A Year In Misery: The 2011 Failed States Index
Hear the words "failed state," and a certain unshakable set of images likely floods your vision. There is poverty, insecurity, and a disregard for human dignity. Families fight for their survival, and political regimes fight to extend their rule. Some weak states are simply geographical aspirations on a map, filled with destitution and squalor. Others are, if anything, too strong; citizens of Zimbabwe and Syria might be better off if their countries' security forces weren't quite so good at repression.
This is the world of the fragile state -- a world that is a grim reality for an alarming percentage of the global population. A quarter of the world's human beings live in the 60 worst-ranking countries on the 2011 Failed States Index (FSI), which examines the year 2010. Here's a glimpse of their daily existence.
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FSI Score: 113.4
Relatively speaking, the first months of 2011 have been full of good news for Somalia, the world's closest approximation of anarchy. For two full decades, the majority of the territory in this crescent-shaped country on the Horn of Africa has gone essentially ungoverned; an internationally recognized transitional government is fighting tooth and nail to control the capital. Yet after months of stalemate with Islamist insurgents, the momentum finally seems to be turning. Block by block, the national troops -- with the considerable help of an African Union-U.N. joint peacekeeping mission -- have made significant territorial gains in Mogadishu.
Yet Somalia is still in tatters. Out of a population of nearly 10 million, as many as 3 million are thought to need humanitarian assistance. Another 2 million have been uprooted in the conflict, and political infighting has paralyzed the nascent government. Neighboring Uganda has warned that the fractures stand to make matters worse, offering Islamist insurgent groups a chance to reorganize.
Perhaps the greatest fear looming over Somalia today is that it will become the next haven for al Qaeda fleeing Afghanistan. Somalia's Islamist rebels, who call themselves al-Shabab, have already pledged their allegiance to the global terrorist network.
Here, demonstrators in Mogadishu denounce the United Nations mission in the country, accusing it of spending too much on flying diplomats in and out of Nairobi and not enough on fixing what's broken in Somalia.
ABDURASHID ABDULLE/AFP/Getty Images
FSI Score: 110.3
In an April 25 poll, Chad's strongman president, Idriss Déby, won a landslide reelection with almost 90 percent of the vote. The ballot was flawed and turnout was low, but the president claimed victory, meaning that this onetime coup leader will rule for a full quarter-century by the time he comes up for another vote in 2016. The result barely made headlines outside West Africa and the former colonial power, France. So untouchable is Déby's rule -- and so downtrodden is the opposition -- that everyone knew who was going to win.
It's also clear who is going to lose: the people of Chad. Since Déby came to power, Chad has discovered oil, courted the World Bank, and watched as the rest of Africa has begun to boom. The country, however, has seen precious little improvement. Just 23 percent of Chadians in urban areas have access to clean water, for example; in rural areas the numbers are even lower. Life expectancy hovers at a mere 49 years. Government budgets, frothy with oil wealth, have been directed toward the purchase of arms to ward off rebel groups in the country's east. Soldiers pictured here patrol near the city of Abeche, a rebel stronghold.
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FSI Score: 108.7
Sudan is going through a painful divorce. In January, the country's south voted to secede from the north -- an option made possible when a U.S.-brokered peace deal ended a decades-long north-south civil war in 2005. The referendum went smoothly, in part thanks to intensive international pressure on Khartoum to keep things peaceful. But by late spring, things were taking a turn for the worse. Khartoum and Juba, the capital of the new Southern Sudan, never agreed on a border -- and they especially never agreed on who would gain control of Abyei, an oil-rich region long claimed by both sides. In late May, Khartoum's soldiers moved into Abyei town, shelling a U.N. peacekeeping mission and displacing upwards of 100,000 people.
The worst-case scenario for Sudan -- a return to civil war -- is now looming on the horizon. Southern Sudan is set to formally become independent on July 9, but that may not go forward -- or at least not smoothly -- without some agreement over Abyei. In the meantime, the ongoing conflict is keeping Sudan's population of 42 million in a state of terror, particularly the more than 1.5 million who have fled their homes, some of whom are pictured here.
And even if partition goes ahead, Southern Sudan will be born amid a plethora of its own problems, earning it the dubious distinction of being a "pre-failed state." Only half the region's children are in school, a similarly dismal proportion has access to clean water, and 85 percent of adults cannot read or write. And the nascent government-in-the-making set to tackle all these challenges? Its budget is a mere $2.3 billion, about as much as the U.S. Defense Department requested for cybersecurity in 2011.
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4. DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE
FSI Score: 108.2
The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has the dubious honor of being both one of the world's richest countries -- its soils are host to massive deposits of gold, coltan, and other minerals -- and one of the most underdeveloped places on Earth. In the country's wild east, where much of the mineral wealth lies, armed militias terrorize the impoverished population in a perpetual struggle to control land, mines, and supply-chain routes. This potent combination of insecurity, impunity, and existence on the edge has left more souls dead over the last 12 years than any conflict since World War II. For the living, there is equal horror: An epidemic of rape, documented meticulously for the first time this year, victimizes an estimated 48 women every hour.
In November, the DRC will hold a presidential election, a big test for the country almost a decade after its civil war officially ended. The signs look ominous, however. Late last year, for example, one of the country's most prominent human rights activists, Floribert Chebeya, was found murdered, with policemen accused of the crime. Here, the alleged perpetrators stand trial in Kinshasa.
Gwenn Dubourthoumieu/AFP/Getty Images
FSI Score: 108.0
A streak of terrible luck pushed Haiti up in the rankings this year. An earthquake in January 2010 flattened the country, leaving tens of thousands dead, including 20 percent of the country's civil servants. The international aid effort to rebuild the country was poorly coordinated; it also largely circumvented a government in desperate need of bolstering. Billions of dollars in promised aid, including $732.5 million from the U.S. government, was slow to arrive.
