As glamorous and aspirational as it can be to study the world's richest countries, it's equally important to be aware of the countries on the other end of the wealth spectrum. Helping poorer countries improve their financial standings is one of the primary methods organizations such as the United Nations employ to improve the overall quality of life for those countries' citizens.
Many factors contribute to a nation's wealth, including its natural resources, educational system, political stability, and national debt. Most—though not all—of the world's poorest countries also rank among the world's least developed nations (sometimes known less kindly as underdeveloped countries or by the less precise and even less kind third world nations.
The world's poorest countries are classified as low-income economies in the four-tiered World Bank ranking system. This ranking is based on each country's gross national income (GNI) per capita, which is a measure of the country's total income divided by its population.
GNI is very similar to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita. Both metrics measure the dollar value of all goods and services produced in a given country, but GNI also includes income earned via international sources (such as foreign investments or real estate holdings). For that reason, GNI is considered a slightly more accurate measure of a country's economic health.
GNI is typically expressed one of two ways. The first is in US dollars, calculated using a technique called the Atlas method to compare each nation's currency. The second is in "purchasing power parity (PPP) international dollars", a hypothetical currency tied to a the value of the US dollar in a given year.
The 10 Poorest Countries in the World (based upon their 2020 GNI per capita in current US$):
- Burundi - $270
- Somalia - $310
- Mozambique - $460
- Madagascar - $480
- Sierra Leone - $490
- Afghanistan - $500
- Central African Republic - $510
- Liberia - $530
- Niger - $540
- Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire) - $550
For a complete list of the world's low-income countries and their most recent GNIs per capita, see the table below.