What the least socially progressive countries all have in common

According to the 2017 Social Progress Index, a ranking of 128 nations looking at quality of life, the world as a whole isn’t doing so hot.

But certain countries are lagging well behind the average.

This year’s ranking, the fourth annual list put out by SPI, finds Yemen, Guinea, Niger, Angola, Chad, Afghanistan, and Central African Republic all fall in the lowest-performing category, “Very Low Social Progress.”

Michael Green, CEO of SPI, says these seven countries represent the most extreme cases of poverty and withering attention to human rights. In SPI’s ranking, the countries fall toward the bottom in basic criteria, such as water and sanitation, medical care, personal safety, and personal freedom and choice.

Acording to Green, they could be dragging down scores overall.

“We do see that the improvement in those countries on those basic issues has been slowing down,” he told Business Insider. “And that’s slowing down global progress in those very basic means of survival.”

A country’s place in the ranking isn’t determined just by its income level.

The US and France place 18th and 19th, respectively, but both countries are far wealthier than a number of countries further up in the list, such as Austria and New Zealand. Likewise, Costa Rica’s GDP is low, but Green says its scores in health and wellness, mobile communications, and personal freedom allow it to sit just 10 spots shy of the US, in 28th.

Relative to its GDP, Costa Rica may even be the most socially progressive country on Earth, Green says.

Among the countries that performed the worst, however, a major common thread is civil unrest. Prior research has found cities in Afghanistan and Yemen, and many countries bordering Central African Republic, are some of the most fragile in the world. Their governments struggle to enforce basic rule of law, and unemployment is climbing.

Green says countries need to address basic human needs first, such as access to healthcare and clean drinking water. But they can also make sizable leaps forward by setting up mobile communications infrastructure, like offering cellular networks and widespread access to cell phones.

Increasing mobile communications has allowed countries like Myanmar to make a big jump forward, Green said. Myanmar placed 96th in 2017, 20 spots ahead of where it was two years ago. “It’s gone from a very low rate to a very high rate quite quickly.”

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