Special Report

The 27 Poorest Nations on Earth

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22. Solomon Islands
> GNI per capita: $2,680
> 2020 GDP: $1.6 billion
> Life expectancy: 73.0 years
> Population: 686,878

The Solomon Islands is a country made up of hundreds of islands in the Coral Sea just east of Papua New Guinea and northeast of Australia. It has the lowest GNI per capita of any country outside of Africa or the Middle East, at $2,680. For context, the U.S. GNI per capita is just over $66,000.

In spite of its low GNI per capita, Solomon Islands residents are less likely to struggle with the economic and health issues commonly found in other countries on this list. For instance, the country’s life expectancy of 73 years is actually slightly higher than is typical worldwide. The maternal and child mortality rates are roughly half of the worldwide rates.

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21. Guinea
> GNI per capita: $2,580
> 2020 GDP: $15.7 billion
> Life expectancy: 61.6 years
> Population: 13.1 million

Exports of goods and services tend to account for a large share of wealthier nations’ GDPs, whereas agriculture makes up a large share of the economic outputs of less wealthy countries. Guinea is the only country to rank among the world’s poorest with exports accounting for over 50% of its 2020 GDP. The vast majority of Guinea’s exports are aluminum ore and gold. Yet the country still has a GNI per capita of $2,580, lower than all but 20 other nations.

Even compared to other countries on this list, Guinea has especially dire health outcomes. Its mortality rate of children under 5 is 98.8 deaths per 1,000 live births, the sixth highest rate in the world and well more than double the worldwide average child mortality rate. Guinea’s maternal mortality rate of 576 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births is also well more than double the worldwide rate.

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20. Ethiopia
> GNI per capita: $2,410
> 2020 GDP: $107.6 billion
> Life expectancy: 66.6 years
> Population: 115.0 million

Ethiopia is one of just 20 countries with a GNI per capita of less than $2,500. With nearly 115 million people, it is by far the largest country to rank among the world’s poorest. Agriculture workers tend to have low incomes, and 35.5% of Ethiopia’s GDP comes from agriculture, forestry, and fishing — a share that is 10 times higher than the industry’s share in the total economic output of all countries.

Ethiopia’s economy has struggled with drought conditions in 2020, as well as years of violent political instability. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed won the Nobel Peace Prize for negotiating an end to the war with neighboring Eritrea in 2019. Yet in 2020, Ahmed launched attacks against rebel fighters in the Tigray region in the northern part of the country after the area held its own elections in defiance of Ethiopia’s government. Thousands have died in the fighting.

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19. Uganda
> GNI per capita: $2,260
> 2020 GDP: $37.4 billion
> Life expectancy: 63.4 years
> Population: 45.7 million

Uganda is a landlocked country in eastern Africa. Like many of the countries in the area, it has relatively low incomes. The country’s GNI per capita is just $2,260 — a fraction of the worldwide GNI per capita of roughly $17,500.

The poorest countries in the world tend to have large shares of their population living in rural areas, and Uganda is no exception. As many as 75% of Ugandans live outside of large population centers — and more than 41% of Uganda residents live on $1.90 per day or less.

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18. Mali
> GNI per capita: $2,250
> 2020 GDP: $17.4 billion
> Life expectancy: 59.3 years
> Population: 20.3 million

Mali is one of the poorest countries in the world, with a GNI per capita of $2,250. Worldwide, the per capita economic output is $17,535. Low-income countries often have reduced access to health care, and Mali has a life expectancy at birth of 59.3 years, more than 13 years lower than the worldwide life expectancy.

A number of factors make socioeconomic conditions difficult in Mali, including education. Just 35.5% of people 15 and older in the country are literate, the fourth lowest rate among all countries for which there is data. Worldwide, 86.5% of adults 15 and older can read. Also, less than half of all Malians have access to electricity, compared to over 90% of all people in the world.

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