Still reeling from the disaster, Haiti held a presidential contest in November (with a runoff this March) that saw the election of musician Michel Martelly, known better as "Sweet Micky." Among the new president's many challenges will be convincing the more than 1 million Haitians still living in tent camps to return home. Here, a young Haitian boy begs near the cathedral in the capital, Port-au-Prince.
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FSI Score: 107.9
Two days after a petrol bomb blasted through his office, Zimbabwe's finance minister, Tendai Biti, warned that his country might be on the brink of another Rwanda-like genocide. "I just hope we avoid a Rwanda where the military is in control, law and order breaks down, and there is total violence," he told the Guardian.
Biti is not your average minister. He's a member of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), the unwilling coalition partner of President Robert Mugabe's ruling ZANU-PF party. The MDC beat Mugabe at the polls in 2008, but when the president refused to step down, neighboring South Africa brokered a deal for both parties to share rule. Despite their supposedly equal power in government, the MDC has been effectively sidelined in recent months, the victim of threats, arrests, and political marginalization. Mugabe still calls the shots. Tired of ruling with even these minimal checks from his MDC partners, Mugabe's party has vowed to call elections this year. The MDC fears that the result will be even further intimidation and violence.
The greatest tragedy in all this may be that life in Zimbabwe is actually improving. Beginning in 2008, the coalition government pulled the economy out of free fall and began to end the international marginalization of recent years. Public health, too, is improving, after a low point in 2008 when a cholera epidemic infected some 30,000. The family here buries one of the dead.
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FSI Score: 107.5
Overshadowed by the debate over NATO's military operations, the stories of a resurgent Taliban, and the West's perpetual consternation with local corruption, a humanitarian nightmare is unfolding in Afghanistan. Violence has been "metastasizing" throughout the country, in the words of FP contributor Anna Badkhen. Assaults and abuse of women have reached tragic proportions, despite U.S. promises a decade ago to liberate the country's other half. Child mortality rates are almost three times as high as they are in the rest of South Asia.
This complete lack of social well-being both contributes to Afghanistan's insecurity and is perpetuated by it -- a vicious cycle that 10 years of NATO operations has failed to end. Desperate communities are tempted to turn to the Taliban for protection, frontier justice, and even a wage; the resulting insurgent control keeps the state from being able to provide services or security in rural areas. Here, a member of the Afghan army guards a post in Kandahar that had been under siege for two days this May.
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8. CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC
FSI Score: 105.0
Perhaps the creators of the Central African Republic (CAR) foresaw that it would be one of the world's most forgotten states; its name aptly reminds you that it actually is on the map. Isolated and resource-poor, in a neighborhood with fellow top failed states Chad, Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the CAR is every bit as troubled as its harsh geography implies.
The collateral damage from the conflicts that the CAR has absorbed over its borders in recent years hasn't helped. Refugees from Darfur, Sudan, have flooded in; rebel groups in Chad drove in thousands more. Meanwhile, Uganda's infamous Lord's Resistance Army fled to the insecurity of the central African state when Kampala cracked down. On top of it all, internal rebels, militias, and even government troops pose an additional threat to civilians in a country where impunity is the only rule of law.
The numbers tell the story. Two-thirds of the country's citizens are grossly impoverished, a proportion that hasn't budged for two decades. The United Nations ranks it one of the least-developed countries in the world. Here, displaced refugees stay in a camp in the country's north in 2007.
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FSI Score: 104.8
After eight years at the forefront of U.S. attention, Iraq today is, if anything, America's forgotten war. The violence has calmed from its peak in 2007, but security is far from assured in many pockets of the country. And behind the hard stats on the number of bombings or insurgent attacks, this country is still reeling from decades of sanctions and conflict. On any number of indicators -- from educational enrollment to child mortality rates -- Iraq today looks worse than it did just a few years ago. A child here is pictured in the Zaafaraniyah district of Baghdad on January 26.
Among Iraq's hidden tragedies are the more than 3 million people who fled their homes during the worst of the fighting and still haven't gone home. This January, the U.N. refugee agency requested $280 million for the care of the displaced, now living in a dozen different states.
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10. IVORY COAST
FSI Score: 102.8
During the months between December 2010 and April 2011, the people of the Ivory Coast lived through a nightmare. Late last fall, the country went to the polls to elect a new president; the winner, Alassane Ouattara, secured victory by a tiny (but internationally certified) margin. The incumbent, Laurent Gbagbo, refused to go. A showdown ensued, lasting four months and culminating with Ouattara's armed supporters storming the outgoing president's residence. Ouattara was finally installed in office almost half a year late.
Unfortunately, during those tense weeks of political deadlock, gangs loyal to Gbagbo "cleansed" the streets of Abidjan, disappearing perceived and real Ouattara supporters. Meanwhile, as Ouattara's men marched toward the capital, they reportedly left a trail of destruction. Mass graves with as many as 1,000 bodies were discovered in the western city of Duekoue.
It may take months or longer for the Ivory Coast to get back to where it was even a year ago. The economy ground to a halt during the crisis, while the fighting hardened social divisions in a society already fractured by a recent civil war. Now that Ouattara has the job, he will have plenty of work to do. Here, one of his soldiers patrols the streets of Abidjan on May 4.
SIA KAMBOU/AFP/Getty Images
FSI Score: 102.5
When Alpha Conde became the first democratically elected president in Guinea's half-century as an independent state, he inherited a laundry list of legacies to try to undo: an overly militarized state, a culture of judicial impunity, a corrupt and unregulated mining sector (from which the government draws 70 percent of its revenues), and an impoverished population. Just over a third of Guineans can read and write.
