We’ve talked a bit before about some things, some great and some dubious, that the United States doesn’t lead the world in. That got us thinking about who the world leaders must be in the things that nobody would ever want to claim. Some of the things we found were surprising, some were sadly not, and some will outright shock you. And yes, Americans, we make more than one appearance.
World Leader: Honduras
Nowhere in the world are you more likely to be killed than Honduras, which averages one murder every 75 minutes. Mexico’s bloody gang warfare may grab international headlines, but Honduras’s murder rate is four times higher.
It’s the perfect storm of gang domination and police collusion. Of a population of about 8.2 million, there are 65,000 gang members. Just two percent of criminal cases result in convictions. Thousands of gang members have been deported to Honduras from Los Angeles, and gangs have infiltrated the police force and legal system. The government struggles to provide basic services, let alone deal with corruption on such a massive scale. Ninety percent of all cocaine flights bound for the US travel through Honduras. There does not seem to be much light at the end of the tunnel either. The mayor of Tegucigalpa, Ricardo Alvarez, literally made “free funerals for everyone” part of his platform— and won.
World Leader: Zimbabwe
Most people are familiar with the concept of inflation, in which there is a slow, steady rise in the general level of prices. The term “hyperinflation” is used to describe an episode where a country experiences a monthly inflation rate greater than 50 percent for a sustained period. Since 1950, 18 countries have undergone periods of hyperinflation, none as severe as terrifying recent events in Zimbabwe. The African nation can now claim the dubious honor of having the most devalued currency in the history of the world. What does this mean, exactly? Well, in the perfect 50 percent monthly inflation scenario described above, an item purchased for $1 on the first day of one year would cost $130 on the first day of the next. Zimbabwe’s peak month of inflation, November 2008, was estimated at 6.5 sextillion percent. That’s not a number we made up—in case you don’t know off the top of your head it’s a one followed by 21 zeroes.
When a country finds itself printing hundred-trillion dollar bills—as in one single note with a face value of $100 trillion—things simply cannot continue. Late in 2008, it was reported that one American dollar was worth 642,371,437,695,221,000 Zimbabwean dollars. And if you think having a wallet full of hundred-trillion dollar bills sounds awesome, remember a single egg costs $35 billion.
The Zimbabwe dollar was wisely abandoned in 2009, one of the only instances of complete abandonment of any nation’s currency. They didn’t bother trying to replace it. All business in Zimbabwe is now conducted using foreign money.
World Leader: South Korea
You may remember that South Korea appeared on the list linked in the introduction—they easily lead the globe in Internet speed. They also lead the industrialized world in suicides, and there actually does appear to be a connection between the two stats.
In the early 1990s, before the advent of the Internet, and before the rapid modernization of South Korea, the country’s suicide rates were among the lowest in the world—about eight per 100,000. Since the “wiring” of the country, suicide rates have skyrocketed to over three times that number. Anywhere between 35 and 40 South Koreans kill themselves every day. The incredible speed with which the country has modernized (South Korea is now the world’s 12th-largest economy) combined with societal stigma and lack of understanding toward depression and mental illness seem to be heavily contributing factors—not to mention the high cultural significance placed on academic achievement and career prosperity. South Korea is also one of few modern societies to experience rashes of “sympathy suicides,” sometimes numbering in the hundreds or even thousands, when a public figure takes their own life.
7Infant Mortality In Developed World
World Leader: United States
It might seem surprising, but the US has by far the worst first-day infant mortality rate in the developed world. Every year in the US, about 11,000 babies die on the first day of their lives. The number is 50 percent more than all other developed countries combined, and while one doesn’t typically think of the States as a dangerous, unsafe place to give birth, there are some pretty common-sense factors that come into play.
For one thing, the US also has easily the highest rate of teen pregnancy in the world, and half of all pregnancies in the US are unplanned. Teen mothers are less likely to receive proper prenatal care, resulting in more premature, low birth weight pregnancies. And while neonatal (premature infant) care has come a long way in recent decades, the US preterm birth rate is one in eight, second in the industrialized world.
World Leader: Burkina Faso
Due to civil strife, political unrest, and centuries of outright exploitation, the countries of the African continent are unfortunately likely to show up on lists like this. The tiny, landlocked African country of Burkina Faso, despite boasting a university and free public education system, leads the world in illiteracy, with only 26 percent of the adult population able to read.
