Forget happiness. Where will be the most miserable place in the year ahead? The World in 2018 asked the country analysts at The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), a sister company to The Economist, for their pick. Sadly, they found plenty of competition.
Americans enraged by President Donald Trump and Britons in despair about Brexit will keep arguing over which country has it worse. Yet neither comes close to winning the global gloom contest. Among rich countries, a case can be made for Greece, still suffering after a catastrophic slump in the euro crisis; Greeks were the most stressed people in the world in a recent Gallup survey. But in 2018 their economy should be growing again.
North Korea could experience a double whammy in 2018. Not only will it suffer under the ghastly dictatorship of Kim Jong Un, but it could face physical destruction if its war of words with Mr Trump turns into a real war. That prospect is scary, but still unlikely.
Venezuela has a strong claim, too, despite being a middle-income country sitting on the world’s largest oil reserves. Thanks to chronic mismanagement, its economy has shrunk by a quarter since 2014, and the EIU forecasts a further painful fall, of 6%, in 2018. Inflation is on course to exceed 1,000%. Foreign-exchange constraints will mean extreme shortages of food and medicine will continue. Debt default, and a virtual economic collapse, are all too likely. Instead of tackling these woes, President Nicolás Maduro seems more interested in trampling over the opposition, often violently. The presidential election due in 2018 will not be fair, if it happens at all.
Still, you might rather be there than in Yemen. It was already the poorest country in the Arab world even before its current civil war. But since early 2015 more than 10,000 civilians have been killed and 3m-4m internally displaced (closed borders make leaving the country difficult). Yemen is now on the brink of famine and is suffering from the largest cholera outbreak in modern history (over 750,000 suspected cases, and rising). The worst is probably yet to come.
That is hard to beat, you might think. Alas, several countries in sub-Saharan Africa will give Yemen a run for its misery. They include Burundi (one of the world’s poorest countries, slipping into a deepening dictatorship); the Central African Republic (where sectarian violence is pushing out aid groups and refugee flows are increasing the risk of the country splitting into a Muslim north and a Christian south); and the Democratic Republic of Congo (where an intensifying political crisis risks destabilising its whole region, amid violence that displaced nearly 1m people in the first half of 2017).
Newest and saddest of them all
However, the unfortunate winner of the EIU’s non-prize is the world’s newest country, South Sudan. It gained independence in 2011 and has been in a state of crisis for almost all of its existence. Inflation has been above 150% since early 2016. The presidential and parliamentary terms run until July 2018, but there will either be no elections or at best a flawed one. Either could herald a deeper disaster. The UN is warning that persistent tribal conflict could lead to genocide.
The country has fallen apart in all but name. Conflict between the army and tribal militias has led to widespread ethnic cleansing. Unpaid troops loot aid convoys with impunity. A third of South Sudanese have fled their smouldering homes to avoid being killed. Many huddle in UN camps, and women are raped if they venture out for firewood. Some 6m people face acute hunger, and 1.7m are on the brink of famine. If security remains poor, and the rains are meagre (again), the country could easily tip further into crisis. Nowhere will be more miserable in 2018.
Please note: This article has been updated to reflect new developments that have occurred between November 1st, our print editorial close, and November 20th, the digital one.