Yet the window of calm, and the opportunity to catch up, are welcome in this brand-new democracy. "President Conde's actions -- or inactions -- will either create a positive new human rights trajectory or trap Guinea in the excesses and abuses of the past," Human Rights Watch's senior West Africa researcher Corinne Dufka said when releasing a report on the country's future. The court where Conde was inaugurated in December 2010 is pictured here.
PASCAL GUYOT/AFP/Getty Images
FSI Score: 102.3
It may not top the Failed States Index, but Pakistan has long been dubbed the world's most dangerous country in Washington policy circles -- a notion only reinforced when al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was found and killed just minutes away from a national military academy near Islamabad on May 2. Tick off any checklist of U.S. national security concerns, and Pakistan has them all: nuclear weapons, terrorist and insurgent groups galore, and rampant anti-American sentiment. Add to all this a volatile political system, and it's no wonder that Pakistan preoccupies so many Western security analysts.
Yet Pakistan isn't just dangerous for the West -- it's often a danger to its own people. It is Pakistanis who have paid the highest price for terrorist attacks in recent years. Thousands have died in attacks on Pakistani soil. Worse yet still, last summer's floods reportedly affected 14 million people; 650,000 houses were destroyed. A woman here holds up photos of her sons, former military men who died in a terrorist attack on May 30 this year.
Arif Ali/AFP/Getty Images
FSI Score: 100.3
It's difficult to think of a country that is failing more spectacularly than Yemen, which, depending on whom you ask, may have slipped into civil war in early June. When the Arab Spring made its way to Yemen, the country was already on the edge: running out of water and oil, threatened by multiple insurgencies, and home to a resurgent al Qaeda. Demonstrations to oust the 33 years-serving President Ali Abdullah Saleh were refreshingly nonviolent for months -- even though the government's response wasn't. But when a rival political family joined the fight for Saleh's ouster in late May, the capital Sanaa became a bloodbath, as pictured here. A mysterious explosion rocked the presidential mosque, gravely wounding Saleh, who then flew to Saudi Arabia for treatment.
All eyes are now on acting president Abd al-Rab Mansur al-Hadi, who will have to reconcile the opposition's demands with those of the president's family and inner circle. Whoever comes out on top will have their work cut out for them. Yemen is the poorest country in the region, with a per capita income just $2,600 -- and that's before the oil runs out. Ominously, Yemen is also the most armed country, not just in the region but in the world, with an incredible 54.8 guns for every 100 people.
AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP/Getty Images
FSI Score: 99.9
If there were a dictionary of geopolitics, Nigeria might be listed under "resource curse." Africa's largest oil producer, the country shows all the telltale signs of a country destroyed by its own wealth. The government gets between 85 and 90 percent of its revenues from oil, erasing the incentives to boost other economic sectors, even though nearly two-thirds of Nigerians work in agriculture. Political posts are so lucrative (governors may earn as much as $1 million in benefits during their terms) that elections have frequently been plagued by violence and ballot stuffing. This year's election was slightly cleaner, but violence rocked the discontented north after the results were announced. Above, election officials count ballots.
But the most apparent symptom of the resource curse in Nigeria is the dilapidated state in which so many of the country's 150 million citizens live. The percentage of Nigerians living on less than $1 a day has actually risen since 1993. Life expectancy hovers around 48.4 years, and the average Nigerian goes to school for just five years.
TONY KARUMBA/AFP/Getty Images
FSI Score: 99.1
According to the United Nations, Niger beats out only two countries when it comes to human development; the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Zimbabwe. That dismal result boils down largely to one thing: a complete lack of public services, from education to health care. Adults in this West African country have attended school for just 1.4 years on average. A mere 33 percent of births are attended by a skilled midwife or doctor.
To make matters worse, last August the usual rainy season turned unusually furious, inundating the country and destroying 5,000 people's crops and homes. A state ill-equipped to deal with its usual struggles found itself virtually powerless to help. Almost as soon as the flooding began, aid agencies started warning of a "double crisis" of massive food shortages. Just two months in office, the newly elected president, Mahamadou Issoufou, still has much work to do. A poster for one of his opponents is pictured here in March.
FSI Score: 98.7
On Aug. 4, 2010, Kenyans approved a widely applauded new constitution, one intended to modernize the government, accommodate grievances over land and local power, and prevent the electoral violence that shocked the world in late 2007 and early 2008. In many ways, Kenya's rank on this year's index still represents that legacy of political violence -- a recent history it is trying desperately to transcend.
Doing so won't be easy. The government has been slow to investigate and prosecute those responsible for the unrest, leaving the work to the International Criminal Court. Land, often handed out as patronage, also remains a contentious issue. And the violence hasn't totally disappeared. The man above was killed in a skirmish in December 2010 for an unknown reason.
Still, Kenya is a positive story in many ways. The country is on track to achieve five of eight development goals set by the United Nations in 2000. With a relatively well-educated population (87 percent are literate) and a strong middle class, it will likely retain its reputation as the economic center of East Africa.
TONY KARUMBA/AFP/Getty Images
FSI Score: 98.6
When Burundians went to the polls in May 2010, they had already gotten quite a taste of how the elections would be run: with bribery and intimidation. Human Rights Watch documented the subsequent arrest of 250 opposition leaders in June and July; journalists were also targeted. That the incumbent president, Pierre Nkurunziza, captured a majority of the votes was no surprise. All six other opposition candidates had dropped out. The elections were a window into daily life in Burundi, which is plagued by the perpetual threat of political violence.
Material conditions are also difficult. Unlike neighboring Rwanda, which has rebounded from its 1994 genocide with strong economic growth, Burundi has oscillated between conflict and calm since a related genocide in 1993. The instability has deterred investors and prevented any development from taking hold. Today, two-thirds of the population lives under the poverty line.
