The 20 Worst Countries to Live in Right Now

South Sudan

There are some places in the world where it really doesn’t pay to be born. Low life expectancies, deplorable standards of health care, high infant mortality rates, malnutrition, disease… the list of reasons why you should be thanking your lucky stars not to live in any of the countries in today’s round-up is endless. Thanks to the annual Human Development Index report,  we now know which countries perform the worst when it comes to financial stability, life expectancy, and education. The results make for some interesting reading…

20. Côte d’Ivoire

  • Human Development Index: 0.492
  •  Life Expectancy at Birth: 54.1
  •  Average Years of Education: 5.2
  •  GNI per capita: $3481

The fact that only 22.4% of the residents of Cote d’Ivoire have at least some high school education is bad; the fact that many kids never even reach school age is even worse. Cote d’Ivoire has one of the highest infant mortality rates in the world, with 71.3 in every 1000 dying at birth. The outlook for the mothers is no less grim, with around 720 dying for every 100,000 births. Even if they manage to survive birth, Ivory Coast natives don’t exactly have a long and happy life to look forward to, with most only making it to 54.1 years old.

19. Malawi

  • Human Development Index: 0.477
  •  Life Expectancy at Birth: 63.7
  •  Average Years of Education: 4.5
  •  GNI per capita: $1064

It may not have the same overcrowding issues as certain other African countries, but when it comes to wealth, health and happiness, Malawi can compete with the worst of them. An underwhelming 16.3% of adults can claim at least some high school education, leading to some of the lowest literacy rates in the world. Short life expectancies, high infant mortality rates, an abysmal economy, and widespread poverty complete the bleak picture.

18. Djibouti

  • Human Development Index: 0.476
  •  Life Expectancy at Birth: 62.6
  •  Average Years of Education: 4.1
  •  GNI per capita: $3392

The Lonely Planet describes Dijobouti as “refreshingly devoid of large-scale development”. Which is true enough, although the adjective “refreshing’ may need revising. Djibouti is a country with a rapidly expanding workforce and very few jobs, resulting in high unemployment and widespread poverty.

17. Ethiopia

  •  Human Development Index: 0.463
  •  Life Expectancy at Birth: 65.9
  •  Average Years of Education: 2.7
  • GNI per capita: $1719

Ethiopia… we all remember the heartbreaking pictures from the 1980s. 30 years later, and while the famine may be over, the outlook for Ethiopia’s citizens has barely improved. A shockingly low 12.5% of adults have received any form of high school education, while medical care is low to non-existent, with only one doctor for every 40,000 inhabitants.

16. Gambia

  • Human Development Index: 0.460
  • Life Expectancy at Birth: 61.4
  •  Average Years of Education: 3.5
  •  GNI per capita: $1516

Despite being one of the smallest countries in Africa, Gambia has some of the highest incidences of premature deaths on the continent; sadly, most of these deaths are caused by entirely preventable diseases like malaria and tuberculosis. With only one doctor for every 10,000 people, however, it’s easy to understand the reason for a life expectancy of just 61.4 years.

15. Guinea

  •  Human Development Index: 0.459
  •  Life Expectancy at Birth: 60.6
  •  Average Years of Education: 2.6
  •  GNI per capita: $2067

All you need to know about why Guinea makes our list is available in just one statistic. 1 in every 10 children will die before they reach the age of five. 1 in every 10 children will die before they reach the age of five.

Some things are worth repeating.

14. Democratic Republic of Congo

  • Human Development Index: 0.457
  •  Life Expectancy at Birth: 60
  •  Average Years of Education: 6.8
  •  GNI per capita: $796

With a GNI per capita of just $796, the Democratic Republic of Congo ranks as one of the poorest countries on earth. It’s also one of the unhealthiest, with preventable diseases like malaria and tuberculous cutting a swath across the country’s citizens. Infant mortality is predictably high, while life expectancy in unsurprisingly low.

13. Guinea-Bissau

  •  Human Development Index: 0.455
  •  Life Expectancy at Birth: 57.8
  •  Average Years of Education: 3
  •  GNI per capita: $1552

If you’re thinking of popping out a kid on your travels around Guinea-Bissau, take my advice and just don’t. If they’re lucky enough to make it past birth (many don’t), there’s a more than 10% chance they’ll die before they reach the age of 5. That’s 124 kids out of every 1000 dying unnecessarily through poverty, malnutrition, and disease. Enough said.

12. Yemen

  • Human Development Index: 0.452
  •  Life Expectancy at Birth: 65.2
  •  Average Years of Education: 3
  •  GNI per capita: $1239

Yemen is a country in crisis. The war that’s been waging in the Middle Eastern country since 2015 has resulted in famine, disease, and an almost constant risk of airstrikes and bombings. As the Guardian notes, it’s also resulted in the displacement of 3 million people. The United States has accepted 50 of them.

11. Eritrea

  • Human Development Index: 0.440
  •  Life Expectancy at Birth: 65. 5
  •  Average Years of Education: 4
  •  GNI per capita: $1750

If your population is spiraling out of control, your citizens receive only 4 years in education, over 50% of children are starving, and your nation is considered one of the worst in the world for standards of health, education and wealth, what would you, as a reasonable government, do? If you’re anything like Eritrea’s government, you’ll put a nail in your own coffin by refusing all offers of foreign aid. Good job, politicians, good job.

