The Arab region witnessed an improvement in its Human Development Index (HDI)[1], an index which combines three dimensions of human development, namely health, education and living standards, from 0.613 in 2000 to 0.699 in 2017, but it remained below the world average of 0.728. In fact, this overall gain hides regional variations; while the HDI reached a value of 0.863 in the United Arab Emirates, it registered a low of 0.452 in conflict-hit Yemen.[2]


Despite this positive overall trend in human development, poverty remained one of the paramount challenges for several countries 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, 66.6 percent of the region’s population were considered poor or vulnerable to poverty across multiple dimensions. Highest rates of multidimensional poverty were registered in Mauritania (89.1 percent), Comoros (73.9 percent), and Sudan (73.5 percent). The incidence of child deprivation in the region was also considered high: a total of 52.5 million children, or 44.1 percent, suffered from poverty, while almost 1 out of 4 children suffered from acute poverty.[3][4]


Poverty rates have particularly soared in countries of conflict. In Yemen, for example, 80 percent of the country’s population—20 million out of 24 million people—are considered poor, an increase of 30 percent since April 2015, when the violence fighting escalated.[5] In Syria, poverty rates reached as high as 93.7 percent at the end of 2017, while severe poverty levelled at 59.1 percent.[6] High income inequality rates have also persisted within and across countries. According to the most recent available data, GINI coefficients were very high in countries such as Lebanon (66 percent in 2014) and Egypt (54 percent in 2015).[7]


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 USD 1.90 a day” for the region is difficult to attain. Latest available data point to an extreme poverty rate of 18.8 percent in 2014 in Yemen, with an increase to 52 percent when the poverty line of USD 3.20 per day is taken into account.[8] That said, there is also a dearth of updated statistics on incidences of poverty, as measured by national poverty lines. In Mauritania, for example, 44.4 percent of the population lived below the national poverty line in 2014.[9] In Comoros, the poverty headcount at the national poverty line accounted to 44.1 percent of the population in 2014.[10]

This overview has been updated by the ADP team based on latest available data as of June 2019.



[1] The Human Development Index (HDI) is a summary measure of average achievement in key dimensions of human development, namely health, education and standard of living. The health dimension is assessed by life expectancy at birth, the education dimension is measured by mean of years of schooling for adults aged 25 years and more and expected years of schooling for children of school entering age and the standard of living dimension is measured by gross national income per capita.
[2] United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). 2019. 
Human Development Reports. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 24 June 2019].
[3] 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. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 24 June 2019].

[4] 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. Ten countries are covered:  Jordan, Tunisia, Algeria, Egypt, Morocco, Iraq, Comoros, Mauritania, Sudan and Yemen.

[5] The World Bank. 2019. Yemen Overview. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 24 June 2019].

[6] Syrian Center for Policy Research (SCPR). 2019. Food Security and Conflict in Syria. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 24 June 2019].

[7] 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. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 24 June 2019].

[8] The World Bank. 2019. World Development Indicators (WDI). [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 24 June 2019].

[9] National Statistics Office (ONS), Mauritania. 2019. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 24 June 2019].

[10] National Institute of Statistics and Economic and Demographic Studies (INSEED), Comoros. 2019. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 24 June 2019].

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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