With an alphabet soup of measurements available to analyze global wealth, identifying the world’s richest country becomes a confusing task. Perhaps the most prevalent method used to assess the relative wealth of nations is Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita; in other words, a country’s GDP divided by the number of people living in that country.

If we accept this statistic as the most useful in discussing a nation’s overall prosperity, then the richest country in the world is one smaller than the state of Connecticut: the oil-rich nation of Qatar. Qatar has the world’s highest GDP per capita, estimated to be $105,091 in 2013 and likely on the rise.

Independent since 1971, Qatar is home to 1.4 million residents, of whom only 15 percent are actually citizens. The rest are foreign workers – Western financiers, energy executives, temporary laborers from India, etc. This makes Qatar’s exact population difficult to calculate as it is in constant flux. The U.N. estimates that 500 new immigrants arrive every day. Only 1.5 percent of the population is over the age of 65, and there are nearly two males to every female. It goes without saying that living in the world’s richest country comes with extensive benefits; the people of Qatar enjoy free electricity and free healthcare, among other perks.

Qatar’s capital city of Doha is regarded as exceedingly opulent, and its luxury is often compared to that of Dubai. The major difference between Doha and Dubai, however, is that Dubai is finished. Qatar remains a country in transition. The country’s leaders look to the future, purporting a “2030 vision” that pledges a world-class infrastructure, a large part of which is an extensive metro network that recently had its ground-breaking ceremony. In 2022, Qatar will be the host of the World Cup, the pageantry of which will likely reflect the country’s progress.

To put the GDP per capita of Qatar in perspective, the 2013 estimate for the same statistic in the U.S. was $51,248. At the complete other end of the spectrum is the Democratic Republic of the Congo, whose GDP per capita was estimated to be a meager $394.

Not everyone in Qatar is bathing in gold, however. The country’s economic prosperity is marked by a vast income gap between the very rich and the very poor. The head of the Al Thani ruling family, Sheikh Hamad, is worth $2 billion himself, but the richest Qataris like the Sheikh make over 13 times what the poorest do.

This statistic comes from a measure known as the GINI Index, a commonly used method of assessing income inequality. One might argue that this measure is more reflective of a country’s overall wealth because it takes into account income distribution – GDP per capita oversimplifies the issue. Others might suggest that a country’s overall GDP is the most useful in identifying the richest countries in the world. The answer to the question of world’s richest country changes depending on what statistic is employed.

Perhaps most important, what the GINI Index suggests in comparison to GDP per capita is that even in the world’s statistically richest countries, there are people in poverty whose struggle cannot be disguised by a vague number.

– Katie Pickle

Sources: It’s GR9, Global Finance
Photo: Conferenza GNL

The gap between Brazil’s rich and poor contributes to its stance in the developing world. Although Brazil is considered to be a rich nation, there are still millions of people living in extreme poverty.

The uneven distribution of wealth enables Brazil to be a wealthy country that has millions living in poverty. The wealthiest one percent of Brazil’s population controls approximately 50 percent of the nation’s income, while a substantial amount of the country’s population lives off of once percent of the country’s wealth.

Salvador de Bahia, the capital of Brazil, serves as an example of how this distribution of wealth creates poverty. The capital of Brazil is considered to be one of the most impoverished areas of the country, with approximately 2.4 million people living on less than $1 a day.

Brazil is one of the largest countries in world with an estimated population of 200 million people, according to the World Bank. Salvador de Bahia has a population of approximately 2.6 million people who survive on incomes supported by the tourism industry, agriculture and the oil refinery port in the capital.

With a relatively new chemical company opening in Salvador de Bahia, the capital has seen considerable growth in its economy, partly due to new employment opportunities and an increase in generated revenue. Although Salvador de Bahia has seen economic growth, it is still considered one of the poorest states with poverty rates as high as 50 percent in some towns.

There are several causes behind the extreme poverty in Brazil, and more specifically, Salvador de Bahia. Aside from economic situations that feed the great divide between the rich and poor, the increasing number of children falling into poverty serves as another factor. Although the number of adults lifting themselves out of poverty has increased over the past few years, there has also been an increase in the number of young people and children that have fallen into poverty. The cyclical nature of poverty results in stagnant poverty rates.

Malnutrition has also led to underdeveloped children and young people. In Brazil there are an estimated 200,000 to eight million children living on the streets. Unable to provide for their children, some poor families abandon their children, leaving them on the streets to fend for themselves. Additionally, AIDS, the death of family members, violence, drugs and/or alcohol result in high child poverty rates.

