The poorest countries in the world tend to be geographically clustered. While there are extremely poor nations in Asia and the Caribbean, the vast majority of countries on this list — 22 out of 25 — are located in sub-Saharan Africa.
Geography is not the only common trait most of the poorest nations share. The majority of countries on this list, particularly those in Africa, are rich in natural resources.
While abundant mineral deposits and rich soil may seem like an economic boon, they actually tend to have the opposite effect. Resource extraction is rarely a path to steady job creation, meaning these countries often suffer from widespread unemployment. Additionally, resource-based economies are often at the mercy of volatile commodity prices. Perhaps most significantly, easy resource revenues appear to lead to corrupt government institutions, conflict, and civil war.
The Democratic Republic of Congo, for example, a country flush with deposits of copper, uranium, gold, diamonds, and other valuable minerals, has been mired in conflict over access to these resources. Civil wars in DRC have claimed the lives of an estimated 6 million people.
Less tangible than lives lost in conflict over resources are the effects of government corruption. According to Transparency International, a corruption watchdog organization, many of the poorest countries in the world also rank among the most corrupt. Corrupt governments are typically characterized by poorly functioning public institutions, bribable public officials, and misappropriated public funds.
All of these factors can stymie economic development — and well over half of the countries on this list rank among the top third most corrupt governments in the world.
Poorer countries often have largely labor-driven economies that are heavily dependent on agriculture. Nearly every country on this list derives at least 20% of its GDP from agriculture. In both Chad and Sierra Leone, farming accounts for over half of all economic activity. In more diversified economies, such as the United States’, agriculture rarely accounts for more than 2% of economic activity.
The impact of economic and political conditions in the world’s poorest countries are often devastating. No country on this list has a life expectancy at birth greater than the global average of 71.9 years — and over half of the poorest countries have average life expectancies below 60 years.
To identify the poorest countries in the world, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed GNI data from the World Bank. We ranked the bottom 25 countries based on GNI per capita and supplemented our analysis with GDP and GDP growth rates, as well as poverty and unemployment rates, life expectancy, literacy, Gini coefficients, agricultural economic output, and additional trade data from MIT’s Observatory of Economic Complexity for the most recent year available. Only countries with GNI per capita figures for 2016 were considered. In our analysis, we also included Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index score, which ranks countries based on perceived corruption.
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