(and now another geeky post from Eric McLaughlin...)
What is the poorest country in the world? Somalia? Sudan? Afghanistan? Haiti? Bangladesh? In my experience, even more countries are referred to as the "second poorest country in the world". One thing is sure, right? That only one country is the poorest country in the world.
And I guess that must be true, but discovering which one it is is remarkably hard. Consider the following: Many countries have very limited data collection on personal incomes. Many places utilize a lot of barter systems. Income is earned in a certain currency, and all currencies are constantly fluctuating in reference to each other. And the poorest countries often have the currencies in the greatest flux. And currencies have different buying powers, i.e. $1 US can buy you a coke in the USA, but good luck turning that into Euros and trying to buy a coke in Paris. Yet you could buy 3 in Kenya.
Being a general lover of Wikipedia and lists of every sort, I have spent a bit of time looking into this question on various websites, and the response to all these difficulties seems to be the "GDP (PPP) per capita". This is the Gross Domestic Product divided by population (and even the population can be hard to be certain of in some of these places), then corrected by the Purchasing Power Parity, a factor developed by such organizations as the IMF and the World Bank.
So, enough of your methodology difficulties, you say. What is the answer?
Well, it depends who you ask. IMF has a list. The World Bank has a list. And the US government has a list, through the CIA World Factbook. And I'm sure there are others. And humorously enough, they don't even agree on the numbers of countries in the world.
As I've been sharing about Burundi, I've often stated that, by one source, Burundi is tied for the world's poorest country. Certainly this is an infamous distinction, so it's obviously the farthest things from a contest. But here's the good news, based on the new 2011 sources, Burundi is no longer the poorest country. It is either the 2nd or 3rd poorest country in the world, depending on your source. Maybe this is good news for Burundi's development. Maybe someone just tweaked one little number somewhere. Currently, Burundians on average live of $400 US per year, up a bit from last year. (For Jess Cropsey and other math lovers, please note that this is mean and not median-derived.)
It's really just a bunch of trivia, except that, for me, this information is a useful reality check on the state of the world and the state of my life.
Thus, some more data (from the Wikipedia page):
- The poorest country by GDP (at about $300/year) in all 3 lists is the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire), and arguably our closest international border in Burundi.
- The bottom 5 is almost always a mix of DR-Congo, Burundi, Liberia, Zimbabwe, and Eritrea.
- Haiti is indisputably the poorest county in the western hemisphere, by a considerable margin. It ranges from #17-22 from the bottom globally.
- Sudan (now Sudan + South Sudan, with the numbers not yet separate) has a GDP per capita of around $3000/year, which is a good example of how this statistic does not account for the huge rich-poor gap that can exist in many places.
- On the other end, the #1 country is either Qatar or Luxembourg ($89,000+).
- The USA is #7 or #9 at $47,000.