Burundian refugees are pictured here returning from neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Esdras Ndikumana/AFP/Getty Images
FSI Score: 98.3
You would be forgiven for not noticing that Burma held elections in November 2010. Despite the installation of a new head of state, the country's ruling military junta remains in power; the democratic opposition thwarted by procedural rules. As the U.S. State Department tactfully put it, "The generals who have ruled the country for the past 22 years missed an opportunity to begin genuine transition toward democratic governance and national reconciliation."
The ground-level result is more of the same: Opposition activists claim that 90 percent of the population lives in poverty and that the government spends as much as half of its revenue on bolstering the military. Regional uprisings against the junta's rule are often brutally quashed. In December 2010, 20,000 people, including those pictured here, fled to Thailand when rebels clashed with the government in the Thai border town of Mae Sot.
PORNCHAI KITTIWONGSAKUL/AFP/Getty Images
FSI Score: 98.3
Tiny Guinea-Bissau may have the dishonor of becoming Africa's first narcostate -- a title earned by the virtually non-existent nature of the country's government. Around 2007, drug traffickers from Latin America, alarmed at the crackdown by local governments in the region, sought alternative drug routes. Guinea-Bissau offered everything they could ask for: a state with virtually no capacity to monitor, investigate, or prosecute traffickers. Despite the government's recent efforts to crack down, as well as a full-court press by the U.N. Office on Drug and Crime, the country's attorney general admitted in February that the anti-drug fight was in "total discord."
Another factor that renders Guinea-Bissau particularly susceptible to the drug trade is the country's poverty, which creates economic incentives to join the illicit trade. There are no solid estimates of unemployment, but among youth in particular, it is likely to be untenably high. Climate change stands to do even more damage, denting agricultural yields. A delegation from Guinea-Bissau to the 2009 U.N. Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen is pictured here.
KELD NAVNTOFT/AFP/Getty Images
FSI Score: 98.2
Ethiopia has come a long way since it became the poster child of famine in the 1980s, inspiring rock musician Bob Geldof to raise money for the cause through his "Live Aid" concert. At the time, millions needed urgent assistance and the average citizen lived less than 45 years. Since then, child mortality rates have been cut in half. Life expectancy, today around 55 years, has been moving upward consistently too. In fact, the macroeconomy in Ethiopia is booming. The government estimates that growth this year could reach double digits (though the World Bank thinks a still-impressive 7.5 percent is more realistic). Here, supporters of the government mark the 20th anniversary of its rise to power in the Ethiopian capital on May 28 this year.
Despite all the progress, however, challenges abound -- not least from the impending impact on agriculture of climate change, which threatens to lengthen droughts and make rain more unpredictable. International charity Oxfam argues that such changes stand to undo many of the gains that have been made because 85 percent of the population works in agriculture.
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FSI Score: 96.3
Hundreds of miles south of the Arab world, Uganda caught the spring fever sweeping North Africa and the Middle East. Both before and after February's presidential election, which predictably gave incumbent Yoweri Museveni another mandate to rule, protesters flooded the streets. What began as a niche movement by the opposition, bemoaning the high cost of living and the abysmal average wage, soon transformed into a mass movement when government troops responded to the peaceful demonstrations with brutality (seen here). Opposition leader Kizza Besigye was arrested, his violent detention caught on YouTube in late April. By the time Museveni was inaugurated in May, it was the protesters -- not the Ugandan president's supporters -- who stole the show.
From all appearances, the democratic opening in Uganda is closing, and human rights are the collateral damage. Protests have been blocked; cell-phone service has been sporadically cut off. Ugandans hoping for relief for the growing ranks of the poor will also be disappointed. Analysts blame Museveni's government for spending more to win elections than to ensure public welfare.
22. NORTH KOREA
FSI Score: 95.6
This year, the U.N. World Food Program plans to feed some 3.5 million citizens of North Korea, thanks in part to bad harvests in November 2010. Yet that's about as much information as we have about the dire humanitarian state in North Korea today. Earning its nickname as the Hermit Kingdom, the country is fastidious about keeping news from getting out and keeping the world from getting in. Relatively cheery pictures like this one, in which people watch a soccer match in the capital, stand in stark contrast to what most analysts believe the reality to be. There are no statistics for levels of education, health, or poverty in North Korea. Relying on the government's word, interviews with refugees fleeing the border, and reports from neighboring South Korea, the picture is of a desperate country whose people are literally starving.
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23. EAST TIMOR
FSI Score: 94.9
Nearly a decade after East Timor's independence was secured from Indonesia, the legacy of conflict still haunts this small Southeast Asian island. Almost half of children younger than 5 are underweight. And the prospects don't get better as they age: Every year, 16,000 young citizens of East Timor enter the job market, hoping to win one of just 400 formal-sector jobs. In addition to getting the economy back up and running, the government will have to rebuild its military, which was devastated by the long war. Here, members of the military commemorate the anniversary of the independence declaration on Nov. 28, 2010.
MARIO JONNY DOS SANTOS/AFP/Getty Images
FSI Score: 94.6
Cameroon's President Paul Biya is one of the world's longest-ruling heads of state. This October, he'll likely win yet another mandate: The opposition has long been co-opted or repressed. Still, in recent months, discontent with the sour state of the economy has inspired massive protests on the streets of the country's two main cities. In February, men and women demonstrated in the commercial capital Douala, inspired in part by the revolutions in the Middle East.
You don't have to look far to see why discontent is rife. Public services are thin to nonexistent, while the cost of living has risen along with commodity prices. Cholera -- a disease that thrives when public services and clean water are lacking -- sickened thousands in northern Cameroon last fall, the worst outbreak in two decades. A full third of Cameroonian children see their growth stunted by poor nutrition. Clothing venders pictured here try to earn a living hawking on the streets of the capital, Yaounde.
