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December 31, 2008

Ten Worst Places to Live

Urumqi, China: Pollution

Once a Silk Road hub, the western Chinese city of Urumqi has the bad luck to be downstream of sulphurous soil dust from nearby agricultural areas, as well as deadly industrial pollutants. China's environmental scientists say it now outranks Linfen, also in China, previously named as the world's most polluted city.

Somalia: Corruption

Often declared a failed state, Somalia is so violent that millions have fled their homes. But it is also at the bottom of an annual global corruption index by Transparency International, which points out that in desperately poor countries, bribery and extortion can be life and death issues if people are forced to pay extra for basic necessities.

North Korea: Dictatorship

Kim Jong-il, North Korea's ruler, was named the world's worst dictator of 2008 on Parade magazine's annual list. Kim Jong-il runs the most isolated, repressive regime in the world, where three generations of a family can be punished for one member's alleged crime. About 200,000 citizens have been jailed, many tortured. North Korea is officially still at war with the United States and South Korea, since the Korean War never technically ended.

Iraq: Sectarian War

In spite of the much-praised "surge" of American troops, and a diminished death rate in the past year, Iraq ranks lowest on the Global Peace Index's scale as a country with easy access to weapons, a high murder rate, poorly functioning government, low respect for human rights and political instability.

El Salvador: Homicide rate

Latin America has the highest murder rate in the world for young adults, 15-24. But El Salvador tops the list of the world's most dangerous countries for the young – and has one of the highest murder rates for people of all ages, according to the Latin American Technological Information Network.

Zimbabwe: Inflation & Dictatorship

When inflation in the southern African nation shot above 1 million per cent in the past year, worldwide cries went up for President Robert Mugabe's resignation. Now Zimbabweans carry sacks of newly printed cash to pay for a loaf of bread, and those with jobs choose between lunch and a bus ride to work. Mugabe is still in power.

Yemen: Gender gap

Greater equality between the sexes means better health, living standard and lifespan for women. The reverse is true in Yemen, where, the World Economic Forum says, lack of education, poor health care, lack of job opportunity and inability to press for change through the political process put women at risk.

Swaziland: AIDS/HIV

Afflicted with dire poverty and the world's highest HIV infection rate, the tiny southern African kingdom of 1 million has a shockingly low life expectancy of 32 – less than half the world's average. The royal family has a monopoly on the economy, and the majority of Swaziland's people live on about $1 a day.

Mali: Literacy

The large, landlocked West African country was, ironically, one of the world's centres of Islamic scholarship, and is believed to have founded the first university. Now, fewer than 23 per cent of men and women can read and write, according to the UN Development Program, which rates it at the bottom of the global literacy scale.

Eritrea: Censorship

Since the government banned all privately owned media in 2001, things have grown steadily worse for journalists, with crackdowns on media, arrests, reports of torture, disappearances and deaths in custody. "President Issaias Afeworki and his small clan of paranoid nationalists continue to run the country like a vast open prison," says Reporters Without Borders.

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