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Things Could Be Worse: 2009 Failed States Index

August 31, 2009

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. - No matter how grim the state budget forecast, it will never be as bad as what some countries around the world are going through. The 2009 "Failed States Index" lists the world's most unstable nations; it has Somalia, Sudan and Zimbabwe at the top, with Afghanistan and Iraq not far behind. Mercy Corps, a humanitarian aid group in Cambridge, works in all five of those countries, and more than 30 others.

John Stephens, senior program officer at Mercy Corps, says that sometimes there are so many problems in a failed state, it's hard to know where to start.

"When you go to these countries, typically what you notice right off the bat is that the government is failing to deliver services to its people. Roads, clean water to cities, security; it's the whole range of items. The government is barely functioning, or entirely absent."

Other indicators that put countries on the "Failed States Index" are high numbers of refugees, human rights violations, and intervention by other nations.

In failed states, people often just quit paying taxes because they're not getting government services. Stephens, who runs some Asian programs for Mercy Corps, says part of their job is to encourage both people and government to break that cycle.

"If we have a large program that's working with farmers, we dedicate 10 to 20 percent of that program towards working with the government, to help kick-start that relationship again, so that the people see the government coming out and doing the work they should be doing."

Mercy Corps is well known for emergency relief, but also makes micro-loans, helps people start small businesses, and works with communities to build and repair infrastructure. You can find out what they're doing in each country online, at

The "Failed States Index" is compiled by the Fund for Peace; it's in the September 2009 issue of National Geographic magazine.

Monique Coppola, Public News Service - MA