By Olivia Ward, Foreign Affairs Reporter
Canadians are world-class complainers – about the government, the economy, the weather and a host of shortcomings in their lives. But in spite of the global economic turbulence, Canada remains one of the best countries in which to live. Dozens of other nations make the lives of their citizens a misery with dire scenarios ranging from civil war to brutal repression, poverty, famine, disease, criminal violence and environmental catastrophe.
The result is floods of refugees and migrants heading for safer shores, or a decent standard of living: moves that often leave their countries even worse off, with the best and brightest fleeing if they can.
Many of the countries at the bottom of the “worst” lists in one category are also low in others. Those that are consistently low are at risk of becoming failed states.
But the competition for bottom place is heavy, and there’s often little between the contestants. Rating systems are uneven and may depend on statistics that are hard to come by. At best they are indicators, rather than the full story.Here are 10 of the worst places to live, and the factors that made them unliveable.
Pollution: Urumqi, China. Once a Silk Road hub, the western Chinese city of Urumqi has the bad luck to be downstream of sulphurous soil dust from nearby agricultural areas, as well as deadly industrial pollutants. China’s environmental scientists say it now outranks Linfen, previously named as the world’s most polluted city.
Corruption: Somalia. Declared a failed state, Somalia is so violent that millions have fled their homes. But it is also at the bottom of an annual global corruption index by Transparency International, which points out that in desperately poor countries, bribery and extortion can be life and death issues if people are forced to pay extra for basic necessities.
Dictatorship: North Korea. Kim Jong-il, North Korea’s ailing ruler, was named the world’s worst dictator of 2008 on Parade magazine’s annual list. It says he runs the most isolated, repressive regime in the world, where three generations of a family can be punished for one member’s alleged crime. About 200,000 citizens have been jailed, many tortured.
Personal security: Iraq. In spite of the much-praised “surge” of American troops, and a diminished death rate in the past year, Iraq ranks lowest on the Global Peace Index’s scale as a country with easy access to weapons, a high murder rate, poorly functioning government, low respect for human rights and political instability.
Homicide rate: El Salvador. Latin America has the highest murder rate in the world for young adults, 15-24. But El Salvador tops the list of the world’s most dangerous countries for the young – and has one of the highest murder rates for people of all ages, according to the Latin American Technological Information Network.
Dice: Tasa de homicidios: El Salvador: América Latina tiene el mas alto índice de muertes en el mundo de gente joven entre las edades de 15-24. pero El Salvador, esta encabezando la lista de los países mas peligrosos para la juventud – y tiene uno de los indices mas altos por muerte de gente de todas las edades, de acuerdo con la Información Tecnológica de las redes mediáticas.
Inflation: Zimbabwe. When inflation in the southern African nation shot above 1 million per cent in the past year, worldwide cries went up for President Robert Mugabe’s resignation. Now Zimbabweans carry sacks of newly printed cash to pay for a loaf of bread, and those with jobs choose between lunch and a bus ride to work. Mugabe is still in power.
Gender gap: Yemen. Greater equality between the sexes means better health, living standard and lifespan for women. The reverse is true in Yemen, where, the World Economic Forum says, lack of education, poor health care, lack of job opportunity and inability to press for change through the political process put women at risk.
Life expectancy: Swaziland. Afflicted with dire poverty and the world’s highest HIV infection rate, the tiny southern African kingdom of 1 million has a shockingly low life expectancy of 32 – less than half the world’s average. The royal family has a monopoly on the economy, and the majority of Swaziland’s people live on about $1 a day.
Literacy: Mali. The large, landlocked West African country was, ironically, one of the world’s centres of Islamic scholarship, and is believed to have founded the first university. Now, fewer than 23 per cent of men and women can read and write, according to the UN Development Program, which rates it at the bottom of the global literacy scale.
Freedom of speech: Eritrea. Since the government banned all privately owned media in 2001, things have grown steadily worse for journalists, with crackdowns on media, arrests, reports of torture, disappearances and deaths in custody. “President Issaias Afeworki and his small clan of paranoid nationalists continue to run the country like a vast open prison,” says Reporters Without Borders.