A window into failure: Children peek through an artillery-battered wall of Mogadishu's Bakara Market, the country's largest open-air forum. Sellers and buyers used to be well-stocked with food staples and other daily essentials. Today, the strongest product line is weapons -- everything from handguns to rifles to rocket-propelled grenades. Such arms have been the quickest means to power and subsistence in Somalia since chaos erupted 18 years ago. As Somalia claimed the No. 1 slot on the Failed States Index for a second year in a row, militant attacks had forced the country's fledgling transitional government literally into a corner; by December 2008, it controlled merely a few blocks in a country of 627,000 square kilometers.
JOSE CENDON/AFP/Getty Images
Burden of disease: On top of the flurry of political turmoil that followed Zimbabwe's contested presidential elections in the spring of 2008, another crisis soon erupted. Cholera, a preventable water-borne disease, broke out as thousands fled their homes, many trying to emigrate. Not surprisingly, the epidemic struck with particular strength near the refugees' destination: the South African border. By January 2009, 57,702 people had been infected, leaving more than 3,000 dead, according to the World Health Organization. The family here buries a relative who died of the disease 25 km from Harare in December 2008.
DESMOND KWANDE/AFP/Getty Images
Life on the run: Conflict in Sudan has left 4.9 million of the country's 40 million people internally displaced; another roughly 400,000 have fled beyond the country's borders. Most, like this woman, have arrived in neighboring Chad, which borders Sudan's Darfur region. The security of refugee camps both within and outside Sudan remains tenuous. Rape and abduction have been widely reported in Darfur, where refugee women must travel miles from the camps for firewood and other supplies. Peace negotiations between government and Darfur rebel forces came in stops and starts in 2008, leaving little hope that the conflict would abate.
PHILIPPE HUGUEN/AFP/Getty Images
Feuding neighbors: A Chadian soldier looks on as protests fill the Chadian capital of N'Djamena on May 13, 2009, where President Idriss Déby denounced his eastern neighbor, Sudan. Just a few weeks earlier, the two countries had agreed to end years of proxy battles on each others' territories. But two days later, Chad accused Sudan of attacking its forces along the border. The neighbors' spat has helped exacerbate conflict that has now spread from Darfur into eastern Chad and the Central African Republic.
GEORGES GOBET/AFP/Getty Images
5. DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO
Fatal neglect: The magnitude of crisis in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is staggering. Some 45,000 people die every month, the International Rescue Committee estimates, putting the total dead since 1998 at 5.4 million -- more than in any conflict since World War II. All but 0.4 percent of the deaths come from preventable diseases and malnutrition -- a phenomenon that has arisen due to horrid conditions in displacement camps that lack infrastructure, basic supplies, and proper medical care. The displaced children seen here, in a camp in eastern Congo, are among the 1 million displaced from North Kivu province alone.
LIONEL HEALING/AFP/Getty Images
Mission not accomplished: Six years after Saddam Hussein was violently deposed, Iraq remains an enormously violent and dangerous country. Despite the military success of the U.S. troop "surge," which dramatically decreased violence in Baghdad and Anbar province in 2007, the country faces sustained and often intense fighting between sectarian groups and coalition forces. Refugees are a problem as well; around 2 million Iraqis have fled abroad since 2003, and a further 2 million are still internally displaced. As many as 100,000 Iraqi civilians may have died since the start of the current conflict -- 20,000 of whom were abducted and executed, one recent study found.
Scraps of hope: A man digs through trash in central Kabul, Afghanistan's capital. Since U.S. President Barack Obama came to office in January 2009, Afghanistan has garnered increasing attention as the new central front in the "war on terror." Vowing to make the country's peace a priority, Obama promised to deploy another 17,000 troops to stabilize the situation. Perhaps of greatest concern, though, is the nuclear-armed country to Afghanistan's southeast -- Pakistan -- where Taliban militants find ready safe havens.
8. CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC
The middle seat: A man squats in a refugee camp in the northern Central African Republic (CAR), after a rebel raid sent refugees fleeing. CAR is surrounded on all sides by conflict -- and the small country of just 4.5 million has suffered greatly as a result. In addition to CAR's own homegrown rebellion, Sudan and Chad's conflicts have pushed both refugees and fighters into the country's north. In the southeast, Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army has made incursions into CAR as it flees Ugandan and Congolese attempts to expel it from their own territory.
Leading by force: A coup in December 2008, which followed the death of longtime Guinean President Lansana Conté, put Capt. Moussa Dadis Camara at the helm of West Africa's least stable country. Although little was known about Camara when he declared himself president of Guinea, New York Times journalist Lydia Polgreen offers some insight: "The captain likes to sleep late. Most days he rises well into the afternoon. Sometimes it is not until after sunset. He governs in darkness, his aides whisper, because that is when coups happen, like the one he staged early one December morning."
Ground zero: The blast that left this hotel, the Pearl Continental in Peshawar, flattened, was just the latest in a string of escalations that has inspired some security analysts to call Pakistan the most dangerous country in the world. In early 2009, the Taliban extended its grip from the hinterlands of the country into the heartland -- pushing within a mere 80 miles of the capital, Islamabad. As the Army has fought back, the Taliban have promised to take their fight elsewhere - to the Pearl Continental, for example, and other high-profile urban targets in Pakistan.
