Did you that Asia is the largest continent on Earth? Not only that but it’s also the most populous with more than 4.5 million people. Despite steady economic growth, however, more than 230 million individuals live in extreme poverty, which by definition, refers to those who are living on less than $2.15 a day. As a result, hunger is a major problem. What food they can afford is also typically lacking in nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, and proteins.
Which Asian countries are the poorest? What are some of the challenges that they’re facing? Let’s take a look.
Top 10 Poorest Countries in Asia in 2024
Without further ado, here is a list of some of the poorest countries in Asia.
10. Myanmar – GDP: $1400.20
Myanmar is located in Southeast Asia and is bordered on the west by India and Bangladesh, on the east by Thailand and Laos, on the north by China, and on the south by the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea. With an area of 261,000 square miles, it’s the largest country in all of Southeast Asia. There are five main regions: the central basin, the northern mountains, the eastern plateau, the coastal plains, and the western ranges.
According to the World Bank, more than 32 percent of its inhabitants live below the poverty line. In fact, it’s estimated that two-thirds of the population do not have access to electricity. The majority of people also live in rural areas, where poverty is twice as high, and rely on low-tech farming and fishing for subsistence.
The country also has one of the highest child mortality rates in the area, with seven percent dying before their fifth birthday. Not only that but Myanmar also has the highest maternal mortality rate in Southeast Asia at 250 per 100,000 live births, which is nearly double that of the regional average.
While the country has minimal natural resources, it does have an active agriculture sector that employs nearly half of the workforce.
9. Timor-Leste – GDP: $1381.20
Timor-Leste is a small country that’s situated on the southern edge of the Indonesian archipelago. It’s also one of the newest countries in the world, having only declared independence in 2002. Despite ongoing efforts, however, more than 40 percent of the population, the majority of which are under 25 years old, lives in poverty.
Not only are unemployment rates going up, but revenue from oil and gas- which is the country’s main source of income- is also dwindling. Mortality rates have also gone up in recent years. According to UNICEF, the under-five mortality rate is 50.5 per 1,000 live births.
Other challenges that the country is facing include youth unemployment, police brutality, child malnutrition, gender-based violence, and environmental degradation. Poor governance has also contributed to their vulnerable economy.
To make matters worse, the country’s uneven terrain makes farming difficult. In fact, only 30 percent of the land is suitable for farming. Water-gathering is also difficult in many areas. Foot shortages have also contributed to a number of diseases and illnesses, many of which are hard to treat due to a lack of medical facilities.
The recent COVID-19 pandemic has also complicated matters with plummeting petroleum prices.
8. Pakistan – GDP: $1193.70
Pakistan is situated in South Asia and consists of four main provinces: Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Sindh, and Balochistan. Despite being rich in natural resources, such as gold, coal, chromite, and copper, it’s one of the poorest countries in the world with a GDP per capita of $1193.70. It’s currently estimated that more than 40 percent of the population lives in extreme poverty.
This is due to many reasons, one of which includes their political system, which is fundamentally flawed in that it is dominated by elites such as generals, politicians, and bureaucrats, many of whom are from very rich backgrounds. Corruption is another major issue. In fact, the current Prime Minister stepped down in 2017 on accusations of corruption.
The lack of democracy has also contributed to the problem as it prevents citizen-oriented development. Not only that but there’s also an education crisis as the country only spends 2.6 percent of its total GDP on education, meaning that more than 50 percent of its inhabitants are uneducated.
The adult mortality rate has also gone up from 21.1 deaths per 100 individuals in 1975 to 22.51 per 100 individuals in 2020. This is partly due to a lack of medical facilities that haven’t increased to match the growing population.
7. Kyrgyzstan – GDP: $1173.60
Kyrgyzstan is a landlocked nation that’s located in Central Asia. Not only is the country known for its deep gorges, but it also features extensive mountain ranges that are complimented by thousands of rivers and streams. As of 2024, it has a population of 6.8 million, the majority of which are ethnic Kyrgyz, followed by minorities of Russians and Uzbeks.
A low-income country, it has the second lowest GNI in Central Asia and Europe. Poverty is also a significant issue, with 32.1 percent of the population living below the poverty line.
One of the reasons why the country is so poor is that it no longer receives Soviet support. Since independence, it can no longer rely on Soviet satellite states for investment. And while the agriculture sector is active, they do not export many commodities. The majority of those who live in rural areas are also not trained in land management, meaning that they can’t produce food at full capacity.
The country as a whole also has weak financial resources, which prevent it from sustaining economic growth. In fact, very few people have access to banks, which makes it impossible to save or invest.
6. Nepal – GDP: $1155.10
Nepal is a mountainous country that lies in the Himalayas, to the south of China and north of India. Despite having been promoted recently to the developing country status, however, it remains one of the poorest nations in Asia, with a slow-growing economy. In fact, it’s per capita income has been dropping rapidly, compared to its peers.
Of those living in Nepal, nearly one-fourth are living below the poverty line. Malnutrition, disease, and child mortality rates are also high, partly due to limited medical services and high food prices. The country itself has also been the victim of several natural disasters, including earthquakes, which have crippled the country’s already struggling economy.
