As part of the Planet Deadly travel guide I’ve compiled a list of countries for the more adventurous amongst you. As virtually every country on this list is somewhere hot and sunny you can pack your trunks and a flowery shirt. You might also want to back a bullet proof vest as these countries all have a rich and varied culture of killing each other. In every one of these countries murder appears to be the national sport. Merely stepping off the plane is playing Russian roulette.
There is an abundance of sources for dangerous countries including the United Nations list of most murders per head and various government travel advisories. I’ve decided to mix these up and throw in a bit of anecdotal evidence to compile this list of countries you may not want to put on your bucket list.
I have to admit the idea of sipping a pina colada on the shores of some palm fringed beach in Acapulco has its appeals. And for many that is what Mexico is all about. But stray from the well beaten tourist track and a whole array of horrible fates await you! Violent crime organised by the infamous drug cartels is so serious in some areas of Mexico that they had to call the army in – and even that hasn’t helped. Most notorious of all the cartels is Los Zetas whose list of crimes is brutal beyond belief. Victims were often decapitated, hearts cut out and leader Miguel Treviño Morales reputedly had a penchant for cooking victims in oil drums.
If 100,000 drug related deaths wasn’t enough there is run of the mill violent crime too. Kidnapping, robbery and corrupt police are par for the course.
In case that hasn’t put you off there is also some risk from natural disasters. Devastating earthquakes are not unheard of and Mexico has a hurricane season. Oh and did I mention they have some active volcanoes too!
Yes, Greenland! Despite being one of the most sparsely populated countries on Earth this North European country tops the international death rates list. These figures aren’t down to rogue polar bear attacks or the bitterly cold winters but are a weighted rank based on murder and suicide rates. Not only do those Greenlanders hate each other, they hate themselves. The murder rate in Greenland higher than most African nations and around 20 times that of most other European countries. The suicide rate is off the scale, nearly double that of its nearest rival. If these statistics are to believed then more than every thousandth Greenlander kills themselves. For a country with a population of just 65, 000 this must be a real worry.
With no travel advisories from any of the usual government agencies it may be that these alarming figures shouldn’t concern visitors. However, anyone wishing to stay long term should probably have a sunny disposition.
8. South Africa
South Africa is often held up as the shining example of an African country with a place at the international top table. Unfortunately nowhere in Africa is safe. Serious crime in South Africa is at epidemic levels. According to the various governmental travel advisories violent crime such as rape and murder are routine and foreigners are fair game. Muggings, armed assaults and theft are also commonplace and tourist areas are targeted.
However, rape aside, South Africa’s speciality is carjacking. This is the country where they made a flame thrower system you could fit to your car so at the push of a button anyone standing next to your car would get toasted.
In addition to the risks above there are the usual health risks associated with sub-Saharan Africa. South Africa has one of the highest rates of HIV/AIDS in the world, so in official speak “exercise appropriate precautions if engaging in activities that expose you to risk of infection”. Other unpleasant diseases include cholera, malaria, typhoid, hepatitis, rabies and the ever popular Rift Valley Fever.
I know I need to get with the times and refer to both Sudan and South Sudan but frankly there isn’t much point. They are both pretty hairy places that most people probably shouldn’t and wouldn’t visit. The general consensus amongst government travel advisories is – If you are in either Sudan then leave. If you are not the do not go.
The fact that there are two Sudans now makes little difference; originally the united Sudan was full of christians and muslims who wanted to kill each other. Now there is a border between them so they can have a proper war.
On top of that there are plenty of other tribal and ethnic groups within both countries who are quite happy to kill each other. Whilst they may not hate you personally it probably isn’t the safest scenario.
As a foreigner you will also be a potential target for both terrorists and thieves, or if you are really unlucky both.
Consistently topping the murder rates for South America is Colombia, and that’s after the police have manipulated the figures so as not to affect the holiday trade. Renowned for coffee and cocaine it appears that much of the country’s troubles stem from the latter.
OK, so lots of countries have great murder rates. Where Colombia really excels is in kidnappings, it is the kidnap capital of the world. The practice has a rich heritage going back to the 1970s and is favoured by everyone from drugs cartels to guerrilla movements and even disgruntled coffee roasters (sorry, I made that one up). Back in 2000 kidnapping was all the rage and there were a reported 3,752 cases. Admittedly, things have improved slightly on this front, but hey, there’s still the homicide rate – you are 30 times more likely to get murdered in Colombia than in practically any Western country (well, except the USA).
In addition to the pointless violent crime there are also a number of armed guerrilla groups such as the FARC, ELN, EPL, MAQL and M-19. I don’t know what any of those letters stand for but they have waged a low level war throughout rural Colombia for over 40 years.
5. Democratic Republic of the Congo
It was a toss up between the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and any number of other basket case countries in this central region of Africa. The country’s motto is “Justice – Peace – Work” but something along the lines of “War – Rape – Dysentery” would be more appropriate. This is the country Joseph Conrad’s book Heart of Darkness was set in and the story gives a good insight into how messed up this country was 100 years ago. Under the rule of King Leopold II of Belgium the population were literally worked to death as the king treated the country as his own personal plantation. It is estimated up to half the population were killed during his 20 year rule. Things didn’t get much better after this with war followed by dictatorship followed another war that was referred to as the “African world war”. More than 5.4 million died, mostly from disease and starvation.
