Jamaica is an island nation located in the Caribbean Sea. It one of the largest islands on the Greater Antilles with an area size of 10,990 square kilometres. Jamaica’s neighbouring islands are Cuba, Hispaniola (an island containing Haiti and the Dominican Republic) and the Cayman Islands. The original inhabitants of Jamaica were Arawak and Taino people, who died in large numbers after the Spanish invaded the island. After that, Spanish colonialists transplanted many African slaves on the island as labourers. The British conquered the area later on and renamed it Jamaica. Today, the island is one of the most populated areas on the Caribbean and Queen Elizabeth II is its head of state.
Is Jamaica a third world country? Yes, Jamaica is a third world country and is also considered a developing nation. Although it has an upper-middle-income economy, the economy is one of the slowest growing and relies on agriculture, mining and tourism. Jamaica doesn’t have any substantial industrialization and faces high levels of poverty too.
The island country has a mixed economy made up of state and private sector enterprises. Major sectors of the economy are agriculture, financial services, tourism, mining, insurance services, petroleum refining and manufacturing. Unfortunately, Jamaica is vulnerable to the impact of flooding, hurricanes and climate variations. A person looking to relocate to Jamaica might want to know, why is Jamaica considered a third world country? Does it have the potential to move from a third world to a first world country? In this article, I aim to provide comprehensive answers to such questions.
What is a Third World Country?
The original meaning of Third World refers to countries that did not form an alliance with Communist bloc or the NATO bloc during the Cold War.
During that time, Canada, Japan, U.S., South Korea and Western European countries and allies were grouped as First World nations. Second World countries were governed by the Soviet Union and included China and Cuba.
After the Soviet Union’s decline in the early nineties, the meaning of the three worlds has changed in some ways.
Currently, the phrase “Third World” defines countries that haven’t developed fully and are plagued with numerous economic, political, social and environmental problems.
The change in meaning for third world country has caused some confusion. For instance, some European nations didn’t belong to either the Communist or the NATO bloc and are very affluent today.
From the historical definition, such as European countries (e.g. Sweden, Switzerland, Ireland and Finland) were third world nations. But, going with today’s definition, those nations wouldn’t fit in the third world category.
Nowadays, the phrase “Third World” is less used, because its definition is very confusing. Rather, other terms are replacing it, such as “developing country”, “least developed countries” and the “Global South”. LDCs (Least Developed Countries) are defined by the United Nations as nations with the lowest socioeconomic development valuation and Human Development Index ratings.
Such nations have weaknesses in nutrition and education and experience economic susceptibility and widespread poverty.
Why Is Jamaica Considered A Third World Country?
While Jamaica is blessed with numerous natural resources and boasts solid tourism and cultural sectors, certain problems harbour its development. Here are some of the reasons why Jamaica is on the list of third world countries:
Jamaica had a homicide rate of 56 per 100,000 people in 2017. While the rate reduced to 47 per 100,000 in 2018, it was still three times higher compared to Latin America’s and the Caribbean’s average. In 2017, Forbes Magazine named the island nation as the third most dangerous spot for female travellers. And, the Business Insider ranked it at position 10 out of 20 of the most unsafe places in the globe in 2018. The IMF (International Monetary Fund) cited crime as Jamaica’s number one barrier to economic growth.
The Caribbean nation’s financial crunch of the nineties drove it into indebtedness. Its debt reached an immense 147% of the gross domestic product in 2013.
During that year, EPOC (Economic Program Oversight Committee) was established for the purpose of implementing economic reforms.
Businesses, unions, the media and the government supported the initiative strongly, which helped to lower Jamaica’s debt considerably. While the country still has a long way to go, it has taken huge steps in decreasing its debt.
Although poverty is not as conspicuous in Jamaica as for its neighbour Haiti, the poverty rate is still high. The main causes of poverty among Jamaicans are the high unemployment rate, low income, corruption and violence.
- Unequal Distribution of Wealth
Jamaica is a country of extremes. Its northern coast, which is home to tourism, has wealthy suburbs, top-notch shopping centres and elevated living standards.
