The rankings are based on 12 metrics, including access to public services, the prevalence of refugees and internally displaced persons, human rights, and the legitimacy of the state.
It is no surprise that the Scandinavian countries round out the bottom of the ranking. What may come as a surprise is that North Korea — one of the most closed-off and oppressive countries on earth — avoided the top 25.
Below is an outline of the most fragile countries in the world within the past year.
24. LIBERIA (tie): A small country along Africa’s western coast, Liberia became less fragile within the past year due to a slow transition toward democracy and a rebuilding of state infrastructure. The country still struggles with a huge refugee and displacement problem owing to 14 years of brutal civil war that ended in 2003.
24. MYANMAR (tie): Located in Southeast Asia, Myanmar dropped two places in the index within the past year. It ranks among the worst countries for minority group grievances as its Muslim Rohingya ethnic group lives under incredibly oppressive conditions. Myanmar’s government also faces a crisis of legitimacy as it shakily transitions from decades of military rule toward a more open parliamentary system.
23. ERITREA: A small country in the Horn of Africa, Eritrea fell two places within the past year. Eritrea has suffered under dictatorial rule since its independence from Ethiopia in 1993. The state also faces several U.N. Security Council resolutions imposing military and economic sanctions due to the government’s support of armed groups throughout the region.
22. UGANDA: Uganda’s factionalized elites are responsible for its low score, along with demographic pressures, refugees, and internally displaced persons. There are a number of rebel movements within the country seeking to depose President Yoweri Museveni, who has been in power since 1986. The most infamous of these groups is the Lord’s Resistance Army, led by warlord Joseph Kony.
21. BURUNDI: Although Burundi has improved by one position within the past year, it is still plagued with potentially crippling problems. Over 48,000 Burundian refugees live in Tanzania, and there are an additional 140,000 internally displaced people from a decade-long civil war that ended in 2005. Less than 2% of the population in Burundi has electricity, 1 in 15 adults has HIV or AIDS, and only half of children go to school.
Darrin Zammit Lupi/REUTERS
19. ETHIOPIA (tie): Ethiopia faces substantial demographic pressures. Sixty-four percent of its population is under the age of 25 and the country has some of the highest infant mortality rates in the world.
19. NIGER (tie): With almost seven children born to every woman, this West African country suffers from extreme demographic pressures. Sixty-eight percent of the population is under 25 years of age and the country has the seventh highest infant mortality rate in the world. Niger also faces prolonged instability from conflicts spilling over the border from Libya, Mali, and Nigeria. And Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb has successfully struck inside the country in recent years.
18. KENYA: Kenya faces extreme demographic pressures. It hosts over 400,000 refugees from Somalia, with tens of thousands more coming from South Sudan, Ethiopia, and Uganda. There are also over 400,000 internally displaced peoples in Kenya and unemployment hovers around 40%. Jihadist terrorism from the group al Shabaab is also a growing concern.
17. NIGERIA: Nigeria suffers from uneven development of its economy, corruption, religious tension, Jihadist terrorism from Boko Haram, and a brutal and undisciplined security apparatus. More than 62% of Nigeria’s population lives in extreme poverty.
AP Photo/ Gbemiga Olamikan
16. GUINEA BISSAU: This small West African nation strains under a factionalized elite and a lack of legitimacy in its political institutions. The county’s constitution was suspended following a military coup in 2012, and it is heavily reliant on foreign aid. Sixty-nine percent of its population lives in poverty and life expectancy is only 54 years.
15. SYRIA: Three years into a civil war that has killed more than 150,000 people, Syria only seems to be getting worse. There are over 4.5 million displaced persons within the country with over 3 million refugees outside the nation’s borders. Syria got a bottom score for its security apparatus, which has indiscriminately used chemical weapons and barrel bombs against civilian population centers.
14. COTE D’IVOIRE: Since 1999, this West African nation has experienced two civil wars and multiple political impasses. There are thousands of U.N. peacekeepers and French soldiers stationed in the country, and the nation receives near-bottom scores for external intervention, factionalized elites, and group grievances.
13. IRAQ: Since U.S. forces withdrew from Iraq in 2011, the country’s security situation has taken a nosedive. Intense sectarianism, coupled with a military patronage structure and highly dysfunctional domestic politics, has led to a critical situation in the country.
12. GUINEA: Despite Guinea’s natural wealth, the state has been unable to capitalize due to political instability and rampant corruption. A series of juntas and coups has scared off foreign investment, and the political situation is as fluid as ever.
11. ZIMBABWE: Zimbabwe is facing bottom scores for its polarized and oppressive political landscape and waning state legitimacy. Dictator Robert Mugabe has been the country’s only ruler since majority rule began in 1980. Per capita GDP is only $600 per year.
10. PAKISTAN: Pakistan faces a host of challenges including almost 1 million internally displaced persons, almost 3 million Afghan refugees, rampant Islamic extremism, an unruly military, and a long-simmering border dispute with India.
9. HAITI: Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere with 80% of its population living below the poverty line. The 2010 earthquake devastated the country’s infrastructure and killed as many as a quarter-million people. Recovery was slowed when Haiti was hit by two hurricanes in 2012. The country is a transit point for the cocaine trade from South America to the U.S. and Europe and is a major source of and destination for human trafficking.
8. YEMEN: Yemen is one of the poorest states in the Middle East with 45% of its population estimated to be living below the poverty line. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is based in Yemen and operates relatively freely within Yemen’s desert wilderness. Of all the Al Qaeda franchises, it is considered to be the most committed to striking targets in the West. Yemen is also a major source of human trafficking.
7. AFGHANISTAN: After more than a decade of foreign intervention and U.S.-led nation building, Afghanistan is plagued by the Taliban threat and a lack of public services. The state’s security apparatus receives a bottom score, and Afghanistan was also docked for foreign intervention after more than a decade of international military involvement in the country.
MCpl. Angela Abbey/Canadian Forces Combat Camera
6. CHAD: At just 49.44 years, Chad has the lowest life expectancy in the world. Despite the country’s lack of infrastructure, it is burdened with over 500,000 refugees from Sudan and the Central African Republic.
5. SUDAN: Since 2007, peacekeepers from the African Union and the U.N. have struggled to stabilize the ongoing conflict in Darfur. In 2013, 16 peacekeepers were killed in the country. There are almost 3 million internally displaced persons in Sudan, and its autocratic and often-belligerent government has done little to halt the flow of human trafficking.
4. DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO: Congo has seen almost constant strife and civil war following a massive influx of Rwandan and Burundian refugees in 1994. Tens of thousands of people are killed due to conflict-related factors each year in the country, and the average person only makes $400 a year. Seventy-one percent of the population lives below the poverty line.
3. CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC: The CAR fell six places since the last index following a series of coups and ethno-religious strife within the country. In response, the U.N. Security Council unanimously agreed to send peacekeepers out of fear that the violence could lead to genocide. CAR received the bottom score for displaced persons and almost the worst score for its security apparatus and external intervention.
2. SOMALIA: Somalia has been in the throes of civil war and was without a functioning government between 1991 and 2013. The infant mortality rate in Somalia is estimated at being slightly over 10%, and the average life expectancy is only 51.58 years. It had the worst scores possible for refugees and internally displaced peoples, as well as for factionalized elites.
1. SOUTH SUDAN: The world’s youngest nation is also its most fragile state. Ongoing internal conflict since independence in 2011 became all-out civil war in 2013. More than 1 million people have been displaced in the fighting and an additional 250,000 have fled to neighboring countries.