Often, street children cannot come back from this life and have a low life expectancy rate. Reforms that tackle child poverty in Brazil can help alleviate rates in the country and enable the state of Salvador de Bahia to move toward a more prosperous economic future. Reforms can help build orphanages, create education centered programs and build half-way houses as a solution to poverty rates.

– Nada Sewidan

Sources: Children of Bahia, SOS Children’s Villages, The World Bank
Photo: Global Health Equity Scholars Fellowship

Due to the economic crisis and government spending cuts, family incomes have fallen to the levels of 10 years ago, placing three million people in extreme poverty in Madrid. According to the national income data, 60 percent of the population is living in poverty.

In Madrid, more than one million people live on 484 euros per month. Approximately 760,000 live on only 242 euros. Overall, there are 1.3 million people who are at risk of poverty, included those who are under the poverty threshold; an estimated total of 20.3 percent of the population, many of whom are women.

Around 17 percent of the population is suffering from severe poverty; from absolute poverty, 12 percent. Rates have since increased due to this crisis.

The annual wage per family is 7,300 euros. For each adult that is a part of the family unit, half of the annual wage is included, leaving 30 percent for each child. Therefore, a family with two children is living lower than the relative poverty line if they have an annual income of 15,330 euros.

As of 2007, the number of people living in extreme poverty was over 29 percent with the average annual income being 3,650 euros. The range continues to increase and is four percent higher than in 2008. Single parent homes with one or more children are living under the poverty line and exceed 37 percent of the population. Of that number, 11.7 percent are considered to be living in extreme poverty.

As of 2012 the spending power of Spain was 18,500 euros per capita. It has decreased since 2001. There has been a steady decrease in income that primarily affects those who live among what are considered standards of impoverished living known as “relative poverty.” Almost 22 percent of, or 10 million, Spaniards live in relative poverty. This is a figure that is 2.2 percent higher since 2008.

As of 2006, the amount of resources that have been available has dropped by five percent. And since the economic collapse in 2007, the income of the bottom poor has decreased by 30 percent, while the wealthy have increased their income by 20 percent.

Equilibrium needs to be restored by refocusing on Millennium Development Goal 1, as well as preparing to implement and follow the successors of the MDGs: the Sustainable Development Goals. Based on the above numbers, it is obvious that there remains a lot of work to be done in order to reverse, and eventually eradicate, extreme poverty and hunger in Madrid.

– Erika Wright

Sources: El Pais, West-Info
Photo: Flickr

As of 2013, there are an estimated 7.3 million people that are considered to be in poverty in Thailand, according to the World Bank.

Lack of opportunities, education and income inequality have been major contributors to the cause of such high poverty numbers. Although it is claimed the number of the poor have decreased in recent years, the rate overall remains consistently high.

Basic needs are not the biggest problem that families face. It is that the difference between the income of the lower and upper classes is increasing. Thirty percent of the population possess the wealth, most of which was obtained in the 1980s and 1990s. However the earning capacity of the remaining 70 percent remains relatively low.

Beginning in 1997 and lasting throughout 1998, what is commonly referred to as the “Asian Crisis” took place. Prior to this, Thailand was experiencing an abundance of economic growth. In 2011, a flood occurred just after the global financial crisis of 2008. From 2013 to 2015, political turmoil further contributed to the problem. Since then there has been less and less global demand for Thailand’s chief exports, such as shrimp. Currently growth is predicted to increase this year at 3.5 percent.

The Millennium Developmental Goals can be reached in Thailand on an aggregate basis. The rates of maternal and under five mortality rates have decreased. Efforts have also been made to increase the access to clean water and sanitation in urban and rural areas alike. The biggest concern is environmental sustainability. There is a need to make more employment opportunities available to those in the rural areas. In addition, educational resources for parents to assist their children or micro-enterprise business opportunities need to be made available.

At its worst, the top 20 percent earned 15.8 times more in contrast to the lowest 20 percent. At times, the average income is found in the most impoverished region in the northeast; it has been recorded as being 11.9 times lower than Bangkok. This has driven rural workers to seek work in the urban areas like Bangkok. It is a contributing factor to the slum areas in the urban cities. Bangkok is considered a concentration of economic activity, services and goods. This is evident given that 50 percent of Thailand’s GDP is from Bangkok.

