Human beings have an innate desire to feel safe. No one wants to live in a state of fear, constantly looking over their shoulder when walking to school or worrying about loved ones who don’t make it home from work on time. While dangerous places exist, of course, all over the world, some countries have it much worse than others.
Which countries are currently lowest in overall personal safety? The Social Progress Index ranks countries based on fifty-two indicators, some of which fall under the umbrella Personal Safety Index. This indicator examines a number of factors which are key to personal safety; homicide rate, violent crime, perceived criminality, political terror and traffic deaths.
Already this year, horrifying stories of the endangerment of certain nations’ citizens have hit the headlines. Over 200 girls were kidnapped from a Nigerian school by a militant Islamic group. In Mexico, the drug cartels are still running the show. Civil wars are tearing countries apart even as you read this. While we can read about news articles like these and distance ourselves from it, the personal safety index ranks the level of threat inherent in the day-to-day lives of those who are in the center of the violence. On a scale of 0 – 100, where 100 is perfect safety, America ranks at 77.7 while the UK sits more than 10 places above the U.S. at 83.41. The following are the ten lowest ranking countries, all of them enormously dangerous places to live, where the citizens face ongoing and significant threats to their safety on a daily basis.
10. Sudan – Personal Safety Index: 37.25
People are dying by the hundreds while civil war tears Sudan apart. In 2011, South Sudan seceded from Sudan after decades of civil war, but even after the secession, violence remains as numerous armed groups continue to fight. In fact, civil wars have been raging for more than 40 years, and there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight. There’s believed to have been 400 people killed in Bentiu over one week in April, more than 200 civilians from one mosque alone. Radio broadcasts are even calling on men to rape women from another community.
9. Mexico – Personal Safety Index: 34.61
Mexico is a large country, and parts of Mexico are safer than others. However, Mexico is considered largely unsafe due to the notorious drug cartel violence often seen in specific parts of the country, including the U.S/Mexico border towns, and some violence in Mexico City. Ciudad Juarez once had the highest murder rate of any city in the world, and still ranks pretty high today. Kidnappings, decapitation, and murder is fairly rampant, despite the government’s efforts to reduce the violence that’s plaguing Mexico. During the last weekend of April 2014, at least five people were killed and two injured during a shootout in the western Mexican state of Michoacan.
8. Honduras – Personal Safety Index: 33.94
Known as the “murder capital of the world,” Honduras is often considered the most dangerous country in the world outside of an active war zone. San Pedro Sula is considered the most dangerous city in the world with 90.4 murders per 100,000 residents. The global average is 6.2 victims per 100,000 people. Crimes against children are on the rise, including child exploitation, organ trafficking, child slavery, and illegal adoptions. According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime report, someone in Honduras is almost 15 times more likely to be murdered than people in other parts of the world, and the risk is even higher in San Pedro Sula.
7. Dominican Republic – Personal Safety Index: 32.90
The Dominican Republic is a popular vacation destination, known for white sand beaches and turquoise waters… but the Caribbean region is also one of the most violent in the world and tourists should be aware of the dangers before traveling. However, there is good news for the Dominican Republic as crime rates have dropped. Homicide rates are the lowest they’ve been in 11 years, falling 12.5% last year. Dominican President Danilo Medina has made strides in tightening up security and militarizing the police force.
6. Chad – Personal Safety Index: 31.97
Due to bouts of political turmoil in Chad over the last few years, it’s a very unstable country. While things have calmed down a bit over the last couple of years, crime still remains a concern. The capital, N’Djamena, is considered relatively safe, however petty street crimes remain rampant, and it’s all too common for police officers to be behind some of the crimes themselves, as there’s known to be a high level of corruption among the authorities. Robberies, carjackings at gunpoint, and murder are often reported, even within the capital city.
5. South Africa – Personal Safety Index: 30.90
Crime rates in South Africa are soaring once again, and they’re currently higher than they’ve been in a decade. Violent crimes like murder, attempted murder, armed robbery, and carjacking are rampant. In a recent high profile case, Olympic athlete Oscar Pistorius is currently on trial for murder after shooting several rounds into the bathroom where his girlfriend hid, resulting in her death. He claims that he thought there was an intruder, but witnesses say they heard a woman yelling prior to the gunshots. There are ongoing serious problems with racial tension which contributes heavily to the level of crime in South Africa. A 2007 study of crime in South Africa has suggested that poverty, discrimination and gangs have caused an environment in which violence has become a normalized means of dealing with conflict.
4. Central African Republic – Personal Safety Index: 29.41
A reported 22 people were killed at a clinic in the Central African Republic in April 2014 – 3 of whom were Medecins Sans Frontieres aid workers. In another recent instance of violence, an angry swarm of people took over a mosque, destroying it and shouting ““We have cleaned Central African Republic of the Muslims!” 1,200 Muslims were escorted out of the capital city of Bangui by French and African peacekeepers. Tens of thousands of Muslims have been evacuated from the Central African Republic into Chad after militant Christians have taken over and conducted what the U.N is calling “ethnic cleansing”. Even during the evacuation, militants lined the streets and attacked, even killing a man after he fell from his vehicle. The significant unrest in this country, and the endemic poverty, makes it one of the riskiest countries in the world for citizens’ personal safety.
3. Venezuela – Personal Safety Index: 27.55
In January, former Miss Venezuela, Monica Spear, and her ex-husband were killed in front of their five-year-old daughter during a roadside robbery. Her daughter was shot, but survived. Sadly, the shooting was just one of many in a country where violent crime is an everyday occurrence. What might surprise many is that Venezuela has a higher crime rate than neighboring country, Colombia, which is notorious worldwide for its high crime rate and drug cartels. And while Venezuela does not produce much cocaine itself, it’s a transit country for cocaine transport from Colombia and other countries, where it’s then shipped to the U.S and Europe. The United Nations has ranked Venezuela as having the fifth highest murder rate in the world.
2. Nigeria – Personal Safety Index: 23.57
We may only be a few months into 2014, but it’s already shaping up to be one of the bloodiest years yet for crime-ridden Nigeria due to the militant Islamic group Boko Haram. So far this year, approximately 1,500 have been killed by the group. Boko Haram, who’s name translates roughly as “Western education is sinful,” practices very harsh forms of sharia law. Currently, 200 schoolgirls from Borno have been kidnapped, and it’s thought that Boko Haram is behind this as punishment for sending the girls to school since sharia law strictly forbids it. In the past, they’ve let the girls go free during school raids, telling them to give up their studies and get married. The group is also behind an attack at a bus station outside the country’s capital of Abuja that left at least 75 people dead.
1. Iraq – Personal Safety Index: 21.52
While the war technically ended in December 2011, Iraq still remains an extremely dangerous country. Sporadic violence can, and does, happen almost everywhere within the country. Baghdad and other major cities are rife with political upheavals, kidnappings, and other underground violent activity. Travelers are cautioned not to visit Iraq unless absolutely necessary – in the event that it’s necessary, they should plan on hiring armed security to protect them. It’s even suggested that visitors get proper training in survival and weapons before visiting. There are also minefields that one needs to be aware of, and people shouldn’t walk into fields, especially unmarked ones. Reading such warnings, it’s difficult for relatively privileged Americans or Europeans to imagine the fear in which Iraqi citizens live their everyday lives one of the most dangerous countries on earth.