The"failed state" label may conjure up undifferentiated images of poverty and squalor, but a range of troubles plague the 60 countries atop this year's Failed States Index -- an annual collaboration between Foreign Policy and the Fund For Peace that assesses 177 countries. (Scores are assigned out of a possible 120 points, with higher numbers indicating poorer performance.) Yes, inadequate health care, paltry infrastructure, and basic hunger are the most fundamental culprits, but sometimes it is a ruthless dictator, ethnic tension, or political corruption that is most to blame. In photos and words, here is a glimpse of what life is like in each of the world's most failed states -- and just how it came to be that way.
Above, the tent of National Transitional Council fighters sits a few miles west of Sirte, the former stronghold of deposed tyrant Muammar al-Qaddafi, as the sun sets on Sept. 29, 2011.
An upward arrow means a country moved up in the rankings (meaning conditions relatively worsened)*.
A downward arrow means a country moved down in the rankings (conditions relatively improved)*.
A dash means there was no change in status.
*Clarification: It is possible for a country's rank to go up (e.g., move up from No. 7 to No. 6, in the case of Afghanistan), but for its score (conditions) to improve (e.g., decrease in score from 107.5 to 106.0, in the case of Afghanistan).
Photo: ARIS MESSINIS/AFP/Getty Images