Paula Bronstein/Getty Images
11. IVORY COAST
A toxic mess: A woman and her daughter carry food near a toxic waste site in the Ivory Coast. Tens of thousands fell ill after a massive amount of toxic waste was dumped in the country over three years ago. The incident, first reported in September 2006, was appalling: "[A] ship unloaded 500 tons of petrochemical waste into a number of trucks which then dumped it in at least 15 sites around Abidjan," the United Nations said. The offending company has since agreed to pay $198 million in reparations for the country's government, but the health effects resulting from the mess will not disappear so easily.
Cut and dry: People in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, wait for clean water in the neighborhood known as L'Estere. Already facing chronic poverty and a dysfunctional political system, Haiti took a beating from four severe storms last hurricane season, exacerbating a humanitarian crisis. The country was hopeful that a donors conference in April 2009 would help restart the flow of international aid. Although $353 million was promised, little has reached the country yet. Former U.S. President Bill Clinton, the new U.N. envoy to Haiti, promises to help.
YURI CORTEZ/AFP/Getty Images
A city submerged: A woman carries her child through floodwaters in Burma's Irawaddy Delta, an area hit particularly hard by a cyclone last year. Usually a fertile area for rice cultivation and fishing, the cyclone displaced some 1.5 million Burmese, on top of the perhaps 100,000 who died as a result of the storm. Burma's government, one of the world's most repressive, was widely criticized for its slow and inadequate response to the cyclone and prevented international assistance from reaching the most vulnerable.
KHIN MAUNG WIN/AFP/Getty Images
Clean and clear: Children play in Nairobi's vast Korogocho slum, located on the banks of the Nairobi River. Kenyan authorities have begun a massive slum clearance program in an effort to clean up the river's heavily polluted waters. Their efforts could force more than 125,000 people to lose their homes, according to Amnesty International. Half of Nairobi's population lives in similar slums, the organization found, crammed into just 1 percent of the city's land area.
TONY KARUMBA/AFP/Getty Images
Fire fights: In the dusty streets of Nigeria's northern city of Bauchi, a woman walks past a neighborhood whose houses were burned in recent sectarian violence. The city, located near the cusp of Nigeria's majority Muslim north and its majority Christian south, has often been the seat of conflict in recent years. Tensions picked up in February 2009 when a series of attacks and reprisals between Muslims and Christians left 4,500 displaced.
AMINU ABUBAKAR/AFP/Getty Images
Desperate thirst: Drought is one of many problems that continually afflicts the northern African country of Ethiopia. Lack of water not only kills crops, meaning starvation, but also causes violent conflicts over scarce vital resources. Inadequate sanitation has made water-borne diseases the No. 1 cause of infant deaths in the country -- where 300,000 children under age 5 die every year. Here, a boy near the town of Moyale drinks from a muddy puddle.
17. NORTH KOREA
The last Stalinist state: North Korea may be the world's most secretive country, with no free press and strict controls on entry and communications. But we have enough information to deem it among the world's most failed. The autocratic government in Pyongyang, which centrally plans the economy, has faced chronic food shortages. The vast majority of North Koreans live in poverty. And the state's routine experimentation with high-grade weaponry -- including tests of nuclear technologies this year and last -- has meant international isolation and U.N. Security Council opprobrium. In this photograph, a worker sits at a special shop for visiting foreigners. (See more rare images of North Korea here.)
Tomas van Houtryve/Panos
A bridge to nowhere: Slum dwellers use a makeshift bridge in Dhaka, the capital, where 40 percent of the population lives on less than a dollar a day. In December 2008, Bangladesh ended two years of military rule, returning to democracy with the election of the Awami League. The election saw a high 70 percent turnout rate. Yet despite the democratic transition, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina rules over anything but calm; a military rebellion in February was the first test of the new government's authority.
MUNIR UZ ZAMAN/AFP/Getty Images
Disaster zone: The Gulf country of Yemen has most recently been in the news for its battles with Somali pirates, who routinely seize commercial boats off its western coast. But Yemen's problems run much deeper. Its northern and southern halves united two decades ago, but tensions between the two regions have stoked violence, including a brief civil war, ever since. Yemen is also wracked with poverty, and suffers from a 40 percent unemployment rate. The weak central government has asked the World Bank and European Union for help in stemming possible summer food shortages. Last October, fierce storms and floods destroyed part of the city of Shibam, a UNESCO World Heritage site, showing damage here. After the 2008 storm, the government declared two provinces disaster zones -- a term that could easily apply to the entire country.
KHALED FAZAA/AFP/Getty Images
20. EAST TIMOR
Hardly paradise: The relatively new country of East Timor occupies half of a lush tropical island near Indonesia. But it's no tourist haven. East Timor faces debilitating problems with poverty, violence, and unrest. It won its independence in a bloody conflict a decade ago; an inter-military conflict led to fighting and a humanitarian crisis in 2006. The country has the world's highest fertility rate, and 20 percent of Timorians live on less than a dollar per day. It currently ranks 158th of 179 countries on the U.N. Human Development Index, lower even than Sri Lanka or Bangladesh.
JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images
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