The Arab region witnessed an improvement in its Human Development Index (HDI), an index which combines three dimensions of human development, namely health, education and living standards, from 0.613 in 2000 to 0.687 in 2015, but it remained below the world average of 0.717. In fact, this overall gain hides regional variations; while the HDI reached a value of 0.856 in Qatar in 2015, it registered a low level of 0.473 in Djibouti in 2015.[1] Despite this positive overall trend in human development, poverty remained one of the paramount challenges in the region, accompanied with political and economic circumstances that led to a regression in economic growth, unstable social conditions and striking differences in living standards. In 2015, 25% of the region’s (10 countries surveyed) population was considered as being vulnerable to poverty, while 40.6% were considered poor or severely poor across multiple dimensions.[2,3]


The incidence of child deprivation in the region is also considered high, with a total of 52.5 million, or 44.1% of children, suffering from poverty and 29.3 million, or 1 out of 4, suffering from acute poverty in 2015 for the countries under study.[2] Poverty rates have particularly soared in conflict countries. In 2016, about 87 million people from four Arab countries were directly affected by war—Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Yemen—representing about one-third of the region’s population. [4] In Yemen, for example, 80% of the country’s population—20 million out of 24 million people—is now considered poor, an increase of 30% since April 2015, when fighting escalated.[4] In Syria, poverty reached almost 85.2% in 2015, while extreme poverty hit 69.3%.[5] High inequality rates also persisted within and across countries. According to the most recent available data, GINI coefficients were very high in countries such as Lebanon (66% in 2014) and Egypt (54% in 2015).[6]


In 2012, the income poverty rate at the international poverty line of USD 1.25 per day increased to 7.4%, up from 4% in 2010.[7] As of October 2015, the extreme poverty line was raised to USD 1.90, a day using 2011 prices.[8] Due to limited data coverage and measurement challenges linked to the irregularity of conducting national household surveys, obtaining an average of “poverty headcount ratio at $1.90 a day” for the region is difficult to attain. Latest available data point to an extreme poverty rate of 22.5% in 2013 in Djibouti, with an increase to 44.6% when the poverty line of USD 3.20 per day is taken into account.[9] That said, there is also a dearth of updated statistics on incidences of poverty, as measured by national poverty lines. In Mauritania, for example, 31.0% of the population lived below the national poverty line in 2014.[9] 


This overview has been drafted by the ADP team based on most available data as of 2 March 2018. 


[1] United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), 2016. Human Development Reports

[2] United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), League of Arab States (LAS), United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI), 2017.Arab Multidimensional Poverty Report”. Available at:

[3] The Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) developed for the Arab Region is composed of three dimensions: education, health and living standards and twelve indicators. The Regional MPI does not take into consideration the income dimension. The countries covered are Jordan, Tunisia, Algeria, Egypt, Morocco, Iraq, Comoros, Mauritania, Sudan and Yemen.

[4] The World Bank, February 4, 2016. By the Numbers: The Cost of War & Peace in the Middle East. Available at:

[5] Syrian Center for Policy Research (SCPR), February 2016. Confronting Fragmentation: Impact of Syrian Crisis Report, UNDP. Available at:

[6] Alvarado, F., Assouad, L., and T. Piketty T., September 2017. Measuring Inequality in the Middle East 1990-2016: The World’s Most Unequal Region?” Working Paper 2017/5. Available at:

[7] Sarangi et al., 2015. “Regional Coordination Mechanism (RCM) Issues Brief for the Arab Sustainable Development Report: Economic growth, inequality, and poverty in the Arab region, ESCWA. Available at:

[8] The World Bank

[9] World Development Indicators, The World Bank

Poverty Statistical Snapshot 2018
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Data Highlights

  • Based on the extreme poverty headcount by measuring population whose income is less than USD 1.25 per day, the Arab region comes out as the only region in the world where poverty has increased since 2010. In 2010, 4% of the Arab population was living below the international poverty line of USD 1.25 per day, while 40% were living below USD 2.75 per day.

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