Failed States

The Worst of the Worst

From Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, see which countries fared worst across 12 indicators.

For what life in a failed state looks like, click here.

Where are the 25 most failed states located?

Latin America: 1 country

Asia: 2 countries

Central Asia/Middle East: 5 countries

Africa: 17 countries


Factionalized Elites:

Sudan, Ivory Coast

The post-election violence following Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo's refusal to cede power in 2010 left thousands dead.

Extrenal Intervention:

Afghanistan, Ivory Coast

Foreign troops have been deployed in Afghanistan for 20 of the past 33 years.

Demographic Pressures:

Democratic Republic of the Congo

The DRC ranks last on the International Food Policy Research Institute's 2011 Global Hunger Index, with about 70 percent of its population lacking access to adequate food and 25 percent of children suffering from malnourishment.

Brain Drain: 


Of the 1,200 doctors trained in Zimbabwe between 1990 and 2001, only 360 were still on the country by 2006.

Group Grievance:


Until South Sudan became a country in July 2011, Sudan was embroiled in civil war for 39 of the 55 years since it gained independence in 1956.



Although Angola is Africa's second-biggest oil producer, up to 40 percent of the country's population lives below the poverty line.

Guess which country came out worst on half of the 12 indicators?


Poverty and Economic Decline:

Nearly 30,000 children under the age of 5 were estimated to have died in a 90-day period during the height of Somalia's famine last summer.


Sixteen percent of Somalia's population, about 1.5 million people, was internally displaced in 2011, the largest percentage of any country.

Public Services:

In 2012, just 7 percent of Somalia's rural population had adequate access to improved water sources such as household connections, public standpipes, and protected wells or springs

Legitimacy of the State:

Transparency International ranked Somalia the world's most corrupt country in 2011.

Human Rights:

There is no law against spousal rape in Somalia, and an estimated 98 percent of girls undergo genital mutilation.

Security Forces:

The U.S. State Department's 2011 human rights report describes the Somali police as "generally ineffective," as well as "underpaid and corrupt."

Mohamed Abdiwahab/AFP/Getty Images

Failed States

States of Change

Which countries gained and declined the most in this year's Failed States Index?

In the seven years of the Failed States Index, Somalia has had the ignominious distinction of occupying the worst spot for the past four years straight. Even with a relatively functional and pretty much autonomous "statelet" in the north, Somaliland, the country as a whole still manages to score badly enough to make up for that glimmer of unrecognized hope.

Worse still, Somalia is in no danger of losing its position anytime soon. A combination of widespread lawlessness, ineffective government, terrorism, insurgency, crime, abysmal development, and a penchant for inconveniencing the rest of the world by taking merchant vessels hostage has given the country a score that -- much as they seem to try -- neither Chad, Sudan, Zimbabwe, or the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) can hope to match.

At first glance, the map tells a broader story of stagnation. A few outposts of relative order -- Western Europe, the north and south extremes of the Americas, Australia, and New Zealand, along with Japan and South Korea -- represent the world's hubs of sustainability and relative stability. But between those areas of green and yellow is an awful lot of red and orange, representing different degrees of danger. With some exceptions, the deepest shades of red can be found in South Asia and across Africa's middle, where conflict is frequent and human suffering all too common. Sadly, the colors have not changed much over the years.

But it would be wrong to assume that one year's Failed States Index map is a carbon copy of its predecessors. This year, Mother Nature was to blame for some of the most significant worsening. Haiti, which saw a devastating earthquake in January 2010, suffered the most, climbing to the fifth spot on the index. Another massive temblor shook Chile in February, killing as many as 500 people and destroying buildings and infrastructure. Deadly floods in Benin, the worst since 1963, displaced nearly 700,000 people and led to significant outbreaks of cholera. Drought and poor harvests led to a food crisis in Niger. Although natural disasters affecting major population centers will almost always have a significant impact on countries, the state's capacity to adequately respond makes the difference between a manageable crisis and a humanitarian catastrophe.

Elsewhere in Africa, ethnic violence in northern Liberia and renewed separatist troubles in Senegal's Casamance region led to setbacks in both countries' progress. In Rwanda, the increasing authoritarianism of President Paul Kagame, including further restrictions on the media and opposition groups, did no favors for the country's score card. But the picture in Africa is not all bad, with three of the top 10 most improved countries for 2011. Sudan and Chad improved their scores slightly largely due to minor abatements of existing conflicts in both countries; Algeria also improved substantially, in no small part due to the government's more effective combating of regional terrorist groups.

Surprisingly, two of the 10 most significant declines came in Western Europe: by Ireland, a victim of severe economic woes and recipient of an EU bailout, and Belgium, where even the threat of senior politicians' wives abstaining from connubial duties failed to inspire the formation of a government. Ireland's score worsened by 2.9 points, the fourth-worst year-on-year performance of any country, and Belgium's score worsened by 2.1 points, representing the tenth-greatest decline. (In a historic shift, Finland upended Norway as the best-performing country on this year's index.)

After Haiti, the second-most significant worsening was experienced by Kyrgyzstan, whose 2010 uprising, marred by ethnic and regional violence, has largely been forgotten as the world's attention has been diverted to the upheavals of the Arab Spring. (Stability is slowly returning under the interim government of Roza Otunbayeva.) Another of the largest deteriorations recorded was actually by Tunisia, the one Arab country whose revolution began within the index's data collection period.

There are, thankfully, some good news stories from this year's index. Although only three years ago the world looked on as Russian tanks rolled into Georgia, the small Black Sea country experienced the largest improvement of any state in the 2011 index, though much of it was recovered ground following the devastating war that uprooted thousands. Georgia has profited from significant government reforms to the security apparatus, including greater transparency and accountability, as well as a clampdown on endemic corruption. Both policies have led to a substantial reduction in organized crime and thus greater internal stability.

Serbia's score improved the second-most, helped by more arrests of war-crimes suspects and a continued path toward European integration. The Fund for Peace's decision to remove Kosovo from Serbia's calculations, and thus relieve Serbia of what had become -- statistically, at least -- somewhat of a millstone around its neck, also contributed to the country's improvement. Nevertheless, like Georgia, Serbia's progress is still painfully slow.

Continued economic growth saw the scores of China and Peru improve markedly, with respective annual growth rates of 10 and 8.7 percent. Even Sudan, Chad, and East Timor -- all of which continue to experience significant hardship -- made modest improvement. In the Arab world, two countries largely untouched by much of the recent uprisings, Algeria and Lebanon, also happened to be two of the most improved countries on the index.

Looking forward to 2012, and given the events of 2011 so far, it is fairly safe to assume that the likes of Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, and Yemen will probably be the source of much discussion in next year's index. And let's not forget that on July 9, it is widely expected that Southern Sudan will be recognized as an independent country and U.N. member state.

Although all states are subject to pressures, stable and successful ones demonstrate an ability to deal with them effectively, and especially through their capacity to absorb shocks such as economic crises, protests, and natural disasters. The sad reality is that continued failure or inability to deal effectively with their problems will keep countries like Somalia, Sudan, and the DRC firmly anchored at the top of the Failed States Index for years to come.