Latin America hosts over 60% of world's most crime-stricken cities - Global ranking

Political Risk Outlook 2022

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Kabul, Mogadishu worst for overall security, East Asian cities safest

Crime is the biggest security issue facing companies in major cities across the world, putting staff, assets and supply chains at risk, according to our new research. The Cities@Risk Security Index, which ranks 579 urban centres with a population over 1 million on their exposure to a range of threats, identifies Latin America as the world’s crime hotspot with 62 of the 100 riskiest cities. Eight of these, including Chihuahua, Medellín, and San Salvador, record the highest possible risk scores. Crime risks are also rising in the US, notes the study.

The Cities@Risk Security Index uses geospatial data to measure risk across four key security pillars – Crime, Civil Unrest, Conflict, and Terrorism. The data reveals that Kabul is unsurprisingly the riskiest city overall, but across the globe, 22% of the world’s largest cities are at high or extreme risk from a combination of these security challenges, and more than 75% record high or extreme risk scores on at least one measure.

While conflict and terrorism primarily threaten well known political violence flashpoints, crime and civil unrest are more widely distributed threats. Of these, crime presents the most immediate costs to business due to the need to protect staff and assets and maintain supply chain integrity.

“Companies with global operations must continue to assess their exposure to longstanding security risks such as crime, even as novel threats like climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic rightly move up the agenda,” says Senior Security Analyst, Joseph Parkes, who led the study. “This study shows just how widespread the risks remain.”

Americas on the crime frontline

The Cities@Risk - Crime Index, which measures homicides, theft and property damage, shows the Americas account for 14 of the top 20 riskiest locations, while it is also home to 8 of the 12 cities receiving the highest possible risk score. These include: Barquisimeto, Caracas, Maracaibo, Maracay and Valencia in Venezuela; Mexico’s Chihuahua; Medellín in Colombia; and San Salvador, the capital of El Salvador. The region’s role in the transnational trafficking of narcotics and the continued strength of sophisticated drug-trafficking organisations and gangs is the key factor underpinning the Latin America’s risk profile.

Companies located in the region’s international business hubs are not spared exposure to the trend. When we zero in on the world’s 30 largest cities by population, we again see the Americas on the crime frontline – with Rio de Janeiro, Bogota and Mexico City taking the top three highest risk spots.

Crime is also a feature north of Mexico, with US cities performing well below their income group average. Some are prominent among the worst performers by this metric, including Baltimore (ranked the 51st most at risk in the Cities@Risk Crime Index) and Memphis (59), the only US cities to be rated as extreme risk, and Jacksonville (70 and high risk), highlighting a discrepancy between US cities and their high-income European and East Asian peers.

Outside of the Americas, companies operating in South Africa also face the most serious crime risks, with Cape Town, Ekurhuleni, Johannesburg and Pretoria in the group of cities receiving the worst possible score and ranking joint first in the index.

Security a global challenge for business

When we zoom out to look across the full dataset of 579 cities covering the four security pillars, the study confirms that businesses will be confronted with acute challenges across the globe. The most dangerous cities overall are distributed widely, with the top 100 including 33 cities from the Americas, 33 from Africa, 19 from Asia, 14 from MENA, and one from Europe.

Joining Kabul at the top of our list are Mogadishu, Somalia; Cali, Colombia; Sanaa, Yemen; Port-au-Prince, Haiti; Aleppo, Syria; Medellín, Colombia; Kaduna, Nigeria; and Maracaibo and Barquisimeto in Venezuela. These cities face entrenched conflict and terrorism, serious crime risks, severe and widespread civil unrest, or a combination of each.

Furthermore, the 20 cities that have experienced the largest deterioration in any index score over the past quarter – indicating a worsening risk trajectory – are found across Asia, the Americas, Europe and Central Asia. This metric also captures three Ukrainian cities – Kyiv, Kharkiv, and Odessa, that have been battered by the Russian invasion and have seen their Conflict Intensity risk soar.

