PELIGRO

How Venezuela became the most dangerous country to live in the world

“We don’t want Army in the street.”
“We don’t want Army in the street.”
Image: Reuters/Edgard Garrido
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Take a look at the two lists below. Which one do you think represents the rankings of the most dangerous countries in the world?

The lists come from Gallup’s latest Global Law and Order report which surveyed residents in 142 countries on two measures:

  • Their perception of safety
  • Their first-hand experience with crime

The pollster inquired about residents’ perception of safety by asking whether they “feel safe walking alone at night.” Singaporeans felt the most secure, with 94% saying so. Venezuelans had the lowest sense of safety with only 17% responding positively. List A reflects the countries where the fewest residents feel secure.

Focusing on residents’ experiences with crime, one question asked whether the respondent had been assaulted within the country in the past year. Another asked whether they had money or property stolen. The least secure countries based on the answers from these two questions compose List B.

Venezuela did better than war-torn countries like South Sudan or Afghanistan in terms of real crime experiences. Forty-two percent of Venezuelans reported having been recently robbed, and 22% assaulted. Nevertheless, it was the most dangerous country to live for a second year in a row, after resident’s perception of safety was taken into consideration.

Although the two measures are closely related, perception of safety doesn’t always translate to reality.

In the chart above, the countries above the trend line are the ones in which residents have a higher sense of safety than crime rates suggest. People in countries below the trend line still felt insecure, despite relatively low crime rates.

People’s perception of crime is influenced by their expectations. Residents in high-crime countries are more likely to perceive crimes as normal than those from low-crime countries. Venezuela and Afghanistan, the two countries high on both perception of crime and frequency of crime experience, fall above the trend.

The five countries with the biggest divergence from the trend are Uganda, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, South Sudan and Ghana. More than half of respondents in each of those countries said they had been robbed or assaulted in the past year, but relatively fewer reported feeling unsafe walking alone at night.

Rwanda has had continuous economic growth and political stability over the past two decades. One in four Rwandans reported experiencing theft in the past year, but over 95% felt safe walking alone at night. Local police and volunteer groups made safeguarding communities at night a national priority. This has created an outsized perception of security.

Diverging from the trend in the other direction, residents from Moldova, Brazil, and Cambodia were much more likely to report fear of walking alone at night than others from countries with similar levels of crime.

When real crimes are less frequent, fear of crime can be amplified when residents do not trust the local police. Even though Moldova can be considered safe (11% of respondents reported experiencing a theft or assault in the past year while the world average was 25%,) 42% surveyed didn’t feel safe walking alone at night. A nationwide public opinion survey in 2015 showed that more than 60% residents of Moldova expressed distrust in the police, and 75% thought the police were corrupt. Drunk people loitering at night were the biggest concern for local residents, according to survey results.

Brazilians also face a corrupt and violent police force: Fewer than 10% thought the police were efficient at preventing crime, according a survey conducted in October 2017. Although the Gallop survey shows few experienced crime first hand—only 15% had their property stolen, and just 7% were assaulted—murder rates are alarmingly high. Murder rightly begets fear: 68% Brazilians don’t feel safe walking alone at night.