Special Report

Most Miserable Countries in the World

Gokhan Sahin / Getty Images

Political oppression. Tenuous social support. Corruption. Poor health care. These issues are sadly too familiar for the world’s top 25 for most miserable countries.

For much of Africa, and parts of Asia, these problems are impeding improvements in their standard of living.

To identify the most miserable countries in the world, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed The World Happiness Report 2018 produced by the UN-initiative Sustainable Development Solutions Network. Researchers used a range of survey data from the 2015-2017 Gallup World Poll to rank happiness levels in 156 countries. Healthy life expectancy data for each country was obtained from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

Click here to read about the most miserable countries in the world.
Click here to see the happiest countries in the world.
Click to read our detailed findings.

Source: MONUSCO/Myriam Asmani / Wikimedia Commons

25. Congo (Kinshasa)
> Residents who say they have freedom to make life’s choices: 63.7%
> Residents who say they have social support: 77.0%
> Residents who believe corruption is widespread in their government: 85.0%
> Healthy life expectancy at birth: 50.4 years

The Democratic Republic of Congo has been involved in a humanitarian crisis stemming from a prolonged conflict, with at least 13 million people in need of assistance. The UN said in March that 7.7 million people face “food insecurity.” The country’s president, Joseph Kabila, refuses to leave, though his time in office ended in 2016. The people continued to protest even as the militia retaliated, killing civilians. The delays continue — and so does the unrest.

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Source: rmnunes / iStock

24. India
> Residents who say they have freedom to make life’s choices: 82.8%
> Residents who say they have social support: 61.1%
> Residents who believe corruption is widespread in their government: 77.5%
> Healthy life expectancy at birth: 59.3 years

India’s economy is growing at a 7.3% pace, according to the World Bank, making it the world’s fastest-growing economy. Even so, there is a general lack of trust in India and that is contributing to unhappiness in the world’s second-most populous country. As for personal freedoms, Indians complain that there is little freedom for minorities, either religious or sexual, in making their life choices. At least everyone has the right to vote.

Source: Jean Rebiffé / Flickr

23. Niger
> Residents who say they have freedom to make life’s choices: 70.2%
> Residents who say they have social support: 66.0%
> Residents who believe corruption is widespread in their government: 76.4%
> Healthy life expectancy at birth: 50.9 years

Niger consistently performs poorly in UN rankings. Violent extremism is rising in this landlocked country in western Africa that is ravaged periodic droughts. Though its government demonstrates a willingness to work with the United States as a counter-terrorism partner, Niger is vulnerable to the threat of violent extremist activity. It also has endured longer periods of local conflicts over pastureland and cattle.

Source: Leandro Neumann Ciuffo / Flickr

22. Uganda
> Residents who say they have freedom to make life’s choices: 75.2%
> Residents who say they have social support: 75.1%
> Residents who believe corruption is widespread in their government: 83.5%
> Healthy life expectancy at birth: 51.5 years

Uganda is widely recognized as having severe corruption problems in rankings from Transparency International and the World Bank. In the UN survey, more than 80% of those polled believe corruption is widespread in their government. Ugandans also are getting slapped with a daily tax on social media accounts such as Twitter and Facebook, effective July 1. Can you say “reining in free speech?”

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Source: Photo RNW.org / Flickr

21. Benin
> Residents who say they have freedom to make life’s choices: 74.4%
> Residents who say they have social support: 45.8%
> Residents who believe corruption is widespread in their government: 82.3%
> Healthy life expectancy at birth: 51.6 years

West Africa’s Benin is a tropical country that depends a great deal on agriculture for its survival. Unfortunately, the country is struggling with rampant smuggling activities of different products, including rice, which is straining relationships with neighboring countries. In addition to these problems, most of Benin residents believe they lack any social support — which is likely contributing largely to their unhappy state.

Source: Thinkstock

20. Sudan
> Residents who say they have freedom to make life’s choices: 38.8%
> Residents who say they have social support: 81.2%
> Residents who believe corruption is widespread in their government: 79.6%
> Healthy life expectancy at birth: 53.8 years

Sudan is a country victimized by civil war and famine. Indeed, widespread human rights violations, religious persecution, and the perceived harboring of terrorists have isolated Sudan. The country has one of the lowest percentages of residents who say they have freedom to make life’s choices. The one bright spot is the United States and the European Union have pledged renewal of support, saying the country cooperates in the fight against terrorism.

