State of the Tropics Publications 2014 State of the Tropics report

2014 State of the Tropics report

Regional Summaries

Nations in the region

Bangladesh (36.6% of population in the Tropics), India (54%), Maldives and Sri Lanka.


  • In the past 60 years, the region had the greatest increase in life expectancy from 28 years to 65 years.
  • It has the lowest obesity rate of less than 2% of the population, compared with the world rate of 10.5%.
  • Since 1990, the number of undernourished people has been reduced by 19 million people; maternal mortality has been cut by 66%, and, since 1955, Under 5 mortality has dropped by almost 80%.
  • The number of people living in extreme poverty has fallen from 59% in the 1980s to 33% this century, but the region’s slum population was the second highest in the Tropics at 115 million, with India accounting for 91% of this figure.
  • Over 30 years adult literacy has increased from 42% of the population to 65%, while youth literacy in the past 20 years has risen from 69% to 84%. Tertiary enrolments have doubled since 2000.
  • While greenhouse gas emissions have increased substantially, the region has the lowest per capita.
  • Energy supply from renewable sources has almost trebled since 1980 although its proportion of the electricity mix in the region fell from 40% to 15% as total generation increased more than seven-fold.
  • Of the tropical regions, South Asia has the highest proportion of land area classified as agricultural (61% in 2010). Stock holdings have jumped and cereal yields have almost doubled since 1980.
  • Rapid population growth has meant that 90% of the population is vulnerable to water scarcity compared with less than one per cent in 1962.
  • Along with South East Asia, the region is the largest aquaculture producer in the Tropics with production increasing from 32,000 tonnes in 1950 to four million tonnes by 2010.
  • The region has a high proportion of its coral reefs in the low risk category and the smallest loss of mangroves, with the mangrove area in Bangladesh actually increasing due to a combination of sustainable resource use and active revegetation programs.
  • The region has the highest proportion of tropical forests reserved for the conservation of biodiversity.
  • Economic growth in the Tropics has outperformed the Rest of the World over the past 30 years, driven by the South Asia and South East Asian regions, which now provide 10.3% of all global economic output.
  • South Asia reported the fastest growth in per capita GDP, increasing at an average rate of 4.6% per annum and the strongest growth in exports of good and services as a proportion of GDP.
  • Strong import and trade growth is attributable to the introduction of more liberal trade policies in India and Bangladesh from the early 1990s.
  • The region has the lowest homicide rate at 5.1 per 100,000 population, making it the only tropical region with a homicide rate comparable to the Rest of the World.

Nations in the region

Brunei, Cambodia, tropical China (comprising 7.9% of population with Guangdong, Guangxi, and Hainan in the Tropics), China (Hong Kong SAR), China (Macau SAR), Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar (90.8% of population is in Tropics), Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Timor-Leste and Vietnam.


  • Since 1981, the number of people living in extreme poverty fell by almost 65% to 95 million, or almost 175 million fewer people.
  • Life expectancy has increased from 45 years in 1950-55 to 71 in 2005-2010, only two years less than in the non-tropical world.
  • The Under-5 mortality rate dropped from 227 per 1000 live births to 32 over the same period. This compares with 80 across the whole of the tropics and a worldwide rate of 59.
  • Mean years of schooling have increased from four years in 1980 to seven years in 2010 and tertiary enrolments have risen from 1563 per 100,000 people in 2000 to 2476 in 2010.
  • Adult literacy is now at 94% and youth literacy 98% compared with 84% and 90% worldwide.
  • Gross Domestic Product per capita has jumped from $1620 in 1980 to $5680 in 2010 *Measured at purchasing prices parity in constant 2005 international dollars.
  • In the 10 years to 2010, South East Asia and South Asia accounted for 17.1% of global economic growth.
  • Government policies in the region generally have increasingly opened national economies to foreign investment and encouraged the development of trading partnerships over the past 30 years.
  • Between 1980 and 2010, electricity generation increased by almost 1000% from 106 billion kilowatt hours to 1140 billion kilowatt hours. Most of this increase occurred in tropical China.
  • In 1950, aquaculture production was 123,000 tonnes and by 2010 this had increased to 16 million tonnes.
  • The region accounted for almost one-third of growth in the urban population in the Tropics since 1980, with the number of urban dwellers increasing from 110 million to 360 million in 2010. Tropical China has been a major contributor to this growth, with its urban population increasing from around 14 million to 90 million people.
  • Mobile phone subscriptions have gone from 0.2% of the total population in 1993 to 85% in 2010.
  • Carbon dioxide emissions from the region are increasing rapidly but are small relative to the contribution from the Rest of the World, particularly on a per capita basis.
  • The region’s CO2 emissions have risen from 30 million tonnes in 1950 to more than 2000 million tonnes in 2008, making up more than 40% of the Tropics’ emissions.
  • SE Asia has the highest pollution discharge in its rivers in the world and the greatest area of land degradation at 53%. Major causes are deforestation and poor agricultural practices.