ISSOUF SANOGO/AFP/Getty Images
FSI Score: 94.4
It is perhaps a measure of progress that instability in Bangladesh so far in 2011 has been the product of a turbulent stock market. Not so long ago, the idea that international investors would come to Bangladesh -- an agricultural country once famously dubbed a "basket case" by U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson -- would have seemed preposterous. But in recent years, investors have poured their money into Bangladeshi stocks. Fears that banks and other big investors might pull out triggered mass protests across the country, such as the one pictured here, several times this year.
Despite the frequent shocks, Bangladesh's macroeconomy still looks strong, and the government promised in May that it would see the best growth in decades. Bangladesh will need years of similar growth to transcend its years of stagnation: Two out of five Bangladeshis live under the poverty line. Any improvements will also be fighting the environmental clock. If sea levels rise just by 1 meter, scientists warn, 17 percent of the country could be submerged.
MUNIR UZ ZAMAN/AFP/Getty Images
FSI Score: 94.0
When Liberians go to the polls this October, they will have much to celebrate. Since President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf came into office in 2006, security has dramatically improved, roads have been built, and an internationally funded construction boom in the capital, Monrovia, is putting many young jobless to work. Just how neceessary new buildings are is clear in the photo above; a woman stands next to her destroyed home on a makeshift coastal shanty which disappeared when the sandy peak on which it stood eroded.
The trick may be keeping up this progress after some of that international help starts to fade away. A U.N. peacekeeping mission in the country is already pulling out some of its forces, placing more responsibility for security in the hands of government troops. This spring the country got a taste of just how easily the calm can erode, when conflict in the Ivory Coast began to spill over the border and mercenaries from Liberia were recruited to fight.
GLENNA GORDON/AFP/Getty Images
FSI Score: 93.7
Two years ago, Nepal's congress, the first since the country ended a brutal civil war, was given just one task: to draft a new national charter setting out steps to rebuild. Two years later, it hasn't succeeded, and many Nepalese, such as the protesters seen here on May 26 this year, are growing tired of the political deadlock. Ruling-party figures and former Maoist rebels, incorporated into the government in a peace deal, have yet to find a way to work together.
Unfortunately, that political delay is having material consequences. Nepal is the poorest country in South Asia, according to the United Nations, and that's unlikely to change until the peace process is implemented and security restored. There are signs that the Maoists may be losing patience -- and thinking about going back to the trenches to fight for more.
PRAKASH MATHEMA/AFP/Getty Images
FSI Score: 93.6
As a young person in Eritrea, you have two options: join the military or flee. Mandatory military service begins at age 18 for all men and women and lasts for an indeterminate period, making this small country on the Horn of Africa one of the most militarized in the region. Fearing eternal enlistment, many thousands of refugees have fled the repressive country -- widely described as "Africa's North Korea" -- in recent years. On May 1, 2008, 234 of them showed up on the Italian island of Lampedusa. A year later, the country's entire soccer team defected when it traveled to play a match in next-door Kenya.
For those who are left behind, life can be hard. The women here walk home after a long day of work on a mangrove plantation.
PETER MARTELL/AFP/Getty Images
FSI Score: 93.1
This May, Sri Lanka celebrated its second year of peace after 26 years of civil war with a separatist army in the north and east, the so-called Tamil Tigers. It was a conflict marked by brutality from start to end. The Tigers fought the central government with assassinations and terrorist attacks. The government's final push against the rebels relied on the shelling of civilians and other atrocities, according to a 2010 report by the International Crisis Group. The most recent statistics from last year indicate that some 327,000 are still displaced from the conflict.
Despite the pronounced fractures still lingering, the Sinhalese-dominated government in Colombo seems eager to forget the past. The economy is booming, thanks in part to an influx of foreign capital, spurred by sights of normality such as the cricket match pictured here on March 28 in the capital.
LAKRUWAN WANNIARACHCHI/AFP/Getty Images
FSI Score: 92.1
In 2000, when world leaders gathered at the United Nations made maternal health one of their top eight poverty-reduction goals of the next 15 years, they must have had Sierra Leone in mind. By nearly every indicator, this small West African country is the most dangerous country in the world in which to give birth. One in eight women dies during pregnancy or childbirth. Dilapidated health systems, run down by years of conflict and a government health budget of only about $7 million, are to blame. On Sept. 22, 2009, these protesters took to the streets of the capital Freetown to call for something to be done.
ISSOUF SANOGO/AFP/Getty Images
FSI Score: 91.8
After a coup ousted the Kyrgyz president in April 2010, a wave of ethnic violence swept through parts of this impoverished Central Asian state. Attacks against Uzbeks in the southern city of Osh in June sent 300,000 fleeing, 75,000 of them into neighboring Uzbekistan. Today, 2,612 refugees remain abroad. Thanks to the instability and its real human costs, Kyrgyzstan's FSI score worsened more than that of any other country except Haiti. Although a relative calm has been restored, the government will have a difficult time just moving on. On May 3 this year, an independent international commission investigating the ethnic violence accused the current administration of complicity with the killing.
Above, the military undertakes training exercises on May 25 this year.
VYACHESLAV OSELEDKO/AFP/Getty Images
REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO
FSI Score: 91.4
In late 2010, polio broke out in the Republic of the Congo, the first case in a decade. International donors rushed to revaccinate the troubled country in hopes of containing an epidemic that the world's public-health community has worked for years to stamp out.
Often overshadowed by the suffering of its similarly named neighbor, the Republic of the Congo has its own share of troubles as well. A solid half of the country's population lives under the poverty line, and life expectancy is just over 50 years. The country's president, Denis Sassou Nguesso, participates in a parade on August 15, 2010, marking the country's half century of independence from France.