As bad as that may seem, it actually represents a significant improvement over the very recent past. In the last decade there has been a concerted effort by volunteer organizations to raise the literacy rate in Burkina Faso. As recently as 2008, the adult rate was half of what it is today. School enrollment rose from about 35 percent to almost 60 percent between 1997 and 2008. The results are beginning to show, and with a rapidly increasing rate of literacy among children, it’s hoped that Burkina Faso won’t hold this distinction for long.
World Leader: Macedonia
The Republic of Macedonia is a fairly young nation, having gained its independence from Yugoslavia in 1991. Since then it has struggled to develop its economy. In 2012, Macedonia was the only nation in the world with an unemployment rate of more than 30 percent.
That staggering 32 percent unemployment rate dwarfs developed nations like the US and UK (both slightly over eight percent), and even exceeds war-torn regions like the the Gaza Strip (around 25 percent). Macedonia’s rough transition from socialism to the free market was a particularly painful one, and despite over a decade of economic reforms (and a relatively high average income) Macedonia’s unemployment rate is rivaled only by its poverty rate, which is about 25 percent.
World Leader: Somalia
According to global anti-corruption think tank Transparency International, the world is an extremely corrupt place. On a 10-point index, 132 out of 180 countries were found to have a score of less than five. Of those, 56 were rated at less than three. And then there are the nations of Myanmar (formerly Burma) and Somalia, locked in a race to the bottom. The two tied several years in a row at an abysmal 1.4 until Somalia pulled ahead in 2010 with a 1.1 rating.
Many people immediately think “piracy” when hearing of Somalia, and of course it’s a huge factor. Without a government for the better part of a dozen years, the current UN-installed regime has struggled to assert any real control since its 2004 formation. Without little real authority (but a healthily raging network of warlords and pirates), Somalia may very well be the first country to bottom out at a perfect zero on the Transparency International index one of these years. Meanwhile, Myanmar is a divided country of business and military elite on one side, and a desperately impoverished populace on the other.
World Leader: Philippines
Technically, the tiny South Pacific island nations of Vanuatu and Tonga are the most prone to natural disasters in the world, but their populations total less than a half-million people combined. In practice, the UN consider the most disaster-prone nation in the world to be the Philippines, with its population of almost 100 million.
After 2012′s Typhoon Bopha, which left one million people homeless, humanitarian organizations began appealing for disaster relief funds and also for better preparedness training. According to one study, over half the country’s area, comprising over 85 percent of its economy, is at risk from multiple natural hazards. A 2012 International Organization for Migration report concluded that the Philippines could spare one-fifth of its population from the effects of natural disasters by shoring up the protection of its coral reefs, which provide a natural barrier against tsunamis and tropical storms. Tropical and coastal nations, of course, made up the bulk of the top 10 disaster-prone areas.
World Leader: United States
Not only does the US have the highest rate of incarceration in the developed world, it has held that record since 2002. An incredible 500 out of every 100,000 people in the United States is in prison. That’s right, you’re about six times more likely to be imprisoned in the United States than you are to be killed in Honduras.
Between 1972 and 2010, the rate of incarceration grew steadily in the US, even as violent crime rates dropped. If you’re wondering how that’s even possible, the answer is simple: drugs. According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, drug offenders constitute fully 47 percent of those incarcerated in the US, far more than all murderers, robbers, rapists, arsonists, and kidnappers combined. More, in fact, than all other types of crime combined except one—immigration offenses, which account for about 12 percent.
World Leader: Nigeria
Unfortunately, there are still very few places in the world where it’s not pretty difficult to be gay. We’re just now at a point where most civilized nations are statistically barely more accepting of homosexuality than not. There may not be any great, friendly places to be gay, but there’s one place above all others to not be gay—Nigeria. There, fewer than one percent of the population finds homosexuality acceptable. In 2013, their government passed the harshest anti-gay law in world history, providing for up to 14 years in prison for simply displaying affection toward someone of the same sex. This was followed by another, separate bill, outlawing gay marriage. Apparently in Nigeria, rampant corruption, terrorism, and religious violence can be tolerated, so long as one isn’t forced to look upon two people of the same sex smooching.