The term “third world country” was created during the Cold War and was used to categorize a country’s alignment during the war. There were three categories at this time: those countries whose views aligned with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and capitalism (i.e. the First World); those countries whose views aligned with the Soviet Union and communism, (i.e. the Second World); and all the other countries, aligned with neither view, the “Third World.”
Today, the term “third world” is an antiquated term most commonly used to describe the developing countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America, and is a term typically associated with poverty. What classifies a country as part of the “Third World”? Below are four of the indicators that are used to classify third world countries:
1. Low Gross National Income (GNI)
Third world countries experience low economic development, and high rates of poverty. For the 2015 fiscal year, low-income economies—such as those in Tanzania, Haiti and Cambodia—are defined as those with a GNI per capita of less than $1,045 in 2013. The GNI for high-income economies, such as the United States, is $12,746 per capita.
2. Economic Dependence on Other Countries
Developing third world countries, as a result of the state of their economies, rely heavily on more economically and technologically advanced countries. And, third world countries’ economies—which, for the most part, lack modernity and independence—are typically geared towards serving and are controlled by more developed countries. This imbalance of control and dependence widens the gap between the wealthy countries, such as the U.S., and low-income economies such as Cameroon’s.
3. Low Human Development Index (HDI)
The HDI, published annually by the United Nations, measures three basic dimensions of human life: knowledge, a long and healthy life and a decent standard of living. The U.S. is ranked fifth on the HDI scale, while a developing country such as the Democratic Republic of Congo is ranked 186th.
4. Lack of Political Rights and Civil Liberties
Most of the world’s poorest countries are also the countries for which there is a severe lack of political rights and civil liberties. Developing countries such as Sudan are war-torn and civil liberties and rights almost nonexistent in the wake of the violence and war crimes. Citizens of the U.S. experience a life that is on the complete opposite end of the spectrum, with basic rights such as the right to an education strongly in place.
There are other indicators when it comes to categorizing a country as “third world,” and certainly not every developing country shares each of the above characteristics. But one thing is clear: millions of people around the world are citizens of countries in which daily life is excruciatingly difficult.
Poverty, limited access to education, low standards of living and lack of civil liberties and political rights are just a few of the realities for the many third world countries that exist alongside wealthy nations such as the U.S. If wealthier nations stepped in and did more to assist third world countries, surely the term would dissipate, following the alleviation of the effects of extreme poverty.
– Elizabeth Nutt
Sources: The World Bank, One World – Nations Online, United Nations Development Programme, Blurtit
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