Special Report

The Poorest Countries in the World

Source: Virginia Yunes / Getty Images

12. Guinea-Bissau
> GNI per capita: $1,980
> 2020 GDP: $1.4 billion
> Life expectancy: 58.3 years
> Population: 2.0 million

Guinea-Bissau is one of just a dozen countries in which the gross national income per capita is less than $2,000. Worldwide, the GNI per capita is $17,535. Lower incomes often lead to health care challenges, and in Guinea-Bissau, child mortality, maternal mortality, and tuberculosis diagnoses are all more than twice as common compared to worldwide rates.

Wealthier countries generally have a much higher share of their economic activity attributed to exports, while poorer countries rely more heavily on agriculture and related professions. Guinea-Bissau had less than $250 million worth of exports in 2019, most of which were crops like coconuts, cashews, and brazil nuts.

Source: Abenaa / Getty Images

11. Sierra Leone
> GNI per capita: $1,670
> 2020 GDP: $3.9 billion
> Life expectancy: 54.7 years
> Population: 8.0 million

Sierra Leone on Africa’s western coast has a GNI per capita of $1,670, which is lower than all but 10 other countries in the world. This level of poverty has had a devastating effect on the population — Sierra Leone is one of just four countries in which the life expectancy at birth is less than 55 years.

Wealthy countries tend to have diversified economies and often derive much of their economic output from exports, whereas the workers in poorer countries tend to work as farmers. Sierra Leone is the only country on Earth that gets the majority of its GDP — 61.3% — from agriculture, forestry, and fishing. Sierra Leone is actually rich in resources like diamonds, titanium ore, bauxite, iron ore, and gold, but the country has faced a string of related violent conflicts that have destabilized the country.

Source: yoh4nn / Getty Images

10. Chad
> GNI per capita: $1,580
> 2020 GDP: $10.1 billion
> Life expectancy: 54.2 years
> Population: 16.4 million

Chad is one of the 10 poorest countries in the world, with a GNI per capita of $1,580. This is less than a 10th of the worldwide GNI per capita. Low-income countries like Chad often face severe health challenges because of a lack of money and resources.

Chad is one of just two countries, along with South Sudan, in which less than 10% of residents have access to electricity. This can make it difficult to administer health care. Chad is one of just three countries with a maternal mortality rate higher than 1,000 deaths per 100,000 live births. The worldwide maternal mortality rate is 211 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births.

Source: Sabinoparente / iStock

8. Malawi (tied)
> GNI per capita: $1,540
> 2020 GDP: $12.0 billion
> Life expectancy: 64.3 years
> Population: 19.1 million

Malawi’s economy struggles more than that of nearly every other country on Earth. Its GNI per capita is $1,540. For context, the U.S. GNI per capita is nearly 43 times higher. More than 82% of Malawi’s 19.1 million residents live in a rural area, often isolating them from health care and economic opportunities.

Malawi has the second highest share of people living in extreme poverty of any nation in the world, at 69.2%. The worldwide extreme poverty rate is 9.3%.

Source: Bernard Gagnon / Wikimedia Commons

8. Madagascar (tied)
> GNI per capita: $1,540
> 2020 GDP: $13.7 billion
> Life expectancy: 67.0 years
> Population: 27.7 million

Madagascar is tied for eighth poorest country in the world with another African country, Malawi. Both have a GNI per capita of $1,540. Only a handful of countries in the world have a lower GNI per capita. Less than 27% of Madagascar residents have access to electricity, and it typically takes someone over a year to gain access.

Madagascar has an unemployment rate of just 1.9%. While this would seem to be a positive economic indicator, poorer countries may have very low unemployment rates because a high share of workers are employed in agriculture, forestry, and fishing, in jobs that are frequently seasonal and typically do not pay well. In Madagascar, 24.1% of the GDP is attributed to agriculture and related fields, nearly seven times the worldwide share of economic output attributed to agriculture.

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