The 10 Poorest Cities in the World

It's all too easy to forget the levels of inequality in the world. We all know that many parts of the world are classed as “low income” or “developing” but what does that really mean for citizens in the area? We've already had a look at the ten most prosperous cities in the world, as compiled by the UN but now we're taking a look at the 10 poorest.

All cities featured are capitals of sub-Saharan African nations and are painfully lacking in the most rudimentary of supplies. Many of these regions are former colonies of European nations and several still suffer the scars of conflict in recent years. In all cases clean water, transportation and overcrowding throughout the city are issues - but there is another story here. While the UN categorizes these cities as being among the poorest in the world, they are still expanding rapidly. It seems that for citizens of these nations the city life, while overcrowded and uncertain, is a better alternative to rural subsistence farming.

We've taken a look at the top ten poorest city, to reveal some background on daily life in these cities in an attempt to shed some light on why these cities are so far behind much of the rest of the world.

10 Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Addis Ababa is the capital of Ethiopia, with a population of 3.38 million people - and growing. At number ten on our list, the city is doing well relative to others discussed here but there's still a long way to go for the Ethiopian capital. As a nation, Ethiopia is severely impoverished with a GDP of only $41.6 billion in 2012. With a national population of 91 million, much of the population consists of rural dwellers and farming is still the main industry in the country. Politically, Ethiopia is relatively stable, but it is surrounded by a number of more volatile nations: Sudan and South Sudan lie to the north and west, while Somalia lies to the south east.

As a city, Addis Ababa has no formalized transportation system and transport through the city is frequently chaotic. On top of this, the UN has identified water shortages in Addis Ababa and several other sub-Saharan cities as one of the key factors preventing their development.

9 Dakar, Senegal

Dakar is the coastal capital of the West African nation of Senegal, with a population of just over a million people. Despite its poverty, the city is home to the Palace of the President. Senegal is the first of several West African nations featured here our list, indicating the level of poverty and instability in this part of the world.

Fishing, cotton and agriculture are major sectors in Senegal and the city of Dakar benefits from these national industries. The UN has identified the city's progress as significant in terms infrastructure development and overall prosperity; telecommunications are a key area in which advancements have been made. However, clean water supply is an issue, as is political instability in West Africa overall: Senegal itself may be seen as a stable and functioning democracy but instability in neighbouring Gambia and Mali still affects the nation. With a national GDP of just $14.05 billion it’s clear that the capital city of Dakar has a long way to go before it can fully establish itself as a major player on an African or global scale.

8 Harare, Zimbabwe 

Harare has been having a hard time drumming up support in recent years. As the capital of Zimbabwe, the city takes on the criticism attributed to the country and its leader, Robert Mugabe. On top of that (or perhaps because of it) in 2012, Harare was voted the 4th worst city in the world by The Economist magazine. Many would contest this ranking as Harare is far more developed and diverse relative to other African cities: infrastructure is good and the cityscape is more comparable to that of an emerging economy than a developing nation.  Of late, however, slum levels have risen in the city, with around 17% of Harare’s population now living in overcrowded conditions according to the UN. In addition to this, water shortages are a constant problem, with outbreaks of typhoid an ongoing problem in these over-populated parts of the city.

7 Dar es Salaam, United Republic of Tanzania

The 17% of slum territory in Harare will seem tiny when compared to the living conditions in Tanzania’s capital Dar es Salaam: the coastal capital is estimated to have a staggering 70% of informal or slum settlements, according to the UN. This is in part due to the massive increase in population the city has seen in the last 20 years; the population now stands at over 4 million, whereas in the early 1990s it has less than 2 million.

Such overcrowded living conditions naturally breed disease and alongside this, most of the residents do not have access to proper water and sanitation facilities. Only a quarter of the city’s population has access to the water that's managed by the city council. Gender discrimination and HIV/AIDS are also highlighted as key areas of concern in the city. Paradoxically however, Dar es Salaam is experiencing significant growth which is, in part, the cause of this slum growth. Income inequality is a problem in this city; at the top end of the scale an elite group of rich households is emerging while life for the average person in Dar es Salaam remains the same or worsens.

6 Lusaka, Zambia

Another city that our friends at The Economist have ranked poorly, Zambia’s capital Lusaka has been ranked as the third worst city in the world, ahead only of Tehran in Iran and Nairobi in Kenya.  The Economist takes into account the poor level of natural assets of the city, the poor infrastructure and housing for inhabitants as well as pollution and a low standard of living for the average citizen.

Life expectancy in Zambia nationally is only 56, demonstrating the harsh living conditions in the region. There are high levels of HIV/AIDS in the region: around 1.1 million people are currently diagnosed with the disease in Zambia, with a further 670,000 children orphaned as a result. The socialist government, although stable, has been criticised for its stifling of opposition voices and although Zambia is Africa’s largest producer of copper, it still remains an impoverished nation.