GUY-GERVAIS KITINA/AFP/Getty Images
FSI Score: 91.2
When HIV/AIDS swept through southern Africa in the mid-1990s, tiny Malawi was hit particularly hard. Today, 1 million of the country's 14 million people are HIV positive, the majority of them female. Despite a huge push toward prevention, as well as international funding for treatment, the epidemic still takes its toll, particularly in rural areas. Many children like the young girl here have lost their parents to the disease. An entire generation of workers has disappeared.
Per-Anders Pettersson/ Getty Images
FSI Score: 91.0
Rwanda's Paul Kagame is today ubiquitous in conversations about development. In the wake of the country's 1994 genocide, the president has restored calm, overseen an impressive economic growth spurt, and subjected his government to near-complete transparency, posting all budgets online. His supporters rally in the capital Kigali here on Aug. 10, 2010, celebrating his victory in last year's presidential election with 92.9 percent of the vote.
Despite the very visible gains, however, Kagame has his critics, who often point to the alleged declines in political and press freedoms during his time in office. Last year, Reporters Without Borders ranked Rwanda the 10th least-free place in the world for journalists.
SIMON MAINA/AFP/Getty Images
FSI Score: 90.2
Moral clarity is not the Iranian government's strong suit: When Egyptian protesters demanded the departure of President Hosni Mubarak, Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad vowed to support them. Yet when similar pro-democracy protests enveloped the streets of Tehran days later, they were broken up. In April, demonstrators were allegedly killed by the country's security forces in Khuzestan, an economically marginalized province. Political freedom in the Persian Gulf remains a dream. The riot police pictured here stand guard in a stadium in Tehran on May 3, 2011, where protests against Saudi Arabia's policy on Bahrain broke out after a soccer match.
Equally worrying for Iran's stability is the economy, which is struggling to support the influx of young workers entering the job market each year. That might suit Western powers just fine: Sweeping sanctions, imposed in 2010 by the U.N. Security Council and various countries in hopes of dissuading the country's government from an alleged push to enrich uranium and develop nuclear weapons, are reportedly beginning to bite.
BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Images
FSI Score: 89.4
When Togo recently opened a truth and reconciliation commission to investigate political violence over the last half-century, more than 20,000 citizens had stories to tell. This May, the commission started sorting through the testimonies, recounting years of repression under a dictatorship followed by a turbulent series of elections. The police shown here prepare to halt protesters angry over the election results announced in 2008 that brought Faure Gnassingbe, the son of the former dictator, to the presidency.
For now, Togo is enjoying a period of relative calm, but it remains one of the least-developed countries in West Africa. Only a quarter of urban residents have access to clean water, for example.
AFP PHOTO / ISSOUF SANOGO
FSI Score: 88.6
Burkina Faso's usual calm was broken in early 2011 when protesters took to the street, bemoaning the rising price of food, overwhelming unemployment, and general economic decline in the West African country. By April, ranks of soldiers joined in, mutinying to the point that some wondered whether there wasn't a coup under way. In May, the students seen here ransacked government buildings in a show of support with teachers, who also joined the strikes to demand a better wage.
Restoring calm will likely take more than just a firm punishment for disloyal troops -- though the government has arrested soldiers suspected of breaking ranks. Poverty and grievances run deep in Burkina Faso, and both will take years to overcome. Some 47 percent of children under age 14 work, an indication of just how great the economic needs are.
AHMED OUOBA/AFP/Getty Images
FSI Score: 88.5
A U.N. cultural heritage site in Southeast Asia has become the scene of an increasingly intense scuffle between Cambodia and Thailand in recent months, pushing thousands of refugees out of their homes along the border. Both countries claim the temple, which dates back to the 11th century. The Cambodian military has set up a camp, pictured here, to stake its claim.
The border clashes are an unfortunate distraction from the many latent troubles of rural life. Some 90 percent of Cambodians are estimated to live outside major cities, relying largely on subsistence agriculture. A mere 18 percent of those rural dwellers have access to sanitation facilities, and only half drink clean water.
Paula Bronstein/Getty Images
FSI Score: 88.3
Looking at just the numbers, Tajikistan's HIV prevalence rate seems tragic, but manageable at 2.2 percent. What's more troubling is the momentum: When the U.N. children's agency UNICEF released its most recent assessment last fall, it named Central Asia, along with Eastern Europe, as the next flashpoints. Drug use, a lack of public-health education, and stigma are fueling the spread of HIV.
On top of the public-health crisis is a political one: Islamist insurgents, some of whom fight next to the Taliban in Afghanistan, are making a comeback near the two countries' borders. And the government, dubbed by the International Crisis Group as the "poorest and most vulnerable" in Central Asia, is ill-prepared to fight back. A young boy here plays next to a destroyed military vehicle in 2009.
VYACHESLAV OSELEDKO/AFP/Getty Images
FSI Score: 88.3
In recent years, Central Asia's most populous country, closed off to much of the world, has earned a notorious reputation as the torture capital of the region. Intolerant of political opposition, the Uzbek government has used the fight against Islamic extremists to justify its arrests of Muslims; at least 39 people were tortured to death last year. Unfortunately, there are increasingly fewer people to investigate such abuses. Human Rights Watch was expelled this March.
Uzbekistan is also absorbing some of the region's problems -- particularly the narcotics trade out of Afghanistan. The soldier here stands guard as 975 kilograms of heroin and other drugs are incinerated in 2009.
