo profile image

      Kelley 2 years ago from California

      Thanks for the comment, DynamicsS. Yes, I suppose matters would be different for the African countries if they hadn't been dominated by Europeans powers for decades. But now it's time for these countries to help themselves, and many countries such as the US help with foreign aid, although much of that is stolen, another problem. Later!

    • DynamicS profile image

      Sandria Green-Stewart 2 years ago from Toronto, Canada

      It is interesting to me that most of the poorest countries are in Africa, a continent that was exploited until the 1960s by European empires, Portuguese, British, French, German, Belgian and Dutch. THe legacies of imperialism produced devastation in its weak. What would Africa be like if colonialism did not occur? What would Africa be if it's economy was allowed to developed without imperial interventions?

      Food for thought.

    • Kosmo profile image

      Kelley 4 years ago from California

      Thanks for the comment, DDE. We should all learn more about the world's poorest countries and maybe the richest too. Later!

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 4 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      An interesting insight to the poorest countries of our world it is sad to see such poverty in that part of the world, an informative and useful hub

    • Kosmo profile image

      Kelley 4 years ago from California

      Thanks for the comment, GlimmerTwinFan. People should pay attention to what's happening with half the people on earth. Later!

    • Glimmer Twin Fan profile image

      Glimmer Twin Fan 4 years ago

      Fascinating and incredibly sad hub. Could not stop reading and sometimes I think we forget how wealthy some of the countries we live in really are.

    • Kosmo profile image

      Kelley 4 years ago from California

      Thanks for the comment, Missing Link. I like to write about world affairs, and it's always a pleasure to find others who have similar interests. Later!

    • profile image

      Missing Link 4 years ago

      I was watching a you tube video recently regarding Liberia. There is a part of the country called West Point which is so horrible per living conditions. Cannabilism goes on there too...and not just once in awhile.

      I've seen shanties in the Philippines that look just like the ones you show from Indonesia.

      Thanks for this interesting hub!

    • Kosmo profile image

      Kelley 4 years ago from California

      Thanks for the comment, PaoloJpm. Many of these countries could do much better with efficient financial management. Let's hope they get it. Later!

    • PaoloJpm profile image

      John Paolo B.Magdaluyo 4 years ago from Philippine

      Sad there are people suffers even at their basic necessity. Hope the world would unite to find ways on how to help those Countries.