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Source: Thinkstock

19. Ukraine
> Residents who say they have freedom to make life’s choices: 51.1%
> Residents who say they have social support: 88.3%
> Residents who believe corruption is widespread in their government: 92.6%
> Healthy life expectancy at birth: 63.2 years

You don’t have to search very far to understand why Ukraine experienced one of the greatest downturns in this year’s rankings and had one of the largest happiness losses since the 2008-2010 tabulation. The current civil unrest began in late 2013, with Russia supporting the population in eastern Ukraine and taking control of Crimea. Despite the many ceasefires, violence continues in eastern Ukraine. Widespread corruption and tax evasion also adds to the country’s problems. Ukraine has highest percentage of residents who believe corruption is rampant in government at more than 92%.

Source: Thinkstock

18. Togo
> Residents who say they have freedom to make life’s choices: 73.9%
> Residents who say they have social support: 49.9%
> Residents who believe corruption is widespread in their government: 76.1%
> Healthy life expectancy at birth: 52.0 years

This little sovereign state in western Africa is in the midst of a political crisis. Opposition leaders are eager to end President Faure Gnassingbé’s 13-year rule, disgruntled by the fact that his family has held power this long. This has a direct correlation to human rights abuses. On the upside, Togo is the largest gainer in the UN’s happiness survey, jumping 17 places.

Source: CDC Global / Flickr

17. Guinea
> Residents who say they have freedom to make life’s choices: 70.6%
> Residents who say they have social support: 62.9%
> Residents who believe corruption is widespread in their government: 77.3%
> Healthy life expectancy at birth: 50.7 years

Guinea’s abundance of bauxite and rich deposits of diamond and gold should be positives for the country, yet much of the population lives in poverty. Now political tensions are rising. President Alpha Conde just ousted 13 of his 33 cabinet ministers with no reasons given. The fear is he is going to alter the constitution so that he may run for a third term.

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Source: Thinkstock

16. Lesotho
> Residents who say they have freedom to make life’s choices: 73.0%
> Residents who say they have social support: 80.2%
> Residents who believe corruption is widespread in their government: 74.1%
> Healthy life expectancy at birth: 46.5 years

Officially the Kingdom of Lesotho, the southern African country unfortunately is greatly afflicted by the HIV epidemic, having one of the highest prevalence rates. The female population is affected the most. Adolescent girls and young women ages 15 to 24 account for a quarter of new HIV infections annually. Lesotho is one of four countries on the UN list whose healthy life expectancy at birth is fewer than 50 years.

Source: Thinkstock

15. Angola
> Residents who say they have freedom to make life’s choices: 37.4%
> Residents who say they have social support: 76.5%
> Residents who believe corruption is widespread in their government: 83.4%
> Healthy life expectancy at birth: 52.5 years

Though the Republic of Angola produces diamonds, oil, gold, and copper, the country is in the midst of an economic crisis. Declining oil prices since 2014 have deeply affected Angola’s economy. The country needs to reduce its dependence on oil, which represents one-third of its GDP and more than 95% of its exports. Large swaths of the population still live in poverty without adequate access to basic services.

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Source: Leonora (Ellie) Enking / Flickr

14. Madagascar
> Residents who say they have freedom to make life’s choices: 56.0%
> Residents who say they have social support: 67.6%
> Residents who believe corruption is widespread in their government: 85.7%
> Healthy life expectancy at birth: 56.6 years

Controversial electoral reforms are at the center of a political crisis engulfing Madagascar. A rash of violent protests erupted in the spring because of the belief that opposition party candidates would be prevented from participating in the elections this year. It’s not surprising that more than 85% of those polled believe governmental corruption is widespread. There are demands for President Hery Rajaonarimampianina to step down.

Source: Thinkstock

13. Zimbabwe
> Residents who say they have freedom to make life’s choices: 71.6%
> Residents who say they have social support: 75.3%
> Residents who believe corruption is widespread in their government: 76.4%
> Healthy life expectancy at birth: 51.8 years

Zimbabwe’s current economic downturn, fueled by hyperinflation, is nothing new to the southern African country. This is one of the main reasons citizens protested for over a year to have Robert Mugabe removed from office. Mugabe, who held power since 1980, was placed under house arrest in 2017 in a coup d’état. He resigned in late November that same year, just before his impeachment was complete.

