Asia as a whole has long been seen as a powerhouse of the economy. While countries like China, Japan, and India continue to grow and be major players in the world market, some countries continue to struggle to keep pace. Here are the top 10 countries in Asia with the lowest per capita income. All figures are drawn from calculations based on World Bank Gross Domestic Product and Gross National Income data.
Top 10 Poorest Countries in Asia in 2023
Which countries are the poorest in Asia? Let’s find out.
Myanmar has not had what anyone could call an easy past. Almost 200 years of occupation, war and civil unrest has followed this country (also called Burma) into the modern age, along with a large list of human rights violations. Among these are common reports of forced child labor, human trafficking and genocidal acts by the government. It comes as no surprise that this has greatly hindered the number of educated workers within the country. The economy likewise has been rough. Since the banning of Opium Poppies, many farmers have had no cash crop, and the economy relies primarily on the exporting natural gas to neighboring countries.
Timor-Leste is a country in Southeast Asia. It became an independent nation in 2002 after being a Portuguese colony for more than four hundred years.
Unfortunately however, poverty levels remain high. According to the Asian Development Bank, more than 40 percent of the population lives below the national poverty line and around two-thirds are chronically food insecure. What’s worse, is that the country often experiences disasters such as droughts, soil erosion, storms, floods, and forest fires. The lack of economic infrastructure has also exacerbated the problem.
More than 20 percent of the population lives below the poverty line. In fact, it recently increased from 4.4 percent to 5.4 percent in 2020, partly due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which caused the economy to collapse.
According to the World Bank, approximately 40 percent of Pakistan households suffer from moderate to severe food insecurity. If anything, most people are illiterate and live in abject poverty. To make matters worse, a number of environmental problems such as deforestation and erosion have contributed to the problem.
Unemployment is also an issue. According to the Labour Force Survey, it jumped from 5.8 percent in 2017 to 6.9 percent in 2019.
The mountainous country once known for being a portion of the route called the Silk Road, Kyrgyzstan has kept itself quite traditional in lifestyle. Agriculture makes up nearly a third of the GDP, and forestry (namely the harvesting of Walnuts) is also an important economic factor. This may be a crisis in the future, as the irrigation systems have been in a state of decay for over a decade. As a past member of the Soviet Union, the central government still exerts control over the small mining enterprises throughout the nation, even while the state transitions to a free-market economy.
Even before the earthquake disaster of 2015, Nepal was already a place where health as well as poverty were major concerns. Over 40% of the population lives off less than $2 a day, and nearly one third of homes are without modern sanitation (such as toilets). 70% find employment in the agricultural sector, while garment industries and tourism make up a significant portion of the rest of the workforce.
It’s estimated that 90 percent of Syrians live below the poverty line. Not only that, but more than 80 percent struggle to feed their families. As a result, people are cutting meals and eating less.
Why is the country so poor? For one thing, unemployment is a huge issue. Due to inflation, many businesses and industries have closed down. In fact, more than 50 percent of the labor force is currently unemployed. This creates a ripple effect, which affects economic security. Not to mention that 50 percent of Syrian children do not attend school and without reliable access to education, they will be trapped in a cycle of poverty.
A country with a history rich in culture, but not always wealthy in terms of liquid assets. Tajikistan is still recovering from the civil war nearly 10 years ago, the 2008 economic crisis, and at time of writing it is predicted that this country may fall into conflict against ISIS. Even in the face of this threat, the economy continues a long trend of improvement as it builds infrastructure to extract valuable metals and move forward as a transition economy.
Though neighbor to one of the richest countries in the world, Yemen has itself seen much better days. Often cited as having a government unique in being openly corrupt, there is also open corruption in the private sector that translates to an excessive pay gap between wealthy and poor. Nearly half of the country is employed in service and tourism jobs despite security risks consistently turning away a large share of tourists to other locations such as the United Arab Emirates. To make matters worse, political violence between government loyalists and Houthis has greatly increased in the recent past bringing even further uncertainty to the region both in terms of security and economy.
2. North Korea
This “Hermit Kingdom” is often seen as the poster child for poverty. With the average citizen making less than $15 a week through normal economic channels, the black or grey markets are the primary sources of income for most. This of course means that a vast number of citizens are subject to inconsistent paychecks as a result of government crackdowns and the inevitable need to pay bribes to continue to exist. In defense of North Korea, they at least nominally have a public food distribution system that reportedly sustains 70% of the country when famines aren’t present. While exceedingly poor at present, it is thought that there is an abundance of metal resources. With adequate infrastructure, it is estimated the value of these metals could be between $4 trillion to $6 trillion.
After suffering decades of being a war-torn nation, it should come as no surprise that Afghanistan heads this list. Like many on this list, a majority of Afghanistan’s economy is based on agriculture, even though only 6% of the nations land has proven usable. While animal husbandry used to also be a major economic factor, up to 80% of domestically useful species were wiped out by incursions of Iranian and Pakistani refugees in the early 2000’s. The future continues to look uncertain for this country, as the entire region is engaged yet again with a large terrorist threat that is sure to hinder growth and development.