An additional reason for the poverty is the government’s lack of responsibility during its financial and industrial reforms. During these times there has been a lack of social services implemented. Another reason stems from the failure of the Thai government to provide social safety nets amid the country’s rapid growth and industrialization.

Since the 1990s the government in Thailand has embraced the MDGs. It has adopted more aggressive methods in confronting the root problems of poverty and income gaps. In addition, programs to utilize rural workers have been developed. As the Sustainable Development Goals and the Post-2015 development agenda near, and will eventually replace and advance the progress of the MDGs, Thailand and other countries will have the opportunity for renewed efforts to combat poverty and inequality.

– Erika Wright

Sources: Nations Encyclopedia, World Bank
Photo: Flickr

Social Inclusion
Latin America is known for its poor record of income equality, but the 2014 Social Inclusion Index from Americas Quarterly reveals that in terms of civil, women’s and LGBT rights, several Latin American nations outstrip even the United States.

The Index pulls together data on 21 different variables, including GDP growth, enrollment in secondary school, access to housing and formal employment, financial inclusion by gender and political rights, to name a few.

The Social Inclusion Index approaches development from a multidimensional perspective, considering many factors that go beyond the scope of cut-and-dried economic growth.  This year’s report is the third in the Americas Quarterly series and it reveals an encouraging amount of poverty reduction and social inclusion in the region.

Uruguay remains at the top of the Index, receiving high scores in women’s rights, civil rights, LGBT rights and formal job access. According to the Index, the U.S. lags behind four Latin American countries on women’s rights, including Uruguay, Costa Rica, Argentina and Peru.

Argentina and Costa Rica are tied in second place, scoring well due to high spending on social programs and women’s rights. The United States falls into fourth place because, although its social spending is the highest in the region, murder rates, particularly femicide, remain high, as well.

The report also points out that some of the region’s larger economic powers like Brazil and Mexico could greatly improve their scores by placing more emphasis on women’s rights, access to education and access to formal jobs. For example, only 37 percent of the working population in Mexico has access to formal employment. Increasing this number has great potential to reduce poverty.

Significant economic growth and increasing stability in Latin America means that more and more people are emerging from poverty and entering the middle class. This trend is allowing for important conversations on social inclusion to take place.

There are still many gaps in security, gender equality and inclusiveness in Latin America. The region remains the planet’s murder capital and violence against women is rampant. Yet the Social Inclusion Index does reveal positive change and provides valuable direction for further progress.

-Kayla Strickland

Sources: Americas Quarterly, VOXXI, Wall Street Journal
Photo: Global Public Square

The range of wealth in Colombia is vast. The richest people are six socioeconomic brackets higher than the poorest, and a fraction of the size. 88 percent of the population belong to the lower half of the pyramid.

The Colombian government wants to erase the gap between the wealthy and the poor and they want to use the Internet to do so. The plan is to connect 63 percent of the population to the Internet by 2018.

When the initiative began in 2010, 2.2 million people were connected to the Internet. Today, Colombia’s Ministry of Information and Communication Technology’s Live Digital Plan (Vive Digital) has increased that number to 8.8 million.

Diego Molano is Colombia’s minister for information and communications technology. He attributes the 2.5 million people lifted out of poverty in Colombia in the past three years to the program.

“When we connect, for example…a small school in the middle of the jungle to the Internet, those kids…have effectively the same opportunity to access the whole of information society—just like any kid in New York, London, or Paris,” Molano explains.

Molano recognizes, however, that connecting people to the Internet is not all that is needed. The Internet, he explains, is designed for the wealthy. It does not have applications for the rural shop-owner. “If you tried to sell Internet to them today…they say, ‘Why?’…no applications that impact their daily cash flow.”

The challenge becomes finding a way to provide Internet to Colombia’s poor rural populations as well as make it useful for them. To help with the challenge, Colombia has reached out to U.S. tech companies such as SAP, Google, Oracle and Facebook.

“Colombia is the perfect lab for them because poor people are already connected in this country,” Molano says.

One major issue, Molano has not addressed is that of electricity. In order to have Internet there needs to be access to electricity, and many parts of the country do not have that. An anonymous employee of Vive Digital told Colombia Reports that while he has delivered many computers to schools, a substantial portion have not been used because there was no access to electricity.

Colombia’s Internet initiative sees the equalizing power of the Internet, but is also finding challenges in its application.
“When you connect a potato grower in the Andean mountains, and he doubles his income thanks to Internet, you are reducing inequality,” Morano says, describing the ideal situation.