Nations in the region

Australia (5.7% of its population is in the Tropics), Fiji, French Polynesia, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, New Caledonia, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Island, Tonga, Tuvalu, USA (only the State of Hawaii which has 0.04% of the US population) and Vanuatu.


  • Life expectancy has increased from 49 years in the early 1950s to 67 years in 2010; maternal mortality has dropped by 37%, and the under 5 mortality rate has been fallen by more than 70%.
  • Tertiary enrolments per 100,000 population are the second highest in the Tropics and well above overall world numbers.
  • The region has the lowest CO2 emissions but the highest per capita CO2-equivalent emissions of green house gas emissions in the Tropics. Excluding Australia and Hawaii, per capita emissions are the third lowest in the Tropics and well below the world figure.
  • The region had the lowest level of organic water pollution.
  • In the past 20 years an additional three million people were using an improved drinking water source.
  • The number of undernourished people fell from 15% in 1990 to 10% in 2012, and the people living in extreme poverty declined from 31% to 28%.
  • It is the only region of the Tropics to report a decline in the urbanisation rate.
  • It has the lowest rate (15%) of slum population – the only region better than the Rest of the World.
  • The Human Development Index, which combines indicators of life expectancy, educational attainment and income into a composite index, is the highest in the tropical world, although when Hawaii and tropical Australia are excluded it is bettered by four other regions.
  • TB incidence has increased since 1990 due to increasing rates in PNG and three small Pacific Island nations – two of which had increases of more than 200%.
  • Micronesia, Tonga and Samoa had obesity rates of 72%, 71% and 51% respectively in 2010 – the highest national rates in the world. PNG and the Solomon Islands had obesity rates of 5% and 12%.
  • Youth literacy rates decreased slightly, due to PNG where the increase in the literate youth population did not keep pace with the increase in the youth population.
  • 47% of the world’s coral reefs are in the region and the reefs at risk have increased from seven in 1998 to 28 in 2010. But more than 40% of coral reefs were at low risk and marine protected areas have increased by almost 10%.
  • Aquaculture production has increased from only 70 tonnes in 1950 to 12,700 tonnes in 2010.
  • Deforestation and overgrazing were the main causes of a 34% increase in land degradation between 1981 and 2003, and Oceania is one of only two regions to report increases in the rate of primary forest losses and the only region to experience a decline in agricultural land area. The majority of this decline is in tropical Australia, which also drove a 60% drop in sheep/goat numbers on 1980 levels.

Nations in the region

Antigua & Barbuda, Barbados, Cuba, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Jamaica, Puerto Rico (US), Saint Kitts & Nevis, Saint Lucia, St Vincent & the Grenadines, and Trinidad & Tobago.


  • The region has the highest rate of mean years of schooling in the Tropics at 8.3 years and the highest rate of tertiary enrolments. It is one of only three regions where the number of illiterate adults has declined.
  • Life expectancy at 73 years is second only to Central America across the Tropics.
  • It rates highest on the ‘Control of Corruption’ indicator and is second only to Oceania with respect to ‘Rule of Law’ with more than half of its nations reporting a positive rating.
  • The proportion of women in parliaments far exceeds that of the other tropical regions and the Rest of the World with women making up 30.6% of representatives in 2011.
  • “Services” has increased its contribution to the region’s GDP from 55% in 1980 to 71% in 2010 while both agriculture and industry have declined accordingly.
  • It is the only region to record a decline in cattle/buffalo numbers and a fall in the cereal yield of 15% between 1980 and 2010. Aquaculture production declined by 7% between 2000 and 2010.
  • There was a modest decline in the rate of exports as a percentage of GDP, largely affected by Cuban exports falling from 33% of GDP in 1980 to 19% of GDP in 2010.
  • The decline in the region’s imports as a percentage of GDP was marginal, as reduced imports to Cuba and Barbados more than offset increased imports to Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.
  • With the exception of Cuba, unemployment rates are relatively high in all nations in the region.
  • The number of new cases of TB varies considerably by nation, with regional aggregates dominated by Haiti which accounted for almost 75% of new cases in 2010. The region’s TB mortality rate has fallen by 9% in the 20 years to 2010. The region had the highest incidence rate of dengue.
  • Maternal mortality rate has declined by 29% since 1990 – the smallest reduction in the Tropics. 6% are attributable to HIV. The region has the second highest prevalence of HIV in the Tropics.
  • Obesity rates range from 11% in Haiti to 37% in Trinidad & Tobago. The region rate is 23%.
  • The region had the second lowest increase in CO2 emissions over the period 1950 to 2008 and the second lowest total of emission at 111 million tonnes.
  • Around 400km2 of reforestation in Cuba in recent years has helped to offset losses in other nations and the region has the third highest proportion of forests reserved for the conservation of biodiversity.
  • Decrease in mangroves between 1980 and 2005 at less than 2% is lowest in Tropics.
  • 80% of coral cover has been lost between 1977 and 2002 and while some reefs in the region are now recovering, a number are considered beyond recovery.