10. Mozambique

  • Human Development Index: 0.437
  •  Life Expectancy at Birth: 58.9
  •  Average Years of Education: 3.5
  •  GNI per capita: $1093

Nations who rely on agriculture as their primary source of revenue tend to be poor, and Mozambique is no exception, with an annual GNI per capita of just $1,093. Gender inequality is also rife, with only 1.4% of women having at least some form of high school education (compared to 6.2% of men), and only 57% of women aged 15-24 having the ability to read (compared to 80% of men). Surprisingly, the gender inequality doesn’t extend to parliament, which, with a 40-50 female-to-male ratio, is one of the most gender-balanced in the world

9. Liberia

  •  Human Development Index: 0.435
  •  Life Expectancy at Birth: 63
  • Average Years of Education: 4.7
  •  GNI per capita: $667

Gender inequality, poor literacy standards, a GNI per capita of just $667, extreme poverty… the list of reasons Liberia makes our list is predictably awful and unsettlingly long.

8. Mali

  •  Human Development Index: 0.427
  •  Life Expectancy at Birth: 58.5
  •  Average Years of Education: 2.3
  •  GNI per capita: $1953

If there are two things that will improve a country’s fortunes almost overnight, it’s giving women an education and access to birth control. Mali’s women have neither, which may account for the appalling state of the nation. With each woman averaging 7 childbirths over her painfully short lifetime (the average life expectancy is just 58.5 years, one of the lowest in the world), Mali’s population is out of control, stretching the already limited public health services to breaking point.

7. Burkina Faso

  •  Human Development Index: 0.423
  •  Life Expectancy at Birth: 60.8
  • Average Years of Education:1.5
  •  GNI per capita: $1650

Only 2% of adults in Burkina Faso have received some form of secondary education, leaving 2/3rds of the country’s population unable to read. With an economy that’s heavily focused on agriculture (over 85% of the country is employed in the sector), the country is predictably poor, with a GNI per capita of just $1650.

6. Sierra Leone

  •  Human Development Index: 0.419
  •  Life Expectancy at Birth: 52.2
  •  Average Years of Education: 3.5
  •  GNI per capita: $1240

After a decade of turmoil, civil war and unrest, Sierra Leone emerged blinking into the sunshine in 2002. However, the end of the war hasn’t meant the nation’s citizens are any better off; as with many agrarian economies, Sierra Leone is extremely poor. Couple that with the worst infant mortality rate in the world (10% of live births end in the death of the child, and quite often the mother too. If the child is lucky enough to make it past birth, there’s a 16% chance it’ll die before the age of 5), and you have a country that still has a long way to go before it shakes off its tumultuous past.

5. Burundi

  •  Human Development Index: 0.417
  •  Life Expectancy at Birth: 57.9
  •  Average Years of Education: 3
  •  GNI per capita: $702

Burundi’s problems start and end with the fact that each woman averages 6 births over the course of her lifetime (a meager 57.9 years, if you’re interested). As we’ve already learned from a few of our previous entries, unsustainable birth rates = extreme poverty, malnutrition (over half the county’s children have stunted growth as a result of their inadequate diet), overstretched public health services, and a booming trade in child trafficking.

4. Chad

  •  Human Development Index: 0.404
  •  Life Expectancy at Birth: 53.2
  •  Average Years of Education: 2.3
  •  GNI per capita: $1750

The average Chadian can look forward to 2.3 years of schooling, a 37% chance of ever being able to read, a GNI per capita of $1750, a 15% chance of seeing their child die before the age of 5, a 980 in 100,000 chance that either they or their partner will die in childbirth, and a more than average chance they’ll die of something entirely preventable and eminently treatable before the age of 53.2 years.

3. South Sudan

  • Human Development Index: 0.388
  • Life Expectancy at Birth: 57.3
  • Average Years of Education: 4.8
  •  GNI per capita: $963

Since winning independence from Sudan in 2011, things just seem to go from bad to worse for South Sudan. Like many of Africa’s poorest countries, South Sudan faces development issues compounded by an extraordinarily high population growth rate (the population has increased by around 4% every year for the past 9, making it the third fastest-growing country in the world). Even by sub-Saharan levels, the rate of infant mortality is high, a fact exacerbated by inadequate nutrition and a lax attitude towards vaccines. When kids are dying from preventable diseases like measles in their droves, you know something’s gone wrong somewhere.

2. Central African Republic

  • Human Development Index: 0.367
  • Life Expectancy at Birth: 52.9
  • Average Years of Education: 4.3
  • GNI per capita: $663

With a GNI per capita of just $663, the Central African Republic ranks as one of the poorest countries in the world. Its problems are compounded with one of the highest teenage pregnancy rates in the world, and an unsustainably high birth rate of 7.6 births per woman. Of the children that survive delivery, 1 in 10 will die before they reach the age of 5, usually of preventable diseases. Of those children that reach maturity, only 15.5% will receive enough schooling to achieve basic literacy standards.


  •  Human Development Index: 0.354
  • Life Expectancy at Birth: 60.4
  • Average Years of Education: 2
  •  GNI per capita: $906
  • A little trivia about Niger for you:
  • Women will average 7.6 births over the course of their lives.
  • Around 1 in 10 children will die before their fifth birthday.
  • The average citizen receives just 2 years of education.
  • 15.5% of the county is literate.
  • Only 13% of parliament is female.
  • It has the highest teenage pregnancy rate in the world.
  • Malnutrition is at epidemic levels.
  • Disease is rife.
  • The average life expectancy is 60.4 years.
  • The GNI per capita is one of the lowest in the world at $906

Next time someone argues that the money going into foreign aid would be better directed into home security, rattle a few of those fun facts off.

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