So, I thought I'd start with the worst places. Start at the bottom and move up, right?
For the first time in six years, the four most unpleasant places in the world have not changed at all. That's probably not a good sign for those places.
Afghanistan tops (or bottoms?) the list. Only 36% of people can read or write, and 60% of people are unemployed--which may be a generous estimate.
Not far behind is Sierra Leone, by the CIA's estimate the second poorest country on Earth--and with one of the most unequal income distributions as well. Of course, the country is so poor that even the very wealthy would be destitute by American standards, and the very poor...well, the very poor aren't living at all. Sierra Leone also has the highest death rate in the world.
Niger has been in the news lately, and we should hope it remains there since as soon as Niger drops out of the news people will stop donating aid there. Niger has for several years had the worst literacy rate in the world; less than 18% of Nigerans can read or write.
Rounding out the bottom four is Somalia, which has no functioning government. Little more needs to said. Somalia is not a place in any traditional sense. It is the lack of one.
Liberia is a new entrant in the bottom five, although it has one of the highest economic growth rates among the failed states.
Rounding out the bottom ten are Angola (where 191 out of every 1000 babies die in their first year), Guinea-Bissau (where the only commercial product is cashews, of which the country is only the 6th largest producer), Malawi (where the life expectancy is only 37), Burkina Faso (26% literacy), and Mali (just generally bad).
Other notably unpleasant places include East Timor, which is the CIA's pick for poorest country in the world, and Zimbabwe, where nearly everyone not employed by the government is, well, not employed. Zimbabwe, once one of bright lights of Africa, has over the past two or three years provided a perfect example of how one person can destroy an entire country. Robert Mugabe could write an instructional book on how to do so.
More news after the jump, including the surprising failed states that are actually getting better.
The thing that most failed states have in common is that, year to year, they get worse. At least in terms of their "score," which is a number I come up with based on a variety of factors, including infant mortality, life expectancy, GDP per capita, unemployment, literacy, and a few more esoteric items like income distribution and the Freedom Foundation's ratings of the country's personal and press freedoms. Of the 57 states that are listed as failing this year, 7 of them broke this trend.
Nepal managed to raise its score a whopping one point over five years. That's statistically insignificant, of course, but that the place has not gotten worse after five years of drought and a bloody Maoist insurrection is pretty impressive. (For an idea of points, Afghanistan scored one point this year. Luxembourg, the top scorer, came in at 2105. Any state scoring under 250 drops into the "failed" category.)
Laos is up all of four points. Again, not significant, but the generals who run the place are starting to figure out that what Vietnam is doing is working, and what Burma is doing is not, and they're following Vietnam's lead. Good for them.
Uganda is up 13 points. And in the past year President Museveni has opened up the press and allowed other political parties to form without automatically imprisoning or killing their leaders, so things are looking up.
Rwanda, up 15 points, is perhaps the biggest surprise here. Maybe people have heard about that Hotel Rwanda movie and, without actually seeing the film, have assumed Rwanda must be a great place to visit. Tourism supports lots of world economies, maybe Rwanda is next.
Chad, which I discussed in an earlier post, is up 19 points. With the opening of new oil and gas fields, perhaps this trend will continue or accelerate. Let's all root for Chad!
Tuvalu, a tiny island nation in the Pacific Ocean, is up 45 points. This is the country that has been selling its internet domain (.tv) to bring in extra cash. With only 11,000 people, they're probably not going to run out domain names any time soon, so the cash cow should be around for a while. This is a country that consists of 9 tiny coral atolls, spread over a chunk of ocean the size of the American Southwest. The highest point in the country is about 17 feet above sea level. Tuvalu joined the UN only in the last 15 years, solely to voice concern over what could happen to the country if global warming results in sea level rise.
Sudan is up 50 points. I have doubts about this. The rise in violence and famine over the last few years has been pretty awful. But the money has been rolling in from new oil development, and as long as that continues, the government has no really need (or desire, anyway) to solve the more pressing problems in Darfur and the south.
Cambodia is up a whopping 118 points, albeit from a very low starting point.