Top 10 Poorest Countries In South America (2023)

The poorest countries in South America have somehow not been able to take advantage of their resources, and the unique prospects that they have in order to develop their economies. South America has not traditionally been associated with wealth, but it should also not be associated with poverty.

With close proximity to North America, it seems that there is so much potential to do business with Canada and America, especially in the area of sustainable industries such as Agriculture, Technology, and Textiles, or at least the raw materials for these industries.

South America’s poorest countries have up to 80 percent of their populations living in poverty; which shows the urgency of the problem, and the need for steps to be taken immediately to ensure that the common people who are the most vulnerable on the continent get the necessary assistance, not in the form of handouts; but efficient policy changes that guarantee their participation in the economy.

Top 10 Poorest Countries In South America

1. Venezuela

GDP Per Capita: $1,824

Venezuela is frequently mentioned as one of the poorest countries in South America. There is extreme poverty; estimates state that three out of four people in Venezuela live below the poverty line. Images coming out of Venezuela show that the situation is so bad that people practically congregate in dumpsters in search of their next meals.

Venezuela’s poverty stems from an over-dependence on oil, as well as economic sanctions imposed on the country by western powers. This has given rise to food shortages, a healthcare crisis, and so many problems. Many industries have had to shut down; throwing workers out of work, and causing several other problems.

2. Bolivia

GDP Per Capita: $3,431

Bolivia is one of the poorest countries in South America; more than 80% of the nation’s population lives in poverty and 15% fall under the category of extremely poor. The country has a population of about 10,907,778 people, but the majority of them are engaged in subsistence agriculture, which is done on a small scale. There is little cohesion among farmers to synergize the production so that export can be enhanced, and their earnings can be improved.

Frequent water shortages also hamper the production of Bolivia’s struggling agricultural sector, and because there is little on the ground to counter this natural phenomenon; the result is poverty.

Another issue of concern in Bolivia is the tendency for young children to abandon school, and start working as laborers in sweatshops, factories, and farms. This has however been addressed by the government, which has provided incentives to help the students remain in school.

3. Suriname

GDP Per Capita: $4,843

Suriname is a country in northeastern South America; right on the Atlantic. Some of its neighbors are French Guiana, Guyana, Brazil, and the Atlantic Ocean. This is a small country; it measures 165,000 square kilometers, and has a population of about 575,990. Suriname is the smallest sovereign state in South America and is very close to the Netherlands. It is the only place outside the Netherlands where Dutch is the official language.

Suriname is quite a poor country; the people do not enjoy a high quality of life. The economy of Suriname is largely dependent on the exports of minerals, of which there are abundant resources. This mining activity does not really provide good employment opportunities because the sole purpose is to export the products in raw form.

4. Paraguay

GDP Per Capita: $5,626

Paraguay is a country in South America; it is located in the center of the continent; it is a landlocked country. It has a population of 7 million and a total land area of 406,796 km2. Nearly half of the population lives in the capital city of Asunción, while the rest live in the rural areas.

With half of its population living in rural areas; it is expected that agriculture plays an important role in the economy. Interestingly, agriculture represents 30% of Paraguay’s GDP. Poverty is very high because there is a lot of income inequality; according to official figures, 5% of landowners own 90% of the land, meaning that they also control all of the agriculture.

This leaves the poor with no choice but to work for the wealthy landowners who pay them very little for their labor. There are few mineral resources to exploit, but the development of such industries has been hampered by political instability.

5. Ecuador

GDP Per Capita: $6,412

Ecuador is a South American country. It is specifically located in the northeastern part of the continent. Ecuador is quite a small country; it measures a total land area of 256,370 km2 and has a population of about 17,715,822. Ecuador also includes the Galapagos Islands; which is in the Pacific Ocean- roughly 1000 kilometers away from the mainland.

Ecuador is a poor country; a great part of the population falls below the poverty line. There is a lot of income inequality in the country; agriculture and petroleum play major parts in the country’s economy, but neither resource in within the reach of the common people.