Nations in the region

Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico (77.7% of its population is in the tropics), Nicaragua and Panama make up the Central America tropical region.


  • The number of people living in extreme poverty fell from 15% to 4% of the area’s population between 1981 and 2008 – the lowest of the eight Tropical regions as is the percentage of people undernourished.
  • It is the second most urbanised region in the Tropics but only 2% of the urban population are considered to be living in slums.
  • It has the highest life expectancy at 75 for the Tropics and betters that of the rest of the world, as does the adult mortality rate and the maternal mortality rate.
  • The under-five mortality rate has dropped more than 80% between 1950-55 and 2005-2010.
  • TB control efforts in Mexico since 1990 have contributed to a 36% decline in the number of new cases in the region and the mortality rate has dropped by 75%.
  • The region had both the lowest number and rate of malaria cases in the Tropics and the lowest number and rate of deaths from malaria in 2010.
  • The obesity rate has increased from 23% to 31.6% in the eight years to 2010 but varies considerably across the region, ranging from 12% in Honduras to 36% in Mexico.
  • The region had the largest increase at 4.1 years in mean years of schooling in the 30 years to 2010.
  • Youth literacy rates are above the global rate and the region experienced a greater increase in the number of literate adults relative to the adult population.
  • Tertiary enrolments per 100,000 people have increased from 2361 in 2000 to 3025 in 2010.
  • With tropical Mexico accounting for around 70% of the regional labour force, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and remittances means that economic conditions are heavily influenced by events in the US with the unemployment rate falling steadily to 2007, before increasing rapidly.
  • Exports as a percentage of GDP increased significantly, with rapid growth in mid-1990s due to NAFTA but have remained around 30% of GDP for the past 15 years. Imports increased from 17% of GDP to 35% in the 30 years to 2010 again largely driven since 1994 by NAFTA.
  • Central America is the third highest per capita emitter of greenhouse gases in the Tropics.
  • Since 1981 an additional 39% of land has been degraded.
  • More than 20% of the region’s mangrove forests were lost between 1980 and 2000 but the rate has slowed since then. Four of its 10 mangrove species are now threatened with extinction.
  • Mexico has the fifth highest amphibian and fourth greatest mammal diversity in the world.
  • Central America more than doubled its protected areas from 6.5% to 16% since 1990 with marine protected areas increasing by 17% and terrestrial areas doubling. 24% of forests are reserved for he conservation of biodiversity.

Nations in the region

Bolivia, Brazil (82.4% of the population), Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru, Suriname.


  • Life expectancy has increased from 50 years in the early 1950s to 73 years in 2010; maternal mortality has dropped by almost 50%, and the Under 5 mortality rate has been lowered by more than 80%.
  • The number of people living in extreme poverty fell from 21% to 7% between 1981 and 2008.
  • Tertiary enrolments per 100,000 population have increased from 1967 in 2000 to 3491 in 2010.
  • South American youth literacy rates are above the global rate and it has had a substantial increase in the number of literate adults relative to the adult population.
  • Economic growth rates in South America have improved significantly over the past ten years, influenced by stronger demand for commodities, greater political stability and improved governance.
  • But it has the second highest per capita CO2-equivalent emissions of GHG’s in the Tropics and is in the top three for the greatest increase in CO2 emissions between 1950 and 2008.
  • The region generates the largest amount of renewable electricity in the Tropics, primarily through hydroelectricity. It has the largest regional renewable water resource at 13,500 billion cubic metres per year, which is almost 50% of all renewable water in the Tropics. It has no identified water scarcity.
  • Since 1980, cattle/buffalo numbers have increased to 245 million head, or 37% of the total global increase. Cereal yields have improved by 125% to 3.8 tonnes per hectare.
  • Brazil, with more than 54% of the region’s people, has become the first tropical ‘food giant’, going from a food importer 30 years ago to the world’s largest exporter of beef, poultry, sugar cane and ethanol.
  • By 2010 South America was the third largest aquaculture producer in the Tropics. Shrimp and prawn farming are very important particularly in Brazil and Ecuador. But disease risks are greater in intensive farm systems, and have been responsible for major losses in recent years across South America.
  • At 26.2%, South America had the highest combined proportion of marine and terrestrial protected areas in 2010, having more than doubled its protected areas since 1990.
  • Brazil has the fourth largest system of protected areas in the world, due in part to the development of the Amazon Region Protected Areas Program. Driven by improvements in South America and South East Asia, the annual loss of primary forests in the Tropics has been falling.
  • Since 1980 South America has maintained its position as the most urbanised region in the Tropics.
  • In 2010, the region had the largest number of obese adults in the Tropics at 46 million.
  • TB control efforts in Brazil and Peru since 1990 have contributed to a 42% decrease in the number of new cases from 1990 to 2010. But dengue is a major public health problem particularly in Brazil, where outbreaks have caused significant illness, death and economic burden.
  • Mobile phone subscriptions were less than one per cent in 1993 and now exceed the total population.