People living in wealthy suburbs, e.g., Arcadia Gardens, send their kids to private schools and abroad universities and have private security. Not too far from the rich enclaves are many poor Jamaicans who live in destitution. They have poor housing, insufficient food, and limited access to quality medical care, clean water and education.
In the slums of Trench, Jones and Denham towns, water supplies are usually polluted and mired by vicious youth gangs.
The country’s wealth is widely distributed along racial lines, which is a reflection of the country’s slave-plantation history. Descendants of black slaves are often among the country’s poorest classes, whereas the descendants of whites and mixed-races are better off.
- Natural Hazards
Natural hazards present a substantial threat to Jamaica and subsequent consequences to the nation’s efforts in economic growth and poverty reduction.
The island state is the 3rd-most hazard exposed nation in the globe. And, 96% of its GDP and population are at risk from at least two hazards. Jamaica’s primary risks are associated with hazards such as hurricanes, floods, storm surges, droughts, earthquakes and landslides.
The extreme exposure is because of the nation’s setting in the Atlantic Hurricane Belt, mountainous topography and geophysical orientation of low-lying coastal regions. Additionally, five major fault lines cross the country’s territory. One example is the Plantain Garden Fault Zone, which caused a Haitian earthquake in 2010.
Climate change models foresee that Jamaica may be affected by a heightened frequency of disastrous natural occurrences. That’s because of increased surface temperatures and worldwide sea-level rise.
Detrimental natural events in the island country regularly affect livelihoods, ruin infrastructure, and rattle the provision of basic services.
Does Jamaica Have The Potential To Move From A Third World To A First World Country?
Jamaica is famous for its stunning beaches, the late signer Bob Marley and many other reggae artists. However, not many know about its silent revolution in reducing its debt status. The country has showcased an extraordinary macroeconomic turnaround.
After decades of extreme indebtedness and poor development, the Government of Jamaica got a wake-up call in 2013 when the debt peaked at nearly 150%. With help from the World Bank, IMF and Inter-American Development Bank, Jamaica commenced on an enthusiastic reform program. The efforts have shown great success. Jamaica is currently among the few countries that have been able to reduce public debt by the equivalent of 50% of its GDP in a short amount of time.
The fiscal U-turn and economic shift happened successfully, because of the solid dedication across political parties. Additionally, the nation benefited from a constant social consensus to reform and the robust support of the private sector.
For the silent revolution in Jamaica to commence and bring more prosperity to every citizen, the country needs to boost its investment climate further. It also needs to strengthen its economic and climate flexibility and invest higher in its human capital. Such moves are necessary for a strong macroeconomic system and will help improve economic development and employment creation. Fortunately, the country is showing encouraging signs of taking positive action in those sectors.
The National Competitiveness Council embraced a road map to facilitate reforms to enhance the business climate.
Jamaica is among the top 20 nations in the globe for its exhaustive credit reporting framework. And, it ranks among the best countries for starting a business as shown in the World Bank’s Doing Business report for 2019.
It just takes two actions and three days for aspiring entrepreneurs to set up and formally run a business.
Furthermore, Jamaica is a leader among countries in the Caribbean in endorsing climate and financial flexibility in the face of natural hazards. Natural disasters present a substantial economic cost for Caribbean nations.
The cost exceeded $22 billion from 1950 to 2016. One severe natural hazard can set back Jamaica’s growth efforts and achievements of recent times. To curb that, the Government embraced a Public Financial Management Policy Framework for financing natural disaster risks.
While unemployment is at an all-time low in Jamaica, many young persons are still struggling to get employment. For the Island country to continue to develop and succeed, it needs to grow the skills of its future labour force, particularly in technology.
That requires a clear focus on improving conditions for young people to strive and flourish in today’s business world. It also requires close collaboration with the private sector.
Nowadays, the youth of Jamaica can dream of having a brighter future, because of the effort of the government and non-governmental organizations. They are the generation that needs to aim higher and write a new story for Jamaica.
About the author: Marta Kovachek is the author of this article. She graduated from the University of Chicago with a master’s degree in Economics. Marta enjoys writing about the current economic situation and loves helping our readers to find their next "destination". From places to live to complex social and economic topics, we always enjoy Marta's work. Please contact us in case of any questions.