It’s official: Malawi is the poorest country in the world

World's poorest countries ranked by GDP per person (PPP). Source: World Bank via Nyasa Times

World’s poorest countries ranked by GDP per person (PPP). Source: World Bank via Nyasa Times

Maybe sometimes dry economic statistics can help bring home the reality of a situation as much as any well shot photograph!

This week the Nyasa Times (Nyasaland was the colonial name for Malawi) published what it purported to be newly released data from the World Bank suggesting that Malawi has slipped to being the poorest country in the world. This was based on the economic measure of Gross Domestic Product per person in terms of ‘Purchasing Parity Power’. Don’t worry about the detail, but this is widely accepted as an important measure of national wealth.

Now we have to be carefull because I have not been able to verify this data on the World Bank’s own website. Also, the numbers look much lower than the most recent data on the bank’s website. However the ranking is not too surprising given the most recent figures on the site (for 2013) show Malawi already third from bottom with a GDP per person at just 2% of the UK! The new numbers are also similar to a widely quoted figure of average Malawi incomes ‘well under £80‘.

Local coverage in Malawi of these new figures has emphasised issues like the lack of industrialisation in the country, the ever-increasing overpopulation, poor education, the aftermath of colonialism etc. But the impact of rampant fraud at senior levels in the country is also commented on. For example, the exposure of recent senior-level corruption (so-called ‘Cashgate’) has led to major international donors redirecting their aid away from the government so the central budget has reduced by 40% overnight.

Now, it is easy to slip to the extremes of rose-tinted romanticism or hard-hearted cynicism about the world’s material poor. But just stop and think what it would be like to live your life on $226 (say £150) per person per year! And then remember that is an average across a country with huge income inequalities . So the typical rural church member or church pastor will have a far far lower income. What would your priorities be?

Lee Furney is the UK born Pastor at Blantyre Community Church. He summarised very well the challenge for the true disciples of Jesus in Malawi as they try to balance the need for Word ministry and Mercy ministry: In a country where physical needs relentlessly outweigh material provision, we need an iron will in order to focus on addressing that which the media photographs can never show us. As John Piper has said, “We care about all suffering, especially eternal suffering”.

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