FSI Score: 88.1
Tiny Equatorial Guinea may well be the site of the world's largest modern heist. Government coffers have been robbed of billions of dollars of oil wealth. But the thieves aren't extralegal. They're members of the kleptocratic regime of President Teodoro Obiang. While the vast majority of the country's 650,000 people live in destitute poverty, Equatorial Guinea's ruler and his flamboyant son have siphoned off enough to enjoy a life that defines decadence. Life expectancy is 51 years for the average citizen; Obiang is nearly 70 and has been ruling his country for more than three decades. Here, the aging president pays his respects to Moscow's tomb of the unknown soldier on June 7, 2011.
NATALIA KOLESNIKOVA/AFP/Getty Images
FSI Score: 88.0
In April, protesters in the tiny seaside capital of Nouakchott flooded the streets to call for the end of President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz's rule. The Mauritanian leader, who took power though a coup in 2008, may not be the most ruthless or longest-lasting leader in North Africa, but he sought to put down the demonstrations with equal swiftness and overwhelming force.
The demonstrators have much cause for frustration. In Mauritania's independent history, it has seen the government change hands countless times -- not by the ballot box but in coups. The president elected in 2007 during the voting pictured here was later unseated months later. Poverty remains stubbornly high; this year. The U.N. World Food Program will feed half a million people in a country of just over 3 million.
GEORGES GOBET/AFP/Getty Images
FSI Score: 87.7
Lebanon used to be the sick child of the Middle East, plagued by civil war and a perpetual power struggle between entrenched ethnic and religious parties. These days, however, Lebanon's chaotic democracy is looking remarkably stable. The refugees streaming over the border here, on May 20, are arriving from next-door Syria, where the government has forcibly put down anti-regime protests. "Why isn't Lebanon in flames?" asked a May opinion piece in the Christian Science Monitor. Its answer: "Lebanon is arguably the most open society in the Arab world."
This is of course not to say that there aren't challenges. The country went for nearly half a year without a government in 2010 as parties haggled over how to form a ruling coalition. A third of the country's population is also impoverished, and inequality is rife. But unlike much of the rest of the region, Lebanon has a democratic pressure valve.
JOSEPH EID/AFP/Getty Images
FSI Score: 87.0
When former Colombian President Álvaro Uribe took office in 2002, he never thought of his country as a failed state. By the time he left, he understood just how close his country came to the brink, he told FP in an interview this May.
Today, Colombia's economy is growing again. Its cities are safer, and the FARC guerrillas who fought the state for decades have been pushed into a small patch of Amazonian territory. The human consequences of conflict, however, are still being viscerally felt. The children pictured here in April are members of an indigenous community, displaced when guerrillas ordered them off their land. To this day, Colombia maintains one of the world's largest displaced populations -- some 3.4 million. Production of coca, used to make cocaine, is down significantly, though still stubbornly present. Income distribution is an equally troubling problem. Colombia ranks as the world's eighth-most unequal country.
GUILLERMO LEGARIA/AFP/Getty Images
FSI Score: 86.8
On Feb. 11, Egypt shed one of its longest-standing liabilities: the 30-year rule of President Hosni Mubarak. After just 18 dramatic days of nationwide protests, the president left office, retiring to the resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh. The protesters here, praying in Tahrir Square two months after Mubarak's departure, are demanding that the former president be held to account for the alleged corruption and abuse of power during his three decades at the helm.
The "new" Egypt, led by a transitional military government that has pledged to hold democratic elections, will have its work cut out for it. The country has a strong middle class, but economic discontent has grown in recent years as youth unemployment in particular climbed to an estimated 25 percent. Tensions between Muslims and the Coptic Christian minority have also deepened in recent years, leading to violent clashes in the streets. Convincing the tourists to come back and the investors not to flee will be among the first challenges for the new leaders.
MISAM SALEH/AFP/Getty Images
FSI Score: 86.7
According to Amnesty International, 6 million Lao residents (the entire population) are facing human rights violations -- including everything from the lack of free expression and assembly to forced eviction. The government has arrested demonstrators calling for democratic change. Prisoners are treated harshly.
Of particular concern has been the case of minority Hmong refugees, who have fled to Thailand since 2008, citing a fear of persecution back in Laos. Many of the displaced have since been deported, including those pictured here in 2008. But once they arrive back in Laos, the refugees have been effectively disappeared; in 2010 the United Nations said it had no access to more than 4,000 of them.
PORNCHAI KITTIWONGSAKUL/AFP/Getty Images
FSI Score: 86.4
Since the August 2008 war, when Russian and Georgian troops clashed over the disputed territories along their border, the two countries have maintained a perilous peace. Tens of thousands of refugees, such as those pictured here, have largely returned home. And Georgia even won some $4.5 billion in international solidarity assistance, giving its economy a boost. The economy is growing at a respectable clip, estimated to reach around 5.5 percent this year.
But now three years out, the tenuous security -- and the government's single-minded focus thereon -- has taken a political toll. On May 21, an estimated 10,000 protesters demonstrated in the country's capital against President Mikheil Saakashvili's regime.
MUSTAFA OZER/AFP/Getty Images
FSI Score: 85.9
It's difficult to say just how bad things have gotten in Syria in recent weeks. Since anti-government protests began in the southern city of Daraa in April, the country has effectively been closed to all foreign observers. But reports streaming out of Syria over social media and through the testimony of fleeing refugees indicate that a government crackdown has left well over 1,000 dead. Tanks backed by helicopter gunships have rolled into residential areas; the army has arrested young men en masse while women and children flee into neighboring Turkey.
Still, the demonstrations in Syria continue. Activists say they are determined to unseat President Bashar al-Assad, who has ruled with an iron fist for a decade since taking over from his even more brutal father, Hafez. Here, a man crouches inside a burnt out building in Latakia in the country's north following two days of street violence that left an alleged 15 dead and 150 injured.