Life hasn’t improved much for the average Congolese citizen. At 49 years life expectancy is about what you would expect for Medieval times and the 3rd lowest in the world. The DRC has also been called the rape capital of the world, and the statistics seem to back this up with a reported 400,000 cases a year. The situation is so bad that Wikipedia has a page dedicated to the issue. And it isn’t just women being raped; according to the statistics around 25% of men in Eastern Congo have experienced sexual abuse. As the biggest perpetrator of these crimes is the Congolese Army there seems little chance things will improve either.
If rape and war weren’t enough to put you off, how about disease? Congo is the home of the world’s deadliest disease, Ebola. The very same disease that appears in the 1995 movie Outbreak and basically turns your insides into something resembling coffee. Other nasties include HIV/AIDS, cholera, typhoid, hepatitis, tuberculosis, meningitis, rabies, monkeypox, haemorrhagic fever, polio, yellow fever, elephantiasis, plague and African sleeping sickness.
As one of the most ancient centres of civilization on Earth and home to four World Heritage sites the Yemeni Republic is surprisingly uncivilised. Rapidly rising up the Failed States Index, large swathes of Yemen are effectively lawless. The largely ineffective government is described as being rampantly corrupt and implicated in many human rights abuses such as torture and extrajudicial executions. Women’s rights are non-existent. The previous minimum age for marriage was abolished and one of Yemen’s claims to fame is having the youngest divorcee in the world. 10 year old Nujood Ali was divorced from her 30-something year old husband.
Anyway, I digress. The take home message about Yemen is don’t go – if you do you will definitely be kidnapped! Foreigners are targeted by various groups probably the best known of which is Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. If you’re lucky you may just be kidnapped by local bandits looking for a quick buck. If you’re not you may be appearing on one of those videos with the guys in balaclavas with guns standing behind you.
Piracy is also popular here with armed groups operating in the Red Sea, Gulf of Aden, and Indian Ocean.
Honduras is a natural paradise. There are rain forests stuffed with rare and exotic plants and animals, mountain ranges with pine forests and a barrier reef where dolphins frolic amongst shoals of parrot fish. It is also the murder capital of the world.
The figures are mind-boggling. In 2011 the homicide rate was 91.6 per 100,000 of population. That means almost 1 in every thousand people in the country were murdered in a year. And that wasn’t a one off – Honduras has topped the United Nations murder rates tables for most of the last 10 years. To put those figures in perspective, that is three times the official murder rate in Colombia and four times that of Mexico.
Whilst the US State Department say that tourists are not particularly targeted, with all those bullets flying it still seems pretty dodgy. They and most other governmental travel advisories suggest taking great care if visiting Honduras.
The original “failed state”, Somalia is still top of the list. They practically invented the term to describe this East African country. Apparently there are 12 factors used to rate a country in the failed state rankings, these can be summarised in just one word – f*****d!
In 1990 Somalia began its descent into anarchy, it wasn’t a great place before, ruled by an authoritarian military government. After ousting this dictatorship no effective government could be formed and the country slid into civil war. The capital, Mogadishu, was once known as the “White Pearl of the Indian Ocean”. Within a year it lay in darkness with no public amenities and a thriving black market.
In place of a real government Somalia is ruled by warlords and their militias. Most of their activities are funded by criminal activity such as drug trafficking and piracy. Throw into the mix Al-Shabaab, an Al-Qaida affiliated terrorist group and you have one of the least appealing destinations on the planet. Foreigners are targeted by all groups whether for money or political reasons with kidnappings common and wanton killing not unheard of.
Equally notorious are the pirates operating out of Somalia. Attacks have occurred over 1,000 miles off the coast with valuables stolen and crew held for ransom. In some cases crews have been robbed and killed.
1. Syria, Afghanistan & Iraq
Rather than have a separate listing for each of these countries I thought I’d bundle them all together. The risks are a similar mix of conflict, lack of security and Islamic fundamentalists with a rabid hate of all things Western.
At present Syria is probably the most dangerous of the trio with a civil war in full swing. Not only is there the risk of chemical weapons being used by either side there are also groups of foreign Jihadist militants roaming the country looking for a cause to die for.
Iraq is probably more dangerous than now than it ever was under the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein. At least in those days you knew who not to cross. Now-a-days there are any number of groups all fighting for disparate causes often in the most indiscriminate manner possible. Bombings are a weekly occurrence throughout Iraq with terrorists targeting busy areas to maximise the kill rate. Although indiscriminate, a good number of these factions hate Westerners even more than each other.
My personal favourite basket case is Afghanistan. In a state of perpetual conflict this was the spawning ground for Al-Qaeda and those legendary killjoys, the Taliban. Whilst women were banned from practically everything by the Taliban, rules included; no music, TV or movies; forced haircuts; beards must be sported by men; no flying kites. Basically no fun on pain of death. Mass public executions were commonplace with sporting arenas being used to host them – obviously not sports as they were fun. Despite the US led “War on Terror” there are still plenty of fundamentalists in Afghanistan who would like a return to the good old days. To this seething hate of the West you can add large swathes of lawlessness ruled over by tribal warlords and this is one to avoid.