The World Bank has rated Guyana as one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere - comparable to Haiti, which has had much more publicity about its own problems. Because few are aware of the poverty in Guyana, the country receives relatively little help from international relief agencies.
Poverty in Guyana affects both the urban slums and indigent farming communities. Both suffer from inadequate healthcare and poor educational facilities. The rural poor have access to land for crops and for building small homes, but they have a difficult time moving around and making use of government services. The urban poor face different problems, with families often living in crowded, unsanitary conditions.
Guyana’s economy is closely tied to its sugar industry, which supports about 80 percent of the population. Most of the sugar jobs are low-paying field work. With a minimum wage of 50 cents a day, many people find it difficult to pay for transportation to and from work. Approximately three out of four schools in the country are run by Christian churches, with some help from the government.
Originally a Dutch colony in the 17th century, by 1815 Guyana had become a British possession. The abolition of slavery led to black settlement of urban areas and the importation of indentured servants from India to work the sugar plantations. This ethnocultural divide has persisted and has led to turbulent politics. Guyana achieved independence from the United Kingdom in 1966, and since then it has been ruled mostly by socialist-oriented governments. In 1992, Cheddi Jagan was elected president in what is considered the country's first free and fair election since independence. After his death five years later, his wife, Janet Jagan, became president but resigned in 1999 due to poor health. Her successor, Bharrat Jagdeo, was re-elected in 2001 and again in 2006.