There is also a growing tourism industry in the country, especially on the Galapagos Islands, but employment in that industry is not well regulated and working conditions are not standardized.

6. Colombia

GDP Per Capita: 6,807

Colombia is a country in the northern part of South America that is bordered by the Caribbean Sea, Venezuela, Brazil, Ecuador, and Peru. Colombia has a rich cultural heritage; it is made up of a mixture of cultures such as Amerindian civilizations, Europeans, and African slaves. The country is quite large; it measures about 1,141,748 square kilometers and has a population of 50 million.

Sadly, the country has a high rate of income inequality; a large part of the population is very poor. About 15% of the population is engaged in agriculture, while another 19% are employed in the industry. Sometimes, however, the wages paid in these fields are too low to sustain the workers and their families.

7. Peru

GDP Per Capita: 7,034

Peru is a country on the western coast of South America. Peru’s neighbors include Ecuador, Colombia, Brazil, Bolivia, Chile, and the Pacific Ocean. Peru is quite a big country; it has a population of about 34 million people and a total land area of 1,285,216 km2. Parts of Peru make up the Andes Mountains.

Peru is quite a poor country; even though it is classified as a middle-income economy; there is still a lot of unemployment as well as underemployment. Agriculture is an important part of the economy; although it is only responsible for about 7% of the country’s economy.

The service industry is the heartbeat of the economy of Peru, but wages are still quite low compared to what is obtainable in other countries, and it is not standardized.

8. Brazil

GDP Per Capita: $8,570

Brazil is probably the most popular country in South America; it is located on the eastern side of the continent. Brazil is the largest country in South America; it measures a land area of 8.5 million square kilometers, and has a population of over 211 million people. Brazil is the world’s fifth-largest country by land size, and the sixth by the number of inhabitants. Brazil is famous for its football, and for its beaches. It has a coastline of 7,491 kilometers; that is beaches and seaports that meet the Atlantic Ocean.

Despite vast petroleum resources, as well as abundant potential in agriculture, mining, and other sectors, Brazil is one of the poorest countries in South America because there is a high unemployment rate. However, that does not mean that the people are unproductive; it just means that for the most part, a large part of the people –especially those in the Favellas- is engaged in the informal economy.

This means they are mostly poor because they receive low wages, and they have no protections such as insurance, pension, and other things that can help improve the quality of life of the people.

9. Guyana

GDP Per Capita: $17,108

Guyana is a country in the northern part of South America. This country is not particularly big; it has a land area of 215,000 square kilometers and a population of 743,700. Guyana is close to the Atlantic Ocean, Brazil, Venezuela, and Suriname.

Guyana has an employment rate of 12%, and that is one of the main causes of poverty. While some sections of the country are well off; the people on the other side of the spectrum have to live in abject poverty. This poverty exists despite a diverse economy that produces Bauxite, Sugar, Rice, Timber, Textiles, and Gold.

10. Uruguay

GDP Per Capita: $18,083

Uruguay is a country in South America. Its neighbors are Argentina, Brazil, and the Atlantic Ocean. Uruguay is quite a small country; it has a land area of 176,000 square kilometers and a population of about 3.51 million.

The poverty in Uruguay can be attributed to income inequality; most of the country’s exports are agricultural, meaning that land is the key to power. Unfortunately, the land and the agricultural establishments are concentrated in the hands. Nevertheless, workers’ conditions are quite good; the country’s workforce is heavily unionized.

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The poorest countries in South Africa have sadly not been able to attract investors to develop the potential in their markets. In some cases, this has been the result of deliberate government policies geared towards government ownership of all the wealth-creating industries.

The problem with this is that the pace of development is usually slow, and when there is corruption, it tends to lead to large numbers of people dwelling in poverty due to their exploitation at the hands of powerful officials, and also due to the fact that very little of the money realized reaches government coffers.