Source: Thinkstock

12. Afghanistan
> Residents who say they have freedom to make life’s choices: 44.5%
> Residents who say they have social support: 52.5%
> Residents who believe corruption is widespread in their government: 88.0%
> Healthy life expectancy at birth: 52.0 years

Since the Taliban was ousted in 2001, Afghanistan has experienced a great deal of turbulence. It remains as one of the poorest nations in the world, largely because of corruption and a lack of foreign investment. The insurgency by the Taliban remains an ongoing concern for the country. As a result of the present war, 90,000 people have been killed since 2001.

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Source: Thinkstock

11. Botswana
> Residents who say they have freedom to make life’s choices: 84.3%
> Residents who say they have social support: 78.5%
> Residents who believe corruption is widespread in their government: 77.6%
> Healthy life expectancy at birth: 57.1 years

Despite having one of the world’s fastest-growing economies, Botswana usually finds itself on the list of unhappiest countries. Some if its own people question this paradox, and points raised to explain it are far from pretty. High suicide rates among the young and the high rate of murder of women are among some of the many explanations. Botswana’s income inequality is among the widest in the world as the economy has struggled to generate private-sector jobs.

Source: neiljs / Flickr

10. Malawi
> Residents who say they have freedom to make life’s choices: 82.0%
> Residents who say they have social support: 52.7%
> Residents who believe corruption is widespread in their government: 79.9%
> Healthy life expectancy at birth: 53.6 years

Malawi is one of the least developed nations in the world, with roughly 85% of the population residing in rural areas. The country had among the five largest drops in happiness level. Just three years ago, nearly 20,000 people in the country died in one of the worst floods in recent memory.

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Source: Thinkstock

9. Haiti
> Residents who say they have freedom to make life’s choices: 39.5%
> Residents who say they have social support: 59.7%
> Residents who believe corruption is widespread in their government: 75.5%
> Healthy life expectancy at birth: 53.1 years

Haiti is no stranger to turbulent politics. Not only hurricanes and earthquakes disrupt the country — the poorest in the Western Hemisphere — every few years, but so does political turmoil. Who can forget Jean-Claude Duvalier — Haiti’s despotic ruler from the ’70s and ’80s? Haiti is one of three countries on this list where fewer than 40% of people surveyed believe they have the freedom to make life choices.

Source: Thinkstock

8. Liberia
> Residents who say they have freedom to make life’s choices: 72.7%
> Residents who say they have social support: 65.6%
> Residents who believe corruption is widespread in their government: 89.1%
> Healthy life expectancy at birth: 52.4 years

Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who served in office from 2006 to 2018, has gone on record to say that the country’s corruption levels permeate every level of the government. That is reflected in the UN survey, which found more than 89% of residents polled believe corruption is widespread in their government, second-highest on the list. That, as well as tribal and sectional divide and poverty are the biggest threats to the country’s stability.

Source: Thinkstock

7. Syria
> Residents who say they have freedom to make life’s choices: 44.8%
> Residents who say they have social support: 46.2%
> Residents who believe corruption is widespread in their government: 68.0%
> Healthy life expectancy at birth: 61.0 years

Syria was among the countries with the five largest drops in happiness. That’s understandable given that the country has been embroiled in a civil war since 2011. Casualty reports range from at least 100,000 civilians killed to more than 400,000. Prior to the civil war, many Syrians were vocal about high unemployment rates, corruption, and the fact that President Bashar al-Assad has stamped out political freedom. Profound violations of human rights laws continue in the war-torn country.

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Source: Thinkstock

6. Rwanda
> Residents who say they have freedom to make life’s choices: 90.9%
> Residents who say they have social support: 67.2%
> Residents who believe corruption is widespread in their government: 12.6%
> Healthy life expectancy at birth: 56.6 years

Rwanda is a country of people whose resilience is undeniable. The 1994 genocide left the country in despair. Yet, Rwanda managed to pick itself up, even teaching the world what gender equality looks like. The country takes the top prize for the largest share of women in politics, with 64% of its legislature seats held by women. But word is that in daily, practical living, feminism is not actually looked upon favorably and still needs to trickle down from the top.