Julianne O’Connor

Sources: Colombia Reports, Washington Post
Photo: Elespectador

While women in Kenya take care of the majority of the agricultural and produce market work, they only earn a fraction of the income their male counterparts do. As an outcome of wage discrimination for women, 40 percent of households in Kenya that are run solely by women are in poverty.

Women’s reliance on men has greatly increased within the past few years, due to state and resource conflicts during wartime. For instance, even though Kenya suffers droughts throughout the year, women are afraid to travel to collect water for their families due to gender-based violence. As a result, young girls cannot gain an adequate education due to the deficiency of proper hygiene and clean water within the school, resulting in low literacy rates. In addition, pregnant adult females who do not have access to clean water are more likely to acquire a water-borne disease, harming both the mother and unborn child.

Women in Kenya are not only restricted in the private realm, but also face restrictions in the public realm. For example, women cannot gain any property or land regardless of their social rank. In fact, after their husband’s death, several widows lost their homes and families because of these harsh gender-based rules. If a woman tries to acquire any property or land for her family, she will be exiled from the household, or even worse, from the community.

Kenyan cultural practices also influence the threat of HIV and AIDS that plague the country. Further, in addition to the medical threats of this disease, it also lowers  women’s self-esteem. Forced sex and inheritance of a widow by male relatives is part of Kenyan culture, yet 1 in 5 adults have HIV, a rate even higher for women.

Besides the negative effects of some cultural practices, women also have a higher rate of experiencing gender inequality, discrimination, gender-based violence and rape. In particular, practices such as gang rapes or forced sexual mutilations continue to be a major issue in communities across the country. Unfortunately, even when these women file rape complaints, police often do not prosecute their perpetrators. Thus, there is no support for victims and survivors of violence.

While there have been reforms to the Kenyan constitution within the past year, such as more rights for female business owners to help grow the economy, they constantly fight to keep their business afloat to support their families. The laws may vary, yet the traditional codes are nevertheless in effect within some communities and villages.

Kenya needs to improve its legal assistance and medical care for women, while ensuring all women receive the highest degree of protection and representation. In addition, girls must have better access to education to improve literacy rates. Even though women voters make up the bulk of the voting population in Kenya, they continue to be seriously underrepresented in politics, making it difficult to achieve these tangible goals. Overall, if women are more included in Kenya’s economy, the country can progress from severe poverty. By bringing women and young girls out of poverty and providing basic political and socio-economic rights, the country can and will grow for the better.

– Rachel Cannon

Sources: The Water Project, Foundation for Sustainable Development
Photo: Buzz Kenya

When people are asked to picture Latin America, an image of poverty usually comes to mind. Yet while it is true that Latin America has historically been a region of high rates of poverty and income inequality, income inequality has in fact declined in 13 of 17 countries as measured by the Gini coefficient. The Gini coefficient is used to determine the level of income inequality in a country wherein a score of 0 is given to countries with complete equality (countries whose citizens have the same income) while a score of 1 is given to perfectly unequal countries (those in which one person owns all the income).

Recent data by the World Bank suggests that there has been a successful push to reduce poverty in the region, with the number of people living in extreme poverty (defined as those living on less than $2.50 a day) halved to 12.3 percent between 2003 and 2012. The largest proportion of the population, at 38 percent, includes those that are most vulnerable to falling back into poverty. This last part includes those making between $4-$10 a day. The middle class in Latin America is growing extremely rapidly at 34.3 percent of the population and is set to overtake the most vulnerable to become the largest segment of Latin America. The middle class is defined as the number of people who earn between $10-$50 a day.

Yet these numbers are a bit misleading. There continues to be a large degree of inequality between Latin Americans of different ethnicities. In Brazil, 76.4 percent of primary school children who are descended from Europeans are enrolled in school, while only 65.3 percent of indigenous or African children are enrolled. Similarly, in Chile 97 percent of families of European descent are enrolled in school, while 74.4 percent of children of indigenous or African descent are enrolled.

This is significant because as the middle class expands, it’s going to be able to expend more money on disposable goods and fuel economic growth. It will also be interesting to see what happens as the middle class demands more of a stake in the political process.

– Jeff Meyer

Sources: World Bank, IARIW
Photo: Not Adam and Steve

Income inequality is one of the biggest issues facing the world today. There is not a nation on Earth that is not affected by it in some way or another. The United Kingdom is currently facing a food crisis of national proportions with hundreds of thousands having to access emergency shelter food. Income inequality is also driving a wedge deeper and deeper in the British economy, making daily life even more difficult for working class families.

