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According to international figures, Yemen is the poorest country in the Middle East and one of the poorest in Asia. It is perhaps more useful to compare Yemen’s standards of living with those of Africa. In 2011, Yemen ranked 154th on the UN’s Human Development Index of 187 nations, just above Senegal and Nigeria but below countries such as Papua New Guinea or Tanzania. Average annual income stands officially at USD 2,213, compared to Egypt USD 5,269 and Saudi Arabia USD 23,274. Almost half the population (45 percent) lives on less than 2 US dollars a day, and 17.5 percent on only USD 1.25 or less.

The disparities in Yemen are great, the top 10 percent making 30 percent of the national income, while the bottom 10 percent makes only 1.3 percent. The figures suggest that the rural population is poorest, but this might be misleading, as the rural population is largely self-sufficient, with home-grown produce to fall back on. The situation is worse for the urban poor, for whom there is no escape from hunger. Beggars roam the city streets. Hungry people wait for leftovers outside roadside restaurants. The situation has barely improved during the last two decades, any advance being outweighed by the high rate of population growth.

Nevertheless, there are many wealthy inhabitants and a growing middle class. A significant portion of the oil money, qat profits, and remittances from expatriate workers goes unrecorded but nonetheless fuels the informal economy. As a result, Yemen is dominated by its informal economy.

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