Civil unrest buffets India’s growth hubs

While MENA is identified as facing the greatest increase in civil unrest over the next year our data shows that Asia currently accounts for 53 of the 100 riskiest cities for this issue. Given both its vast population and fractious political and economic environment, India’s cities dominate the list with more than 35 entries in the top 100, including the likes of Chennai (67), Delhi (74) and tech centre Hyderabad (87).

Roiling protests over proposed farming policy reform in the past year forced a rare U-turn from Prime Minister Modi. The protests caused major business disruption by, for example, blocking railways across Haryana, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan and delaying coal deliveries to power plants.

Elsewhere in Asia, Myanmar’s turbulent year is reflected in Mandalay (5) and Yangon’s (6) presence among the ten highest risk cities for civil unrest. The prosecution of ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi by the junta will ensure unrest continues through 2022.

Myanmar is joined in the top 10 by five Venezuelan cities, reflecting years of political and economic turmoil in the country with the world’s largest known oil reserves.

Conflict and terrorism localised but intractable threats

Arguably, the most critical and disruptive security risks assessed in the city ranking are conflict and terrorism, and here the news is decidedly mixed. Only three cities fall into the extreme risk category in the Cities@Risk Conflict Intensity Index – Aleppo, Mogadishu, and Kabul – but each has been afflicted by war for a decade or more, highlighting the intractable conflict dynamics in play. The picture is similar outside the top three: the top 20 highest risk rankings are largely populated by cities riven by less intense but long-running conflicts that show little sign of resolution.

The exception is the Ukrainian capital Kyiv (14), which faced an existential threat from Russia’s invasion in 2022-Q1. Ukraine’s staunch defence – underwritten by weapon transfers from western partners – prevented the city’s fall into Russian hands, but the toll is reflected in its deteriorating risk score. Fellow Ukrainian cities Kharkiv and Odessa are the 25th and 45th highest risk cities respectively, while the Ukrainian cities worst-affected by Russian bombardment – such as Mariupol – do not feature in our ranking as their populations are too low.

A relative absence of major terrorist attacks outside of established hotspots over the past year sees 55% of cities record low-risk scores in the Cities@Risk Terrorism Risk Index, with only Kabul and Mogadishu identified as extreme risk.

East Asian cities safe havens, but Europe and America not immune

So, where can investors have the greatest confidence of operating free from security threats? The lowest risk end of the overall Cities@Risk Security Index ranking is dominated by East Asia, with cities in Japan and Taiwan making up the 10 safest locations, along with Swiss capital Zurich. Shizuoka-Hamamatsu M.M.A, Japan is the lowest risk city overall, followed by Sendai and Hiroshima, also in Japan. Vietnam also stands out as a strong option for companies that value lower overheads.

Relative safe havens are also found across Europe, including Oslo, Porto, Dublin, Rotterdam and Stockholm, which are identified among the world’s 20 lowest risk cities. The list of MENA’s most stable jurisdictions is headed by Muscat, Oman, with Sharjah and Abu Dhabi all also featuring in the 50 safest cities.

However, it is not as simple as just picking a region – several European and North American cities have seen a marked increase in risk over the past year, with civil unrest a primary driver.

"Together, the strain of the COVID-19 pandemic, soaring living costs, and the impact of new political and social movements highlight the importance of a granular approach to assessing potential business disruption using geospatial risk data, alongside expert analysis. The precipitous increase in risk in Ukraine following Russia’s invasion also shows you can’t discount the impact of geopolitical upheaval", says Parkes. 

Here to stay

While investors grapple with emerging disruption threats like the COVID-19 pandemic, our analysis shows that long-established security issues remain an important lens through which to understand business risk. Indeed, the changing climate, and societal and political upheaval accelerated by the ongoing pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, will affect the intensity and distribution of these risks in complex ways. Companies must ensure that they have a strong grasp of the trends on the ground in cities core to their operations if they are not to be blindsided by these developments.

Joseph Parkes

Asia Analyst, Risk Insight

Jimena Blanco

Head of Politics, Americas

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