According to a study that was published by the charity organization Oxfam, the United Kingdom’s richest .1% have had their own personal incomes grow by over four times what the lowest 90% of Britain’s population have. Oxfam’s study used Forbe’s latest list of billionaires, and goes on to say that the United Kingdom’s five richest families have a total worth of over 28.2 billion pounds while the lowest 20% of the United Kingdom’s population only accumulated 28.1 billion pounds.

The Duke of Westminster topped the list of the top richest families in the United Kingdom. Gerald Cavendish Grosvenor is worth over 7.9 billion pounds and owns over 100 acres in London and Belgravia. The second highest were the Reuben brothers who are deal in extremely profitable metal business deals. Their company Trans World Metals, at its peak, controlled over 5% of the world aluminum supply. The third family on the list are the Hinduja Brothers who are worth over 6 billion pounds. The Hinduja brothers gained their fortunate by creating the Hinduja Group, which is conglomerate that oversees more than 21 companies that range from banks, to transportation systems, to chemical plants.

The fourth richest family in Britain is the Cadogan Family; the Viscount and Viscountess of Chelsea and their net worth of over 4 billion pounds. The fifth name on the list is Mike Ashley, owner of the prestigious football club Newcastle United who brought up the rear at 3.3 billion pounds.

The wealth that these families have accumulated is both astounding and impressive. However, in 2014 one of the biggest issues to both world leaders and citizens alike is the ever present issue of income inequality. The World Economic Forum declared that income inequality is one of the biggest threats that the world is facing today. Jennifer Blanke, the World Economic Forum’s Chief Economist cited the Arab Spring, as well as recent issues in both Brazil and South Africa as examples of how “…people are not going to stand for it anymore.”

The news that the top five richest families in Britain have accrued as much wealth as the bottom 20% is another piece of the income inequality puzzle that needs to be addressed and examined in a timely manner. The continuing rift between the rich and poor in every country around the world must be a main focus for the world’s leaders in order to take steps to address this issue.

– Arthur Fuller

Sources: The Guardian, The Independent, The Independent, The Guardian
Photo: Salon

Poverty in Israel
Poverty in Israel? Yes. Israel has one of the world’s more advanced economies. It has a vibrant service industry and the recent discovery of immense natural gas reserves in the eastern Mediterranean, which have been estimated to hold billions of dollars of natural gas make Israel’s economic future look quite bright and prosperous.

Given all of this, one would not expect Israel to have the highest poverty rate among developed countries.

The Israeli National Central Bureau of Statistics published a study in which it noted that Israel’s poverty rate stands at 20.9 percent among countries who are members of the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD.) This places Israel as the country with the highest rate of poverty of the member countries. Israel also placed fifth out of all member countries in terms of income inequality.

While many countries have been hit hard by the global financial crisis, according to the OECD’s report, one of the reasons for Israel abnormally high poverty rate is due to the fact that a large majority of those of the working age in Israel do not in fact work.

The numbers are surprising: about 40 percent of Israeli’s between the ages of 15 and 64 are not working. By comparison, 33 percent of those in other OECD countries are not working.

The number of those in poverty is also expected to rise as Israel plans to cut benefits for child allowances as well. According to the OECD report, 30,000 to 40,000 more children will be placed under the poverty line. This all come on the heels of criticisms of the Benjamin Netanyahu administration due to lavish spending on various items. One particular example given by the Huffington Post is Netanyahu’s spending $127,000 of public funds on a sleeping cabin while visiting London.

The Netanyahu administration has also shot up spending by 80 percent since taking office in 2009, according to the Huffington Post.

The natural gas reserves that have been discovered in the eastern Mediterranean are likely to give Israel a boost in both its overall economic rank and the number of jobs it creates.

According to Forbes, it will likely bring over $60 billion in the next 20 years.

Israel is one of the more wealthy countries in the world, and with its natural gas fields in the works, it stands to fundamentally change the shape of both Middle Eastern economics and politics the world over. However, as Israel moves forward with this significant improvement in its countries, it cannot forget its citizens who are falling under the poverty line.

Arthur Fuller

Sources: Forbes, Haaretz, OECD, The Times of Israel, Forbes, CIA World Factbook, New York Times, Huffington Post
Photo: Two Rivers