Nations in the region

Angola, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Comoros, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Republic of the Congo, Cote d’Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea. Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sao Tome & Principe, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe.

Central and Southern Africa has the most nations of all the tropical regions. It has seen substantial improvements in health and economic development over the past 60 years. Its population has doubled during that period, and it still faces enormous problems and has some of the worst statistics in the tropical world.


  • From 1995 to 2010, gross domestic product in the region had an annual growth rate of 5.3% – the second fastest growing region in the Tropics.
  • Since 1980, there has been a 61% increase in cattle/buffalo numbers (an extra 66 million beasts) and the greatest increase (154%) in sheep/goat holdings in the Tropics, or an additional 190 million head to 315 million.
  • Cereal production increased by 173% to 96 million tonnes – the biggest increase in the Tropics.
  • The overall population has more than doubled in the past 30 years with the region being one of only two in the Tropics where fertility rates are still above five births per woman.
  • By 2050 it is estimated than 30% of the world’s children under ten years of age will live in the region.
  • The region has had one of the strongest growth rates of adult mean years of schooling and adult literacy albeit from a low base.
  • Life expectancy has increased from 36 years in 1950-55 to 54 in 2005-10 – the lowest in the Tropics.
  • The number of the people living in extreme poverty has more than doubled in the past 30 years and the undernourished population has increased from 137 million in 1990-92 to 195 million in 2010-12.
  • The percentage of the region’s urban population living in slum conditions was 76% in 2001 and in 2010 was estimated to be 62% in sub-Sahara Africa.
  • HIV prevalence in region has been falling steadily from a peak of 5.2% in 1999, as has the AIDS mortality rate, the latter largely attributable to initiatives that have expanded access to antiretroviral therapy.
  • AIDS has been a contributing factor to lower life expectancy as the region has 17 of the 21 nations where AIDS accounted for both more than 10% of deaths in 2008 and life expectancy at birth to fall by more than 15 years between 1990 and 2005 in some nations.
  • Armed conflict, malaria and HIV were significant contributors to the regions having the highest rates of adult mortality.
  • TB incidence was significantly higher than in most other tropical regions in 2010, although it has seen a 23% decline from the peak of 313 in 1999.
  • The region carries the highest malaria burden, with nearly 160 million cases in 2010 or 75% of malaria cases in the Tropics. Nigeria, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Tanzania, Uganda, Mozambique and Cote d’Ivoire alone accounted for 47% of global malaria cases.
  • The region achieved the second largest improvement in female representation in parliaments, increasing by 9.6% to 19.1% in 2011.

Nations in the region

Djibouti, Chad, Eritrea, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Saudi Arabia (41.3%), Senegal, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, and Yemen.


