• Report
  • 11 July 2018

Countries being left behind

This report considers a range of models for evaluating poverty and fragility, using them to identify the countries being left behind.


Daniel Coppard , Zach Christensen

Where they are, their characteristics and their resources

The geography of poverty has shifted remarkably since 2000. Progress has been uneven and, if left unchecked, will be even more so over the coming decade. It is therefore imperative to identify which people and countries are most at risk of being left behind in terms of poverty reduction in the coming decade, and prioritise investment to better facilitate progress.

This report considers a range of models and measures for evaluating poverty, human development and fragility, and uses them to assess the commonality between the countries most at risk in all three fields. It finds there is a remarkable degree of commonality among the countries that are identified as performing poorly across these measures and methodologies. There is, therefore, growing consensus on the countries most at risk, meaning it is time to move from generating lists of countries to taking action based on understanding their key challenges and finance constraints. By applying a weighting to account for how severely countries are affected across the poverty, human development and fragility measures, this paper identifies an illustrative list of 30 countries being left behind as a basis for further analysis.

Key findings:

  • Fourteen countries consistently appear among the poorest performers across 11 poverty models and scenarios applied by the World Bank, IMF and others. Thirteen countries sit in the bottom 30 across each of poverty, human development and fragility and vulnerability measures. A further 17 countries sit in two of the three measures. Twelve countries with the highest poverty projections also have significant fragility that threatens to set them further back.
  • In 2013 the countries being left behind were home to 36% of people living in extreme poverty. This could rise to between 76% and 86% by 2030, depending on which poverty model is used. By 2030 the average country being left behind will have 23% of their population living in extreme poverty, compared with 3% in other developing countries.
  • Sub-Saharan Africa accounts for the overwhelming share of countries being left behind, and most of the six which are outside of this region – Afghanistan, Haiti, Federated States of Micronesia, Papua New Guinea, Syria and Yemen – are facing significant political or environmental challenges or persistent and widespread conflict.
  • Countries being left behind have a history of poor growth, together with a weak private sector, and some will struggle to grow in the future.
  • The countries being left behind lack the domestic and international finance they need to tackle poverty. One study has estimated there are 11 countries that are 100 years away from being self-financing, all but one of which are countries being left behind.
  • Official development assistance plays an important role. Low revenues and international finance for countries being left behind means that ODA has been their largest source of international finance since 2000, when the Millennium Development Goals were agreed. With an increasing array of other sources of finance able to contribute to development, ODA can be better focused where poverty is high and other investments are low.
  • While some donors are looking to use ODA to leverage private sector finance, they should exercise caution. There is a lack of evidence that this will reduce poverty – particularly concerning its impact in different developing contexts – and a risk this could take scarce resources away from more proven ODA investments.
  • Unless deliberate action is taken, including prioritising finance that targets the poorest people in the poorest places, millions of people will be excluded from global progress, putting the SDGs at considerable risk. This means having a better understanding of how to maximise the impact of both ODA and other types of finance in the challenging contexts in which poverty will become increasingly concentrated.

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Report contributors: Dan Coppard, Director of Research & Analysis; Zach Christensen, Senior Analyst; Sam Ashby, Analyst Intern; and Emma Seery, independent consultant.