Yemen has some advantages over neighbors like Syria, Libya and Afghanistan, Bodine said, including a relatively cohesive population that is even split between the Shaf’I and Zaydi sects of Islam. The tribes can be a problem for foreign investors like Total, because they demand firm commitments of employment for their members in exchange for safety. But it’s only a difference in degree, not kind, from the pressure some cities put on companies like Wal-Mart before they are allowed to expand.
“It’s a little less polished in Yemen,” she said.
The country has possibly the world’s best natural harbor at Aden, a deep anchorage within the remnants of an ancient volcano. But Yemen has difficulty attracting investment because of its reputation for danger – enhanced by the U.S.S. Cole bombing in Aden harbor in 2000. Meanwhile UNICEF and OXFAM have warned of a growing crisis as nearly 10 million people lack sufficient food and 40% are below the poverty line. With a youthful population growing at more than 2% a year and widespread illiteracy, Yemen faces economic catastrophe if it doesn’t improve its educational system and diversify its economy, now largely based on subsistence farming.
Syria, in second place, is in such turmoil that the IMF doesn’t even supply up-to-date statistics. We examined other sources including IHS Global Insight, which recently forecast another 6% contraction in Syria’s economy for 2012 as the embargo on Syrian oil exports that was put in place in November 2011 continues to hurt GDP.
Inflation has climbed past 20%, meanwhile, as the country struggles with import restrictions and a severe drought that has cut domestic food production.
“The pace of food-price appreciation accelerated dramatically, rising 39.3% year over year, up even more from the already worrisome pace of 27.1% seen in February,” IHS said.
Coming in third is Sudan, a perennial member of our list of the World’s Most Corrupt Countries. The North African nation joined the World’s Worst Economies this year after losing its oil-rich southern provinces, which supplied three-quarters of its oil production. South Sudan seceded from the north a year ago after a long civil war. Now Sudan has a per-capita GDP of $1,400, ranking it 136th among the 184 countries Forbes surveyed. (The richest country was Qatar, with per-capita GDP of $103,000, while the U.S. came in 12th at $49,600.)
The next two countries are Swaziland, making a repeat appearance; and Pakistan, whose per-capita GDP averaged just $1,282 over the past three years as inflation roared at close to 13%. Pakistan’s GDP has been growing at a little more than 3% a year, while its population, estimated by the World Bank at 176 million, continues to expand at 1.8% a year. The CIA World Factbook notes that Pakistan’s poverty rate is close to 50% and the country has difficulty attracting foreign investment. One bright spot: the $1 billion or so expats send to their relatives each year.
Next comes Jamaica, still struggling with the effects of the global financial crisis on its tourism-driven economy and declining prices for its bauxite exports. Jamaica’s per-capita GDP of $5,600 puts it firmly in the middle of the world’s nations but it shows up on our list because the economy contracted in 2010 and still shows anemic growth and a high current-account deficit. The IMF predicts Jamaica’s economy will grow at less than 2% a year through 2017, while the government struggles with debt that exceeds 120% of GDP. Jamaica’s dollar has fallen 20% in the last three years to 1.13 U.S. cents.