As the saying goes: “There’s poor, and then there’s poor.” The United States, for instance, has relative poverty, but those living on very meagre earnings, or government handouts, will most of the time have food to eat and a roof over their head. In 2017, The Guardian reported that around 30 percent of Britain’s children were classified as being poor, and two thirds of them came from working families. While these children will most of the time still be fortunate enough to receive a full school education, they may also often be eating food that came from food banks. But what is it like to live in abject poverty, with a threadbare safety net hanging below you, if any safety net at all?
First of all, when looking at data, the list of the poorest nations changes from resource to resource, but certain countries stand out. As many of those are in Africa, we will also choose some countries that are perhaps not the poorest in the world, but are the poorest in their part of the world.
We’ll start with Madagascar, an island nation in the Indian Ocean off the East coast of Africa. While famed for its unique wildlife and natural beauty, it’s one of the poorest nations on earth. It was reported in 2015 by the UN that much of the 25 million population has no secure food supply, and in the same year photos appeared in the world’s media showing emaciated children that reminded people of African famine in the 80s. Nine out of 10 people live on less than two dollars a day. It’s a precarious environment, with droughts, floods and locust plagues common. Disease is rife, as is malnutrition. The sad thing is UNICEF says the island is largely ignored in terms of international donors.
If we turn to Asia, the poorest nation there is said to be Afghanistan, which is reportedly slightly poorer than Nepal. The World Bank states that poverty is rising in the country, writing that lately “1.3 million more Afghans are unable to satisfy their basic needs.” Due to conflicts, there has been less aid given to the country, not to mention the damage done to job growth and infrastructure. Much of the country’s population is illiterate and unskilled, and unemployment there just keeps rising. It’s thought one third of the country’s 34.6 million people are food insecure. It’s also said there are about 3 million people in the country addicted to opiates. Afghanistan is generally considered the poorest nation not in Africa, along with some island nations in the Pacific.
Another country outside of Africa that is very poor is the Caribbean nation of Haiti, sometimes regarded as the poorest nation in the western hemisphere. The BBC reports that the nation may have gained its independence from France but that came at a “crippling cost”. It’s seen ruthless dictators, economic instability and terrible natural disasters such as the 2010 earthquake that caused significant damage to the country’s infrastructure. Almost a third of the country lives in extreme poverty, and another third are said to be poor. According to World Bank, this means those in extreme poverty live on less than $1.23 per day and those that are poor live on less than $2.41 a day. Furthermore, the Borgen Project said in 2017 that half of the 10 million-plus people don’t have a job. Three quarters of households have no running water and disease and malnutrition is pervasive.
In South America, the poorest nation is thought to be Bolivia. With a population of around 11 million, this landlocked country that borders Brazil, Peru, Paraguay and Chile, has seen its extreme poverty rate drop from 38.2 percent to 16.8 percent over the last decade. The worst of the poverty is in the rural parts of the country, but UNICEF reports that as many as 60 percent of all Bolivians live below the poverty line. The number is higher in rural areas mainly because of the fact the country lacks connecting infrastructure to urban areas. These people struggle to find clean drinking water and services. According to Habitat for Humanity, 58% of Bolivian families live in slums and have no direct access to basic services or sanitation. The unemployment rate, though, according to the same source, is only 6.2 percent.
Going over to Europe, most sources put Moldova as the poorest country there. The Eastern European nation that borders Romania and Ukraine, has a population of around 3.5 million. According to the World Bank, 6 percent of the country lives on less than $2.50 a day, but the worst hit are those living in rural communities. Many of these people have no access to clean drinking water or sewage systems. The country lacks infrastructure, is plagued by corruption, and job opportunities are few for the rural poor. This is why many have left or are trying to leave the country. According to the Borgen Project, “Young people are needed for economic growth, but they will not stay in the country if they do not see a future there.” When Moldovans were polled in 2017 about what they most worry about, the top answers were high prices, poverty, corruption and diseases. 73.3 percent of respondents said their earnings did not give them a decent standard of living. The poll was published by the country’s state news agency.
Back in Africa, there are two countries that regularly find themselves on the list of poorest in the world. The first one we will talk about is the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which is sometimes said to have the lowest GDP per capita in the world. Other sources such as CIA Factbook state that it is actually Somalia, and other sources such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund state that it is The Central African Republic.
We will first talk about the Democratic Republic of the Congo. This Central African country, called Zaire for many years, has a population of around 79 million. The country is said to be super rich in resources, but 63 percent of its citizens live below the poverty line of $1.90 or even one dollar a day. This is sad, because the World Bank says that with such good arable land and deposits of natural gas, iron, gold, diamonds, platinum, ands uranium, it could be one of the richest African nations. Despite this, the average person there will make around $800 a year. The country, however, has historically been ravaged and plundered – of minerals and its people for slaves – by European nations, while the former Soviet Union and the United States also carried out proxy wars there. It’s a nation that has known no peace, and in recent times has been ruled by vicious dictators that sometimes had support from the West. The country is still rife with corruption and this is holding it back. Poverty leads to disease, and this is why people living there can expect to live on average to only 59 years old. Human rights abuses are so many we could write an entire show about those alone.
As we just said, also at the bottom of the list of poorest nations is the Central African Republic. Just north of the border to the Democratic Republic of Congo, it too is said to be very rich in minerals and arable land. The population is about 5 million. Many of these people live on around 750 dollars a year. About 67 percent of the population lives on less than a dollar a day. Half of the population are illiterate, with the average person receiving about 3.5 years of schooling in total. This nation too has seen violent conflicts, ongoing corruption, and human rights abuses, while disease and malnutrition is widespread. Life expectancy is said to be around 51 years. With no end in sight to violence and corruption, this mineral rich nation looks like it will remain poor for some time to come.
Is life in your country different from life in the countries we just discussed? Let us know how in the comments!