While something bad could happen to you in even the statistically safest countries, there are places in the world that are best to avoid if you want to lead a safe, peaceful existence.
One highly regarded source on the subject is The Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP), an international non-partisan thinktank based in Sydney, Australia, that focuses upon peace as a positive, achievable and tangible measure of human well-being and progress. As part of that mission, for the last 15 years, IEP has been analyzing data on 23 different indicators — from homicide and violent crime rates to terrorism, political instability, violent demonstrations and weapons imports. All that information goes into compiling its annual Global Peace Index, which ranks countries on how peaceful — or conversely, how dangerous — they are.
In IEP's Global Peace Index 2021 report, issued in June, the organization concluded that the world became less peaceful overall, with peacefulness improving in 87 countries but deteriorating in 73 others, with the declines generally steeper than improvements elsewhere.
While a low rating on the index doesn't directly equate to the risk of violence, "being ranked amongst the 10 least peaceful countries almost always means that a country is involved in an ongoing conflict, has high levels of violence or is highly militaristic," Thomas Morgan, IEP's associate director of research, says via email.
So what are the 10 most dangerous countries in the world? Here they are ranked from least to most dangerous according to the IEP index.
Unlike most of the rest of the bottom 10 in peacefulness, Russia didn't have an internal armed conflict, according to IEP's report, but Russia did have one of the biggest increases in violent demonstrations. In response to the poisoning and detention of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, Russians took to the streets, despite police attempting to disperse them by force. More than 8,500 were arrested, according to IEP's report.
On the plus side, ordinary Russians who aren't defying the government don't necessarily see their country as a dangerous place to live. Only 21 percent of the population said they feel very worried about becoming a victim of violent crime, and less than 10 percent actually has experienced violence.
9. Central African Republic
Violence cost the Central African Republic (CAR) 37 percent of its gross domestic product in 2020, according to the IEP report. President Faustin-Archange Touadéra was seeking a second term and had accused his predecessor, François Bozizé, of attempting a coup with rebel groups. On Jan. 4, 2021, the National Elections Authority declared President Touadéra winner. Allies of former president Bozizé attacked towns despite the 2019 peace deal between the government and 14 non-state armed groups, according to the U.N. Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. About 20 percent of the nation's population fled the violence and insecurity that surrounded the December 2020 elections, spilling into neighboring Cameroon, Chad and the Republic of Congo. Another 164,000 are displaced inside CAR.
A 15-month conflict between armed groups that ended in June 2020 left hundreds of civilians killed and missing and thousands of people displaced, according to Human Rights Watch. But a year later, the African nation still suffers from "strong civil unrest and political instability," according to the IEP report. Nearly 45 percent of Libyans have personally experienced violence in the past two years, and more than 25 percent see violence as the greatest risk in their daily lives, according to polling cited by IEP. The country rates as having an "extreme" level of risk for travelers on the Travel Risk Map compiled by health and security management firm International SOS.
7. Democratic Republic of the Congo
Congo made the list in part because of deteriorating relations in 2020 with neighboring Zambia over disputed territory, which led to border skirmishes between the two countries' military forces, according to IEP's report. Violence cost Congo 9 percent of its gross domestic product. As of Nov. 30, 2021, the U.S. State Department ranks Congo as a "reconsider travel" country, noting that "violent crime, such as armed robbery, armed home invasion, and assault, is common and local police lack resources to respond effectively to serious crime. Assailants may pose as police or security agents."
It's the place where 18 U.S. Special Forces personnel were killed in a bloody clash with a Somali warlord's forces in 1993, in the incident that inspired Mark Bowden's book "Black Hawk Down: A Story of Modern War," as well as the movie based upon it. But more than a quarter-century later, Somalia still is a violent place. As of June 17, 2021, the U.S. State Department ranks Somalia as a "do not travel" country, noting that "kidnapping, murder and other violent crimes are common, and terrorists continue to target airports, government buildings, hotels, shopping areas and just about anyplace else that people gather with attacks by car bombs, mortars and suicide bombers." The African nation has 20 percent of its population displaced as the result of an ongoing conflict between government forces and al-Shabab, a militant group. According to IEP's report, the violence has cost 34.9 percent of the nation's economic output.
The Middle Eastern nation has been among the five least peaceful nations in the world in IEP's index since 2015. Deaths from terrorism have fallen since the defeat of ISIS, according to IEP, but as of Nov. 22, 2021, the U.S. State Department gives Iraq a "do not travel" rating, noting that "U.S. citizens in Iraq are at high risk for violence and kidnapping. Terrorist and insurgent groups regularly attack both Iraqi security forces and civilians. Anti-U.S. sectarian militias threaten U.S. citizens and Western companies throughout Iraq. Attacks using improvised explosive devices (IEDs) occur in many areas of the country, including Baghdad." Fewer than a third of Iraqis rate the government highly for providing safe food and water and reliable electricity, according to the Lloyd's Register Foundation report.
4. South Sudan
The African nation broke away from Sudan and began an independent state in 2011, but disputes between the two countries keep the South Sudan volatile, according to the U.S. State Department, which says that abuses against civilians, including "appalling levels of sexual violence," have forced 4 million people to flee their homes. The African country lost 40 percent of its gross domestic product to violence in 2020, according to IEP's report.
The Middle Eastern country has some improvement in political stability due to President Bashar al-Assad solidifying his hold upon power. Even so, the threat from terror has increased in Syria, and the country suffered sustained attacks by ISIS and al-Qaida in 2020, according to IEP's report. Syria had the most devastating economic impact from violence, losing 82 percent of its economic output as a result. The decade-long civil war was created a humanitarian crisis. The United Nations Refugee Agency estimates that 5.5 million people — many of them children — have fled Syria since the fighting started, in what has become the world's largest refugee crisis in decades.
The Persian Gulf nation has been declining in peacefulness since 2008, according to IEP. A civil war between a Saudi-led coalition and Iranian-backed Houthi rebels has killed 100,000 people since 2015, according to the Council on Foreign Relations. In addition, Yemen increasingly is plagued by violent crime. Nearly 13 percent of the population is refugees or internally displaced people. Polling shows that 51 percent of people in Yemen consider themselves less safe than in the past. In The Lloyds Register Foundation World Risk Poll, conducted in 2019, Yemen ranked worst in the world in the population's perception of whether the government did a good job of providing safe food and water and reliable electricity.
Afghanistan earned the unwanted distinction of being the least peaceful place on the planet for the fourth consecutive year on IEP's index, even before the south Asian nation's western-backed government's collapse and the sudden takeover by Taliban militants in the summer of 2021. It had the highest terrorism impact of any country, even though that rate, along with deaths from internal conflict, has fallen in recent years, according to IEP.
Since the Taliban's takeover, few people have been permitted to leave the country, and according to Human Rights Watch, Taliban forces have executed former officials, and raided homes of journalists, activists and human rights defenders. Women's and girls' rights are under attack, and many females who were previously in authority positions have been fired.
Violence in Afghanistan ate up 40 percent of gross domestic product in 2020. In addition to military hostilities, Afghanistan also has severe crime problems. In a 2019 Gallup Poll, just 13 percent of Afghans felt safe walking alone at night, and 50 percent said they had money or property stolen from them.
The lack of peacefulness in the low-ranked countries can be a problem for inhabitants and/or visitors. "This depends on the country and the type of violence," Morgan says. "It is possible for high levels of violence to be concentrated in certain regions, while other regions remain relatively safe. Generally speaking however, a country that is ranked at the very end of the index will likely be in some sort of open conflict, meaning that peacefulness is an issue for both inhabitants and visitors."