ANWAR AMRO/AFP/Getty Images
FSI Score: 85.9
Two-thirds of the people living in the Solomon Islands are either subsistence fishermen or farmers. So when an undersea earthquake struck the country in 2007, the country's economy was devastated. A subsequent tsunami flattened the capital, killing several dozen people and triggering a public-health crisis. Children in the city of Gizo, where this woman is pictured, suffered endemic diarrhea and malaria in the aftermath.
Unfortunately, earthquakes come quite often to the Solomon Islands, including three this year, in January, April, and June. Thanks to those quakes, a third of the population is thought to be homeless.
WILLIAM WEST/AFP/Getty Images
FSI Score: 85.0
The beautiful mountain kingdom of Bhutan is, in a word, isolated. Its tourism council allows only a small number of tourists to enter each year, charging high visa fees for adventurous travelers seeking to bask in the country's stunning scenery and rich culture. That culture has been preserved in part because the government has renounced traditional measures of economic growth in favor of its own metric, "gross national happiness." Unsurprisingly, the markers of modern development are also absent. Bhutan's proportion of rural residents is about twice as much as the world average, for example. A girl pictured here plays in a village near the town of Paro on Oct. 8, 2010.
Ed Jones/AFP/Getty Images
FSI Score: 85.0
It's boom times in the Southeast Asian island nation of the Philippines -- the country's economy grew near 8 percent in 2010 -- but the wealth only slowly trickles down. Much of the wealth also comes in from outside, from the 10 million Filipino workers sending home remittances. An estimated 50 percent of property sales are made with money earned outside the Philippines. Here, a homeless man sits near the wooden cart where he lives with his dog along a street in Manila on May 23 this year.
NOEL CELIS/AFP/Getty Images
FSI Score: 84.6
Angolan boys rest on the roof at Lar Kuzola orphanage in Luanda on Jan. 27, 2010. The home is sponsored by Total petroleum and the Angolan government, an effort to spread some of the country's vast oil wealth among the country's neediest. The need is great: Some 800,000 of the country's young children, about 10 percent, do not attend primary school.
JOE KLAMAR/AFP/GETTY IMAGES
53. ISRAEL/WEST BANK
FSI Score: 84.4
Israel may boast one of the world's most dynamic, high-tech economies, but in June 2010, Save the Children, a British-based charity, released alarming figures describing the humanitarian situation in the occupied West Bank. For example, nearly half the children growing up in Area C, the portion under full Israeli control, suffered from water-borne diarrhea, a major contributor to malnutrition.
Here, Palestinian children play on a swing in the village of Fasayel in the West Bank on June 14, 2011.
SAIF DAHLAH/AFP/Getty Images
PAPUA NEW GUINEA
FSI Score: 84.2
On March 22, 2010, protesters in Papua New Guinea took to the streets to bemoan the human rights situation in the island nation. Among other abuses, violence against women is pronounced, polygamy is widely practiced, and the government has forcefully evicted residents without warning. Police arrested the protester pictured here.
BANJIR AMBARITA/AFP/Getty Images
FSI Score: 83.8
The landlocked country of Zambia is one of the world's poorest. Life expectancy hovers at just 47.3 years, and the average income is a mere $1,359 per year. Yet thanks to a political opening in recent years, there is hope for improvements. The cost of business has been lowered significantly in recent years, for example, so much so that other states in the region are emulating Zambian policies. On Oct. 29, 2009, these supporters of Zambia's main opposition Patriotic Front leader Michael Sata listen to his speech during a rally in the capital, Lusaka.
THOMAS NSAMA/AFP/Getty Images
FSI Score: 83.8
Comorian electoral agents count ballots on Dec. 26, 2010 in Moroni, after the Indian Ocean archipelago voted for a new president. The U.S. State Department dubbed the vote "generally free and fair" -- a promising sign in a country whose history is marred by coups.
SIMON MAINA/AFP/Getty Images
FSI Score: 83.6
Having suffered 30 years of violent conflict, Mozambique's current economic state -- amid its second decade of peace -- is impressive. The economy is expected to grow at a brisk 7 percent this year, thanks in part to the rising price of commodities. The Mozambican woman here holds her baby as she travels on a new rail line that connects the coal-mining city of Moatize with a port in Beira on Nov. 3, 2010.
GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFP/Getty Images
FSI Score: 83.2
Two years after the disc jockey turned opposition leader Andry Rajoelina seized power in a coup, southern Africa's politicians are still trying to manage the political fallout. The ousted president, Marc Ravalomanana, has never accepted his ouster. The result has been a political deadlock that has frozen the country's development for more than 24 month. Above, the presidential palace a day after Ravalomanana fled.
The economy is finally beginning to grow again, however, after a steep decline in 2009. The country's wealth of natural resources, including wood, minerals, and uncultivated land, are drawing investors back despite the ongoing instability.
ALEXANDER JOE/AFP/Getty Images
FSI Score: 82.9
One of the world's most unequal countries, Bolivia has long struggled to incorporate its vast indigenous population into modern society. Under President Evo Morales, the first leader to claim indigenous heritage, the country's ethnically indigenous population, comprising two-thirds of the people, have gained vastly more legal protection. Poverty remains a problem, however; the World Bank's most recent estimates put about three-quarters of the indigenous community below the poverty line (compared with half of non-indigenous citizens). Here, a woman of Aymara ethnicity sells donkey milk in El Alto, 12 kilometers from the capital of La Paz, on May 25 this year.
AIZAR RALDES/AFP/Getty Images
FSI Score: 82.6
This April, Djiboutian President Ismail Omar Guelleh won a third term in office in an election after arresting two opposition figures and suspending a U.S. observation mission. Despite its poor human rights record, Djibouti is home to the largest U.S. military contingent in Africa. The onlooks here watch as Guelleh speaks at a campaign rally on April 6.SIMON MAINA/AFP/Getty Images