These are the world’s most fragile states in 2019

Yemen leads the list of the most fragile nations, with the U.S. and U.K. among the "most worsened."

These are the world’s most fragile states in 2019
MARCO LONGARI/AFP/Getty Images

There are some rankings no nation wants to lead.


Yemen has just been named most fragile nation in the Fund For Peace's 2019 Fragile States Index. The least fragile state is Finland.


Between these two countries lies the whole spectrum of national stability. The good news is that conditions for most of the world's people are slowly improving, says JJ Messner, Executive Director of the Fund for Peace. "For all the negative press, there is significant progress occuring in the background," he says.

The five most fragile countries, which comprise the index's Very High Alert category, are Yemen, Somalia, South Sudan, Syria and the Democratic Republic of Congo. In the High Alert category are the Central African Republic, Chad, Sudan and Afghanistan.

Image: Fragile States Index

"Most worsened"

Venezuela and Brazil tied for the title of the Most Worsened Country. Politics have riven both nations. Venezuela's election last year compounded long-standing economic and social woes. Brazil's score has declined in each of the past six years as economic troubles, corruption and declining public services have taken their toll.


Image: Fragile States Index

Other nations whose rankings fell steeply in the 2019 list were Nicaragua, the United Kingdom, Togo, Cameroon, Poland, Mali, Yemen, Tanzania, Honduras and the United States. Libya, Syria, Mali, Yemen, Venezuela, and Mozambique were the fastest declining countries of the past decade.

Any UK citizens alarmed at seeing their nation ranked as the fourth most-worsened will find that three of the 12 indicators used to compile the index were largely behind the low score: the behaviour of ruling elites, social divisions and state legitimacy.

The authors point to the influence of Brexit as a factor. But they say that long-term worsening of the UK's score predates the country's referendum on membership of the European Union. Even before 2016, the authors say the UK had the seventh worst trend for the same three indicators, and suggest the country's problems are deep-rooted and unlikely to be solved by leaving the EU.

The US made it into the Most Worsened category thanks to poor scores in the same categories as the UK plus a sliding score on human rights and respect for the law, in part reflecting political divisions, legal controversies and the issue of immigration.

The report's authors also detect the stirrings of a second Arab Spring in Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia. They say economic, social and political factors that harmed these countries' index rankings before popular uprisings in North Africa are rising in significance.

Hope for the future

But the global picture isn't entirely bleak. Cuba and Georgia tied as the most-improved countries in the index over the past decade. Mauritius became the first African nation to achieve status as Very Stable, while Singapore was the first Asian nation to enter the Sustainable category, joining the likes of New Zealand, Sweden and Luxembourg.

Progress in Africa was reflected by Botswana and the Seychelles joining the Stable category.

Messner says: "Certainly, there is still much conflict, poverty, and inequality in the world. But the data suggests that the majority of countries are incrementally making improvements, providing a more hopeful future for their people."

The index's 12 categories, against which nations are measured are: security situation and responses; behaviour of ruling elites; social divisions; economic performance; economic inequality; emigration; state legitimacy; public services, human rights and the rule of law; demographic pressures; refugees; external intervention.

Reprinted with permission of World Economic Forum. Read the original article.

This is what aliens would 'hear' if they flew by Earth

A Mercury-bound spacecraft's noisy flyby of our home planet.

Image source: sdecoret on Shutterstock/ESA/Big Think
Surprising Science
  • There is no sound in space, but if there was, this is what it might sound like passing by Earth.
  • A spacecraft bound for Mercury recorded data while swinging around our planet, and that data was converted into sound.
  • Yes, in space no one can hear you scream, but this is still some chill stuff.

First off, let's be clear what we mean by "hear" here. (Here, here!)

Sound, as we know it, requires air. What our ears capture is actually oscillating waves of fluctuating air pressure. Cilia, fibers in our ears, respond to these fluctuations by firing off corresponding clusters of tones at different pitches to our brains. This is what we perceive as sound.

All of which is to say, sound requires air, and space is notoriously void of that. So, in terms of human-perceivable sound, it's silent out there. Nonetheless, there can be cyclical events in space — such as oscillating values in streams of captured data — that can be mapped to pitches, and thus made audible.

BepiColombo

Image source: European Space Agency

The European Space Agency's BepiColombo spacecraft took off from Kourou, French Guyana on October 20, 2019, on its way to Mercury. To reduce its speed for the proper trajectory to Mercury, BepiColombo executed a "gravity-assist flyby," slinging itself around the Earth before leaving home. Over the course of its 34-minute flyby, its two data recorders captured five data sets that Italy's National Institute for Astrophysics (INAF) enhanced and converted into sound waves.

Into and out of Earth's shadow

In April, BepiColombo began its closest approach to Earth, ranging from 256,393 kilometers (159,315 miles) to 129,488 kilometers (80,460 miles) away. The audio above starts as BepiColombo begins to sneak into the Earth's shadow facing away from the sun.

The data was captured by BepiColombo's Italian Spring Accelerometer (ISA) instrument. Says Carmelo Magnafico of the ISA team, "When the spacecraft enters the shadow and the force of the Sun disappears, we can hear a slight vibration. The solar panels, previously flexed by the Sun, then find a new balance. Upon exiting the shadow, we can hear the effect again."

In addition to making for some cool sounds, the phenomenon allowed the ISA team to confirm just how sensitive their instrument is. "This is an extraordinary situation," says Carmelo. "Since we started the cruise, we have only been in direct sunshine, so we did not have the possibility to check effectively whether our instrument is measuring the variations of the force of the sunlight."

When the craft arrives at Mercury, the ISA will be tasked with studying the planets gravity.

Magentosphere melody

The second clip is derived from data captured by BepiColombo's MPO-MAG magnetometer, AKA MERMAG, as the craft traveled through Earth's magnetosphere, the area surrounding the planet that's determined by the its magnetic field.

BepiColombo eventually entered the hellish mangentosheath, the region battered by cosmic plasma from the sun before the craft passed into the relatively peaceful magentopause that marks the transition between the magnetosphere and Earth's own magnetic field.

MERMAG will map Mercury's magnetosphere, as well as the magnetic state of the planet's interior. As a secondary objective, it will assess the interaction of the solar wind, Mercury's magnetic field, and the planet, analyzing the dynamics of the magnetosphere and its interaction with Mercury.

Recording session over, BepiColombo is now slipping through space silently with its arrival at Mercury planned for 2025.

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Research suggests that aging affects a brain circuit critical for learning and decision-making.

Photo by Reinhart Julian on Unsplash
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As people age, they often lose their motivation to learn new things or engage in everyday activities. In a study of mice, MIT neuroscientists have now identified a brain circuit that is critical for maintaining this kind of motivation.

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The contiguous U.S., horizontally divided into deciles (ten bands of equal population).

Image: u/curiouskip, reproduced with kind permission.
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