5 Niamey, Niger

Like many African capital cities, Niamey has seen massive growth in their urban population rate, growing faster than the combined rate of several European cities. Situated on the massive Niger river, the city of Niamey is the capital of one of the largest regions in West Africa, but is often overshadowed by her more affluent neighbour, Nigeria.

Niamey, like many African cities, has advanced somewhat in recent years but the result of this is an increasing divide in wealth in urban and rural parts of the country. And while there may be advances in the city of Niamey, there is still a long way to go. The UN has highlighted Niamey, along with several others in our top five, as having particularly weak prosperity rates which are attributed to conflict in the region in recent years. Drug smuggling, kidnapping and terrorism, as well as serious restrictions of women’s rights, are serious problems for the region, with Al Qaeda one of a number of different terrorist organisations with a footing in the region. In addition to this, neighbouring Mali is also subject to internal strife which puts Niger in a precarious position. Religious and ethnic differences are at the heart of the tensions in Niger and as the capital city, Niamey bears the brunt. This month the UN estimated that $390 million would be needed to combat food shortages in the region.

4 Bamako, Mali

Mali is a country that, in recent years, has descended into war and internal strife with the French army entering the region in an attempt to diffuse the situation. As the capital of one of the world’s poorest countries, there has been a massive increase in the population of Bamako which hasn't corresponded with economic growth.  Alongside Niamey, Bamako is also listed by the UN as having worryingly low levels of prosperity, meaning that for residents of the city, improvement seems a long way off.

Bamako, and Mali as a whole, has had a difficult history of late: after independence from France in the 1960s, the country suffered droughts and military dictatorships. The main setback for the nation came with a military coup to overthrow the president in 2012. Prior to this, Mali was viewed as having one of the most stable governments on the African continent but in 2013, France - as the former ruler of much of West Africa - intervened in the conflict at the Malian government’s request. The military action was short and swift with elections being held last December to set the nation back on track.

The war has destabilised the country however and only this week Oxfam has warned that the traditional trade routes from Bamako to the north of the country have dwindled, leaving many in the region without food.

3 Antananarivo, Madagascar

Madagascar is a country traditionally known for its offshore location from the African continent and of course its indigenous animal, the lemur. The location alone of Madagascar is enough to hinder the nation, as it's cut off from the trade route of the rest of the African continent.

The financial crash in 2008 saw a severe decline in growth for the nation and although the situation has improved, Madagascar’s GDP has not returned to what it was. The nation’s GDP is less than that of Mali, at less than $10 billion, but Madagascar has a much higher population. 3.3 million people live in Antananarivo, the nation’s capital, and while transport within the city is poor, infrastructure outside of the capital is even worse: many of the nation’s roads are not even paved, according to the CIA’s fact file on the region. In the capital city, many of these mud roads are in the city’s overcrowded slums. Much of Antananarivo's and indeed Madagascar’s poverty is blamed on the country’s economic policies with political tensions in the nation hindering any significant advancement.

2 Conakry, Guinea

As a nation Guinea is incredibly poor, with the lowest GDP so far on our list at only $5.6 billion. The country’s capital city, Conakry, is located on the West African country’s coastline; while the scene may sound idyllic, the reality is far from it. Like most cities in sub-Saharan Africa, public transport is slow, with the UN highlighting this as a key factor limiting the city's advancement. In Conakry, the UN estimates that 60-70% of all journeys take place on foot. Ethnic tensions strangle the region, too. Guinea, like neighbouring nations Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea-Bissau, saw terrible conflict in the 1990s and while the situation has improved, the country remains scarred and inhibited by these divisions. The country is in the midst of a slow transition to democracy but the city of Conakry is haunted by its war-torn past.

1 Monrovia, Liberia

The final spot on our list is Monrovia, the capital city of Liberia. Conditions here highlight just how unforgiving life in West Africa really is. Civil war devastated Liberia in the 1990s with child soldiers, land mines, and conflict with neighbours Sierra Leone scarring the nation to this day. Liberia is host to several precious minerals, including gold and diamonds which, in spite of their value, have done little to advances the country’s finances. The supply chain of precious metals and stones is notoriously difficult to track, meaning that it is easy to exploit the rights of Liberian diamond workers without the wealthy consumer ever knowing.

In terms of the city of Monrovia, basic supplies are lacking: electricity is not widespread and where it is supplied it's unreliable. Many residents in downtown Monrovia don't have electricity in their homes. Now that conflict has ended in  Liberia, many citizens are beginning to demand the infrastructure that would be expected of a capital city but it's slow in coming. Roads remain in disrepair and clean water is as unreliable as the electricity: most citizens rely on water tankers driving throughout the capital to supply them with water. The narrow streets of Monrovia are no longer suitable for the increasing amount of cars on the roads and for those without cars, public transport is virtually non-existent. Healthcare, too, is sorely lacking, Large slums make up the city and more recently flooding has increased the spread of diseases and caused landslides in the slums.

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