A global pandemic re-shuffles Global Finance's ranking of the world's safest countries.

Author: Marc Getzoff
Project Coordinator: Binh P
Skaftafell glacier in Iceland's Vatnajokull National Park.

With the world turned upside-down and inside-out by a global pandemic that began in 2020, determining the relative safety of each country is now more important than ever. Global Finance's safest countries in the world rankings features updated data and sources, a new time frame, and incorporates each country’s experience and risk from Covid-19.

So which countries have proven to be safe and which have not?

Like our previous rankings, the safety score for countries takes into account three fundamental factors. These factors are war and peace, personal security, and natural disaster risk including the unique risk factors stemming from Covid-19. Each of these factors was based on 2020 reports that were done in 2021. In order to make sure the data is relevant to current experiences, the Covid-19 scores were derived from data as of May 30, 2021. Compared to the fundamental factors, our Covid-19 scores weight deaths per capita from the disease twice as heavily as the other factors and takes vaccinations per capita as a countervailing or positive factor into account, weighing it equally as the other fundamentals. In essence, a country's overall score is made up of one-half fundamental factors, one-third Covid-19 deaths per capita, and one-sixth Covid vaccination per capita.

Deaths per capita is a direct measure of how well or poorly a given country responded to the spread of Covid-19 which in turn is based on the country's healthcare infrastructure, government capabilities, political leadership and culture in face of a major, unexpected crisis. Vaccinations per capita on the other hand reflects a country’s financial power and future performance via preventative measures stemming further outbreaks.

Since the ranking is driven by data, Global Finance did not include countries that were missing data in any of the categories. These include countries like Bhutan, Belarus, and Sudan that do not have scores from the safety and tourism report while other countries like Kosovo and Somalia are missing data from the World Risk Report.

The top ranking countries are diverse geographically and are spread amongst Europe and Asia. Of the top 20, nine of them are located in Europe and four of those are Northern European (Iceland, Finland, Denmark, Norway). The remaining 11 out of 20 are primarily countries in the Middle East or Southeast/East Asia. Missing from the top 20 are many of the other European countries that performed well in past rankings. Countries such as Portugal, Spain, Slovenia, and Belgium suffered greatly in the rankings because their governments handled the Covid-19 crisis poorly.

The global pandemic upended many of the usual rankings and dynamics between developed and developing countries. Many highly developed European countries that usually perform very well and often land in the top 20 suffered high Covid-19 deaths per capita which brought down their rankings. Portugal (29), Spain (41), Slovenia (47), and Belgium (66) all had some of the highest Covid-19 death rates in the world and previously ranked in the top 20 safest countries. Hungary (90), Italy (84), and the UK (38) also suffered from high Covid-19 deaths per capita which pushed them to much lower rankings. The trend continues for the United States (71) and Argentina (98) which both scored well in other categories but were unable to prevent widespread outbreaks and deaths.

The pandemic created a situation in which many developing countries in Africa and Southeast Asia punched above their weight. Laos (32), Vietnam (49), and Cambodia (80) as well as African countries such as Uganda (81) and Rwanda (37) all were able to effectively manage Covid-19 and limit deaths per capita which dramatically improved their safety rankings compared to previous years. However, while these countries effectively managed and prevented Covid-19 outbreaks, they often have much higher risks in terms of military conflict, crime, and general danger to the population.

In essence, Covid-19 challenged the conventional wisdom about the safety of any given country. Countries in North America, Europe, and perhaps some in the Middle East and Asia would dominate the top spots mainly because of their wealth and developed status. Developed countries would also be much better equipped to handle something as dangerous and complex as a pandemic than their less developed peers. Yet what we have seen is that many of the world's major economic powers (United States, France, U.K) or regional powerhouses (Brazil, Russia, India, China) became epicenters of the pandemic in their areas of the world.

While Covid-19 reshuffled our world's safest countries ranking, it did not boost the worst-performing countries and their relative rankings. Countries with serious civil conflict that have high risks from natural disaster such as the Philippines, Nigeria, and El Salvador all reported relatively low death tolls from Covid-19, yet performed poorly in terms of safety overall. Yemen's brutal civil war and El Salvador's high murder rate (highest in Latin America) offset any improvement in safety ranking due to avoiding the worst-case Covid-19 scenario.
 
The Philippines remained at the bottom of Global Finance’s safest country ranking where it was in the 2019 and 2017 editions because of relatively high crime rates, high natural disaster risk (volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, tsunamis), and poor response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Because we derive our composite safety score from purely quantitative data and indices from global publications, we do not quantify the intensity or lethality risk of factors such as war. Because of this, Yemen (where 233,000 people have died as a result of the war) is ranked as relatively more safe than the Philippines because it has less natural disaster risk and crime.

These rankings and scores should be taken with a grain of salt compared to previous editions. While the fundamental factors rely on concise reports produced by NGOs and international organizations, the Covid-19 death tolls and the vaccination rates are largely based on self-reporting by governments. Countries like China, Tanzania, and Venezuela may not be producing credible figures. Another point of difficulty is that some governments may not be capable of gathering all the necessary data. In developing countries without standardized and modern government reporting structures, deaths can go unreported, making it impossible to measure death tolls accurately. This is probably what is occurring in India as many families have reported undercounting of Covid-19 deaths by the country's authorities.