Government corruption is also an issue. In fact, Nepal is ranked among the highest for most corrupt countries in Southern Asia. The fact that the country is landlocked also makes the transportation of resources and development difficult. There’s also a lack of advanced methods for farming, which makes it difficult for farmers to grow enough food.
To make matters worse, housing prices have surged over recent years, which means many are unable to afford a house. In fact, up to ten percent of the urban population are squatters.
5. Syria – GDP: $870
Syria is a country in the Middle East that’s situated along the Mediterranean Sea. Originally a lower middle-income country, it was officially reclassified by the World Bank as a low-income country in 2018, after a dramatic decline in GNI per capita.
Not only did the Syrian Civil War destroy educational facilities and health care infrastructure, both of which contributed to a rise in poverty, but the severe drought has also caused their socioeconomic conditions to deteriorate rapidly. For example, they had record-low crop production in 2021. Not to mention the ongoing war in Ukraine, which has led to many economic consequences. Given that, it’s not surprising to know that they’re ranked among the top most food-insecure countries in the world.
The local currency has also continued to depreciate, which has led to rampant inflation. Since the onset, many have lived in extreme poverty, with minimal access to health, education, shelter, water, and livelihood opportunities. To make matters worse, the COVID-19 pandemic has also exacerbated the already vulnerable healthcare system.
As of 2024, nearly 90 percent of the population lives below the poverty late, which indicates an 800 percent increase over the past two years.
4. Tajikistan – GDP: $859.13
Tajikistan is a small landlocked nation in Central Asia that borders China, Kyrgyzstan, Afghanistan, and Uzbekistan. A developing country, it has a low-performing economy, one that is mostly dependent upon agriculture. In fact, it’s often referred to as the poorest former Soviet republic.
Not only are unemployment rates high, due to a lack of secure employment opportunities (the private sector’s involvement in the economy is dangerously low) but the economy is also stagnated by poor infrastructure. For one thing, its mountainous regions make trading with other nations difficult as they must rely on a railway system. Power outages and shortages are also common, especially during the winter months.
What’s more, is that the majority of the population does not have access to clean water. In fact, more than half of citizens get their water from unsanitary sources, such as irrigation ditches, which leads to waterborne diseases. Tuberculosis is also a major health problem as the country’s healthcare system is ill-equipped to tackle the issue efficiently.
Since independence, funding for education has also gone down drastically.
Climate change has also impacted their agricultural sector significantly. For example, the need for irrigation water has increased over the past several years due to rising temperatures.
3. Yemen – GDP: $824.1
Yemen is a desert country that’s located at the southwestern tip of the Arabian Peninsula. Since 2014, they have been increasingly war-torn, which has led poverty rates to skyrocket. The second poorest country in the Middle East, nearly 55 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, 20 percent of which live in extreme poverty.
Due to the war, more than 11 million individuals have also become impoverished, many of which are children. Hunger and malnutrition, which are often triggered by starvation, dengue fever, measles, and cholera, are also major issues. In fact, Yemen has a remarkably high infant mortality rate of 55.4 per 1,000 live births, which is nearly ten times that of the U.S.’s infant mortality rate.
Access to clean water is also limited, with only 30 percent of residents using piped drinking water services.
Yemen also has a lack of schooling facilities and teachers, which means that nearly two million children are out of school, and without proper education, their impoverished conditions will only continue. Fortunately, UNICEF has helped provide access to education by offering cash incentives for Yemen teachers.
2. North Korea – GDP: $642.00
North Korea, officially known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, is situated in Eastern Asia and borders the Sea of Japan and Korea Bay. A totalitarian state, the country has one of the most repressive governments in the world that regularly abuses human rights.
Like many communist countries. North Korea has a command economy, which means that all monetary exchanges are controlled by the government. The country also has strict trade restrictions and due to a lack of participation in the world economy (the country is barred from participating in the international market), poverty is rampant.
Not only that but the government diverts the majority of its resources, which are already scant, to begin with, to the military, instead of investing in infrastructure.
Food shortage, partly due to its harsh climate and rugged land, is also a major issue. While the full extent of the shortage is unclear, it’s estimated that they are short approximately one million tons of grain each year to feed its population of 25 million. This has led to starvation, hunger, and malnourishment, all of which were made worse by the coronavirus pandemic.
1. Afghanistan – GDP: $508.80
Afghanistan is a landlocked country that’s known for its mountainous terrain, deserts, and deep gorges. In the poorest country in Asia, nearly 40 percent of residents live below the poverty line. What’s worse, is that the majority of Afghans do not have access to safe drinking water, access to electricity, and sanitation.
As it is, decades of war have destroyed many political and economic institutions, which has contributed to the high poverty rate. Corruption, weak governance, social inequality, insecurity, and a lack of infrastructure have also contributed to the problem. In fact, it’s not uncommon for infants and children to become stunted, or malnourished each year due to inadequate nutrition.
The country’s education, health, and livelihood services are also inadequate due to a lack of funding. Severe drought and flooding have also wiped out crops and jobs, leading many to live in extreme hunger. In fact, food insecurity is one of the nation’s biggest issues. As of 2024, a staggering 95 percent of residents do not get enough food to eat. This is especially true for female-headed households, for which the number rises to almost 100 percent.