The Poorest Countries In The World

By James Burton on October 22 2019 in Economics

Many of the world's poorest countries are vastly reliant on the agricultural industry.
Many of the world's poorest countries are vastly reliant on the agricultural industry.

Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is the total sum of the monetary value of all goods and services produced strictly within a country’s borders for a given time period (usually a year). This figure doesn’t take into account foreign investments, thereby differentiating GDP from Gross National Income (GNI). While most comparisons of wealth have typically used nominal GDP figures, this fails to tell the story of how well people on average are faring in dollar-for-dollar wealth comparisons. To gain a clearer perspective of what it is to live at the lowest rungs of the wealth ladder, and how people get there, we have listed the countries with the lowest per capita GDP in the world.

Please note that all figures are in US dollars and come from the 2018 International Monetary Fund report.

The World's 10 Poorest Countries

10. Afghanistan - $544

Afghanistan is the only Asian country to make it on to the list of the world's poorest countries. The average income earner in Afghanistan only takes home $544 annually. Poverty is so acute in many areas across the country, particularly rural areas, that many children in Afghanistan die of malnutrition every year. Alongside a lack of infrastructure and economic activity, Afghanistan has also dealt with decades of ongoing violence which has stunted any growth. 

9. Sierra Leone - $516

Sierra Leone is a small country in West Africa. It is estimated that more than half of the country's population lives in poverty. The country was ravaged by a brutal civil war from 1991 to 2002, which was predominantly fought over the diamond trade. Although the civil war has long been over, its effects are still being felt today in a country where rarely any young people have the opportunity to complete secondary school. 

8. Niger - $477

While Niger is the largest country in West Africa, most of its territory is covered by the Sahara Desert, limiting the economic activities which the country's populace can engage in. Moreover, the country is completely landlocked, and very resource poor. Even the 20% of the country not covered by the desert experiences periodic draughts, climate change is amplifying the effects of the combined threats of desertification of arable land and salinization of drinking water.

7. Mozambique - $476

Mozambique, in southern Africa, has a per capita annual GDP of just $476. Corruption is said to be a massive problem in the country, with hinders the economic success of individual citizens. Much of rural Mozambique lives on less than $1.25 US per day. Unfortunately, due to the lack of access to equipment, many agricultural workers are unable to yield as much as is necessary in order to make a profit. Like many countries on this list, the economic situation in Mozambique is made worse by very poor infrastructure and access to vital services like clean water.

6. Madagascar - $459

Madagascar is unique as being among the only island nations in this list of countries with substantially low levels of economic activity. The island country, located just off the coast of southern Africa, is comprised of the island of Madagascar, which is the fourth largest island in the world, as well as a large number of much smaller islands in the surrounding waters of the Indian Ocean. The economy is largely dependent on agriculture, with chief products being rice, tea, cotton, and dairy. Madagascar has had a bad history of political strife and coups, issues which have had devastating effects on its economic productivity.

5. Democratic Republic of the Congo - $449

There is perhaps no other country with an economic system more dysfunctional than that of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Though the DRC sits on some of the most extensive natural resources in the world - including diamonds and other precious stones - decades of strife and runaway militias have depleted these resources and limited the ability of the public to profit off them. Some semblance of proper governance in recent years has increased export revenues but, as the extensive country has a very rudimentary infrastructure system, there is a lot remaining to be done before the economy can make a serious name for the nation on the global market.

4. Central African Republic - $430

The Central African Republic is a landlocked African country with a high proportion of its population living in rural areas where subsistence farming is the most important occupational activity. The economy of Central African Republic is largely dependent on the export of diamonds, which brings in between 40-55% of the country's export revenues. However, it is estimated that up to a half of those diamonds are sold on the black market, denying the government of tax revenue and undercutting honest, hardworking businesspeople trying to do things the right way.

3. Malawi - $351

Malawi is a landlocked African country on the south-eastern edge of the continent. With well over 85% of the country's population of 16 million people living in rural areas and dependent on subsistence farming, the country's economy is fragile and very dependent on foreign aid. In 2000, however, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) stopped its aid disbursements to Malawi, citing widespread corruption and mishandling of the funds by the government there. In 2013 President Joyce Banda sold the presidential jet and a fleet of 60 luxury cars to feed the poor and grow crops to fight malnutrition - only to be embroiled in a financial scandal involving looting, theft and corruption within the government, that went public the next month. While Banda greatly improved diplomatic relations with other countries when she became president, due to scandal Norway, Britain, and the EU suspended approximately 150 million in aid and she lost heavily in the next election. The proceeds from the sale of the jet failed to be accounted for. Malawi continues to grapple with massive problems in its economic system including the scourge of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, a rudimentary market economy, and a dysfunctional education system. In January of 2015, Malawi was in the news for another negative reason, as devastating floods left almost a quarter of a million people homeless and destroyed well over 64,000 hectares of cropland, furthering their economic woes.

2. Burundi - $307

Burundi is a landlocked African country with an overwhelming majority of its population depending on subsistence agriculture. Located in the Great Lakes region of Africa, Burundi has a history checkered with ethnic strife and military coupes that have consistently derailed its long-term prospects for development. According to IMF data, well over 80% of the country's population lives under the poverty line. 

1. South Sudan - $303

South Sudan, the world's newest country, is also the world's poorest country. It has been estimated that South Sudan is among the world's least developed countries – and this lack of infrastucture is bad news for an economical back bone. According to the UNDP, 80% of the country lives on less than $1 USD a day.  

Looking Towards a Better Future

While the details outlined above may make for a depressing read, hope still thrives in the minds and hearts of innovators and entrepreneurs within the poverty-stricken locales. What is even more encouraging is that most of the countries listed above are enjoying a period of relative calm from political and ethnic strife, a trend that will hopefully continue in years yet to come. Such times of comparative peace will likely give many of these nations excellent opportunities to not only increase their wealth and prosperity aggregately but, possibly more important still, foster socioeconomic equality within and throughout their respective populaces.

10 Poorest Countries

RankCountryGDP Per Capita (USD)
1South Sudan302.78
4Central African Republic430.08
5Democratic Republic of the Congo448.75
9Sierra Leone515.90

More in Economics