To sum up, Covid-19 has upended many of the pre-pandemic assumptions regarding which countries are safest and why. While the core factors that ordinarily make up our safety rankings are largely unchanged, Covid-19 presented a new challenge for governments across the world. And as the world's vaccination numbers steadily rise, we are left with a sobering question: How would the world cope with a future pandemic?


Safest Countries in the World

Global Finance magazine's safety index factors in risks of natural disaster with crime, terrorism and war to present a more rounded analysis of the world's safest countries. 

Rank

Country

Global Finance Safety Index Score

1 Iceland 3.9724
2 United Arab Emirates 4.2043
3 Qatar 4.5609
4 Singapore 4.6184
5 Finland 4.9782
6 Mongolia 5.6092
7 Norway 5.9003
8 Denmark 6.2422
9 Canada 6.3129
10 New Zealand 6.4352
11 Australia 6.7699
12 Bahrain 6.8054
13 Cyprus 7.2315
14 Switzerland 7.3316
15 Austria 7.3454
16 Estonia 7.4615
17 South Korea 7.5089
18 Kuwait 7.6480
19 Saudi Arabia 7.6917
20 Germany 7.7059
21 Ireland 7.8351
22 Japan 7.9247
23 Israel 8.0181
24 Morocco 8.0539
25 Oman 8.0631
26 China 8.0636
27 Malaysia 8.0923
28 Mauritius 8.1622
29 Portugal 8.2539
30 Kazakhstan 8.2994
31 Sweden 8.4163
32 Laos 8.4237
33 Netherlands 8.7304
34 Serbia 8.8283
35 Lithuania 8.8327
36 Botswana 8.9897
37 Rwanda 9.0024
38 United Kingdom 9.0055
39 Latvia 9.0456
40 Tajikistan 9.2339
41 Spain 9.2561
42 Ghana 9.2945
43 Nepal 9.2971
44 Sri Lanka 9.3609
45 Zambia 9.3652
46 Azerbaijan 9.4562
47 Slovenia 9.554
48 Malawi 9.5802
49 Vietnam 9.6150
50 Tanzania 9.6671
51 Romania 9.6706
52 Jordan 9.6991
53 Liberia 9.7067
54 Senegal 9.7235
55 Equatorial Guinea 9.7488
56 Lesotho 9.7576
57 France 9.7914
58 Greece 9.8026
59 Sierra Leone 9.8059
60 Indonesia 9.8128
61 Algeria 9.8847
62 Namibia 9.9067
63 Albania 9.9300
64 Mauritania 9.9736
65 Egypt 9.9841
66 Belgium 9.9869
67 The Gambia 10.0195
68 Chile 10.0716
69 Poland 10.1538
70 Thailand 10.1649
71 USA 10.1875
72 Uruguay 10.2331
73 Kyrgyz Republic 10.2730
74 Croatia 10.3129
75 Angola 10.5200
76 Benin 10.5253
77 Dominican Republic 10.5449
78 Guinea 10.5547
79 Zimbabwe 10.6430
80 Cambodia 10.6824
81 Uganda 10.6838
82 Mozambique 10.7103
83 Ethiopia 10.7221
84 Italy 10.7901
85 Slovakia 10.8384
86 Czech Republic 10.8644
87 Cote d'Ivoire 10.9747
88 Georgia 11.0289
89 Bolivia 11.2715
90 Hungary 11.2723
91 India 11.2968
92 Burkina Faso 11.3025
93 Tunisia 11.3096
94 Burundi 11.4464
95 Paraguay 11.4676
96 Kenya 11.4996
97 Costa Rica 11.5232
98 Argentina 11.5349
99 Nicaragua 11.5449
100 Panama 11.6456
101 Guinea-Bissau 11.6872
102 Armenia 11.7685
103 Haiti 11.8219
104 Russia 11.8306
105 Bangladesh 11.8453
106 Iran 11.8461
107 Turkey 11.8725
108 Ecuador 11.9027
109  Trinidad and Tobago 11.9682
110 Jamaica 12.3555
111 Cameroon 12.3830
112 Chad 12.4076
113 Moldova 12.5802
114 Bulgaria 12.7019
115 Mali 12.7392
116 Pakistan 12.7415
117 Democratic Republic of the Congo 12.7944
118 Lebanon 12.8760
119 Ukraine 12.8897
120 South Africa 13.0681
121 Montenegro 13.0748
122 Venezuela 13.3481
123 Honduras 13.5859
124 El Salvador 13.6809
125 North Macedonia 13.7346
126 Yemen 13.7672
127 Peru 13.7978
128 Mexico 14.0531
129 Brazil 14.1011
130 Bosnia and Herzegovina 14.1361
131 Nigeria 14.2778
132 Guatemala 14.5842
133 Colombia 14.8461
134 Philippines 14.8899

Sources: World Economic Forum, The Global Institute For Peace.