  • These areas had the lowest proportion of land degraded between 1981 and 2003, reflecting the large expanse of desert area across this region. The primary cause of human induced degradation was overgrazing.
  • It has had the largest increase in total agricultural land area between 1980 and 2010, with an additional 510,000km2 under agricultural production
  • Cattle/buffalo holdings increased by 39 million head or 90% between 1980 and 2010, and sheep/goat numbers jumped by 99% or an additional 116 million. Cereal production increased by 159%.
  • However agriculture has declined in its contribution to GDP since 1980 from 26% to 20% in 2010. Industry has grown from 25% to 37%, and it is the only region in the Tropics where industry is the dominant contributor. The contribution of services has fallen significantly over the same period – the only region where this has happened.
  • The region has the second smallest renewable water resource in the Tropics and the largest proportion (54%) coming from external sources. It has the second highest proportion of population vulnerable to water scarcity in the Tropics, up from 18% in 1962 to 62% in 2010. It has become one of the world’s leaders in desalination techniques accounting for more than 60% of global desalination capacity.
  • The region has the biggest improvement in the rate of primary forest loss in 1990-2000 and the lowest proportion of threatened vertebrate species ranging from 1% of amphibians to 9% of mammals.
  • With naturally high dust and aerosol sea salt levels, it has the worst air pollution in the Tropics but the measure has halved since 1990.
  • The number of undernourished people has decreased by 9% but population growth has seen the actual numbers increase from 34 million to 46 million between 1990 and 2012.
  • People living in extreme poverty declined from 53% of the population to 29% between 1991 and 2008 but again actual numbers rose from 30 million to 37 million.
  • Population growth averaged 2.8% per annum in the 30 years to 2010, and economic growth 2.3% per annum. Along with Central & Southern Africa, the region has the highest fertility rates in the Tropics with more than five births per woman, but they are the only regions where life expectancy is less than 60 years, and the maternal mortality rate still remains high.
  • The region had the greatest improvement in the youth literacy rate, with an average growth of 1.9% per annum (more than six times the global rate), although this was from a low base of 52%.
  • It had strong growth in adult mean years of schooling but at only 3.3 years it is the lowest in the Tropics.
  • The number of new TB cases has been increasing since 1990 but the mortality rate has declined by more than 50%. It has the second highest number and rate of new cases and deaths from malaria.


Blair Trewin, Bureau of Meteorology, Australia

Trewin explores the Tropics from a climatologist’s perspective – covering what makes a climate tropical and the key drivers of rainfall, temperature and wind patterns.

Read the full essay (PDF, 1744 KB)

Richard T. Corlett, Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden, Chinese Academy of Science, China

Corlett provides an objective analysis of what we do and don’t know about the impacts of climate change in the Tropics. There are still many unknowns about how climate change will impact the Tropics but what is clear is that rising temperatures and changing rainfall regimes will have huge impacts on a region which has remained climatically stable for the past three million years.

Read the full essay. (PDF, 2240 KB)

Professor Janet Hemingway, Director, Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine

Hemingway discusses the progress made in health care across the Tropics but acknowledges that the ongoing burden of infectious diseases and the rise of non-communicable diseases will provide ongoing challenges for the future.

Read the full essay. (PDF, 1819 KB)

Dennis Trewin, former Statistician, Australia

Trewin explores the seminal work of Jeffrey Sachs around underdevelopment in the Tropics with the updated data from the State of the Tropics report – some things have changed but there is still some way for tropical nations to go.

Read the full essay. (PDF, 986 KB)

Jo Isaac and Steve Turton, James Cook University, Australia

Isaac and Turton examine the evidence for an expanding tropical zone and the implications for ecosystems and communities throughout the Tropics and sub-tropics.

Read the full essay. (PDF, 1295 KB)

Early Insights

Early insight reports from the 2014 State of the Tropics report, available in English and Spanish.

Life expectancy is the average number of years a person can expect to live given existing mortality patterns, and considers the most fundamental health question: “How long can I expect to live?”

Read the full report (PDF, 853 KB)

Spanish version: Esperanza de vida (PDF, 818 KB)

It is now recognised that much of the human exploitation of forests has been at the expense of biodiversity and ecosystem functions, such as water and climate regulation and carbon storage.

Read the full report (PDF, 1914 KB)

Spanish version: Bosques primarios (PDF, 1886 KB)

The oceans cover 71% of the Earth’s surface and contain around 97% of its water. It is also estimated that 25% of all species diversity exists in the oceans (of which, 91% is still undescribed).

Read the full report (PDF, 1886 KB)

Spanish version: Captura marina salvaje (PDF, 1899 KB)

Short Stories from the Tropics

During the development of the State of the Tropics report, across 50 social, economic and environmental indicators, a number of cross cutting issues emerged. Some of these issues are explored here in a series of short, visual narratives.

In the Tropics there are many small nations with small populations and surface areas coupled with limited capacity to provide high quality data to multilateral organisations.

See the full story (PDF, 1792 KB)

Infographics highlighting four Grand Challenges for the Tropics: Ecological resilience, Human wellbeing, Resource security, and Good governance.

See the full story (PDF, 241 KB)

The State of the Tropics report explored different elements of infrastructure across a range of indicators including urbanisation, information communication technology, transport, improved water and sanitation and gross capital formation.

See the full story (PDF, 583 KB)

Across many indicators in the State of the Tropics reports, the importance and vulnerability of women throughout the tropics has emerged as an important theme.

See the full story (PDF, 529 KB)