Source: Thinkstock

5. Yemen
> Residents who say they have freedom to make life’s choices: 57.9%
> Residents who say they have social support: 74.4%
> Residents who believe corruption is widespread in their government: 82.8%
> Healthy life expectancy at birth: 54.8 years

Yemen, a country at the most southern tip of the Arab peninsula, is deemed the poorest and least stable in the region. While its neighbors enjoy copious oil reserves, this country has very little to show for it — zero exports, no water, and little infrastructure. Yemen is also in the midst of a civil war since 2015, with government forces backed by Saudi Arabia and a coalition of several states. There have been massive civilian casualties, war crimes, and other human rights abuses

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Source: derejeb / iStock

4. Tanzania
> Residents who say they have freedom to make life’s choices: 77.9%
> Residents who say they have social support: 71.1%
> Residents who believe corruption is widespread in their government: 76.7%
> Healthy life expectancy at birth: 56.0 years

Undeniably, the beauty of Tanzania attracts tourists from all corners of the Earth. It is home to Mount Kilimanjaro and the Serengeti National Park. Unfortunately, Tanzanians are reeling from great losses of life because of a lack of health experts. Tanzanians suffer from various blood disorders such as Sickle Cell Disease, hemophilia, and leukemia.

Source: antheap / Flickr

3. South Sudan
> Residents who say they have freedom to make life’s choices: 46.8%
> Residents who say they have social support: 55.4%
> Residents who believe corruption is widespread in their government: 75.2%
> Healthy life expectancy at birth: 49.6 years

So much hope came with South Sudan’s independence in 2011, making it the world’s newest country. But with newness comes fragility, and unfortunately, within two years, the country descended into civil war. In spite of a peace agreement in 2015, thousands of civilians have been killed because of their ethnicity or political alliances. No end is in sight.

Source: Thinkstock

2. Central African Republic
> Residents who say they have freedom to make life’s choices: 63.1%
> Residents who say they have social support: 30.6%
> Residents who believe corruption is widespread in their government: 87.6%
> Healthy life expectancy at birth: 44.3 years

Central African Republic gained its independence from France in 1960 and since then has struggled. Despite being land-rich in diamonds, gold, oil, and uranium, CAR is one of the poorest nations in the world. Violence dominates; civil strife is ongoing. The terror group Séléka forced President François Bozizé out of power in 2013. The Central African Republic ranks at the bottom of the list of the most miserable countries in residents who say they have social support and healthy life expectancy at birth.

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Source: Christine Vaufrey / Flickr

1. Burundi
> Residents who say they have freedom to make life’s choices: 42.9%
> Residents who say they have social support: 56.2%
> Residents who believe corruption is widespread in their government: 80.6%
> Healthy life expectancy at birth: 48.6 years

Burundi became the unhappiest country in the world this year, overtaking the Central African Republic. Why? To begin with, civil war has been raging in the country for 12 years. In addition, corruption, poverty, repression also are rampant in the country, which became independent in 1962. Burundi exited from the International Criminal Court in 2017 — the first nation ever to do so — after the UN cited it for various human rights violations.

Detailed Findings

Among the biggest problems residents in these countries face is the lack of freedom to make life choices. Connected with that are ongoing conflicts in many of these nations such as Syria and Afghanistan. Fewer than 40% of people surveyed in three countries — Angola, Haiti, and Sudan — believe they have the freedom to make life choices.

Social support also lags behind in many of these countries, with only 30.6% of those polled in the Central African Republic believing they have a social network.

The perception of corruption in these countries is demonstrably higher than that in the happiest nations. More than 80% of those surveyed in 11 of the 25 most miserable nations think their government is corrupt. In Ukraine, that number is more than 92%.

The misery in these nations is also reflected in their healthy life expectancy. Ukraine and Syria are the only countries among the 25 most miserable nations where healthy life expectancy exceeds 60 years. In four countries — Burundi, Central African Republic, South Sudan, and Lesotho — the healthy life expectancy is less than 50 years.

Even so, resilience and a desire for change among many of these nations’ peoples are evident. With that comes a glimmer of hope.

Maybe by next March 20, which is World Happiness Day, some of these nations won’t be appearing on the most miserable list.

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