The Poorest Countries in the World: 10+1 Things to Know
The poorest countries of the world remain poor year after year,decade after decade – or so it might seem. What do these countries have in common? Why are they stuck in the mire of poverty – and what can we do about it?
1. SHORTCOMINGS IN HEALTH AND EDUCATION.
What are the poorest countries in the world?One way to define them is the UN’s list of Least Developed Countries (LDCs). The list, updated every three years, currently includes 46 countries, mostly in Africa, some in the Asia/Pacific region and one, Haiti, in the Caribbean. The LDCs are ranked on the list according to factors like income levels, health, and education.
2. POVERTY IS A REALITY FOR A VAST SHARE OF THE GLOBAL POPULATION.
Over a tenth of the world’s population lives in a country classified as “fragile” and, according to the World Bank, around eight per cent of people face extreme poverty. Signs of dire poverty include high maternal and infant mortality rates, low status of women and low levels of education. Most of the work performed in such countries takes place outside the formal labor market, such as in domestic labor. Tax revenues are thus inadequate for providing government services, and basic services like education and health care remain lacking.
3. THE SHADOW OF COLONIALISM STILL PUTS A BRAKE ON DEVELOPMENT.
The legacy of colonialism continues to cast a shadow over many poor countries. The borders of modern-day states, once artificially drawn by their former colonial masters, frequently do not follow patterns like ethnic lines or traditional settlements. Natural resources have been made into a tool for accumulating wealth for a small proportion of the population. Societies maldeveloped in this way are prone to conflict, ethnic violence, and undeveloped governance, rife with practices such as corruption and misuse of funds that clash with the idea of good government.
4. SEVERE OBSTACLES TO GROWTH.
Poor countries’ development may be hindered by conflict, poor governance (especially in small countries) or resource-based economies. The neighbourhoods of the countries also play a large role, especially for countries that do not have a ready connection to the ocean. Access to world markets and secure transportation of goods are important requirements for maintaining a growing economy.
5. OBSTACLES CAN BE CIRCUMVENTED.
Botswana and Vanuatu demonstrate that leaving the UN’s LDC list is possible. Even in the most fragile of countries education offers one pathway to development, and developing vocational training can be an effective way to provide routes to employment and sustenance. Nevertheless, even when development happens, women, people with disabilities and marginalized ethnic groups often face exclusion. It is important to keep everyone on board in order for progress to reach the whole of society.
6. LOCAL IDEAS ARE IMPORTANT.
We say that development must reach the entire society, but what kind of development are we talking about? As ways to define development, measures like the gross domestic product (GDP) and life expectancy are fundamentally based on the Western mindset. A current trend in development cooperation, though, is a shift towards primarily local ownership, with local people themselves defining the agenda of development. In this process, in addition to GDP and other indicators, the status of individuals and their opportunities to live their own lives are also of fundamental importance.
7. WHEN AID WORKS, IT IS FUTURE-ORIENTED.
Humanitarian aid is seen as immediate disaster relief, but it is also acutely needed for protracted conflicts and for refugees. Focusing only on acute relief is short-sighted – raising people up from poverty requires education, jobs, and other opportunities for livelihood. The best way to help fragile countries is combining different forms of aid and thinking beyond what is acute; casting an eye to the future and visualising the permanent eradication of poverty. In this process, peacebuilding plays a crucial role.
8. ENRICHMENT SHOULD NOT MEAN EXPLOITATION.
This, we know already; development should not be a byword for a consumption-centered Western lifestyle, unsustainable both in terms of nature and the climate. When defining our preferred model of development, we must also always keep this in mind; Western lifestyle also needs changing. A consumption-centered, exploitative model of development is fundamentally not an option.
9. DEVELOPMENT COOPERATION IS A SOLUTION, NOT A PROBLEM.
Development cooperation gets a lot of criticism, and its controversial aspects were also highlighted in Finland’s recent government negotiations. Giving aid is not only a moral and ethical obligation, but also something that can advance a better life for all. Trade relations, innovation, and the promotion of technology, for example, impact the entire world positively.
10. FOSTERING DEVELOPMENT MEANS A BETTER LIFE FOR ALL.
Education and jobs – these are the best ways to keep destitute people from negative pathways like joining extremist groups. Just as conflicts can spread from one country to another, the stabilisation of one country also increases stability in neighboring countries. Thus, foreign aid is also in the interests of the donor countries. Development cooperation also helps rectify past errors, including in the case of Finland, a country that has – like others – grown from the exploitation of the global South’s resources.
+ 1: FCA – A DRIVER OF PERMANENT CHANGE.
Thework of Finn Church Aid and the wishes of our donors highlight the importance of women and youth in development. Enabling the participation of women and young people in decision-making and governance allows positive changes to occur in entire societies. Educated women also want their children to be educated, and this fosters the development of the whole local community.
Sources: interview with Ikali Karvinen, Executive Vice President of KUA, and UNCTAD, UNDP, World Bank and Paul Collier’s book The Bottom Billion.
Text by Anne Salomäki
Illustration: Carla Ladau