Random terror attacks. COVID-19. Trump. It’s scary out there. So don’t fight it, avoid it—and minimise your exposure to prominent modern hazards (and trivial irritations). Iceland's looking pretty good right now.
Given ongoing global events, this one seems very pressing. And at the time of writing, there are still areas relatively untouched by COVID-19. Such as: South America (only Brazil and Ecuador have confirmed cases); sub-Saharan Africa (only two cases, as of Tuesday), the Caribbean (only the Domincan Republic has reported a case), the as-yet-unaffected parts of Eastern Europe such as Poland, Slovakia, and Bulgaria, and—go on, you’ve always wanted to visit—Greenland. Meanwhile, if you suspect south-east Asia is a no-go area, consider the fact that Cambodia and Vietnam have both reported cases but all sufferers have now recovered from the virus.
But while further cases are surely inevitable, statistically you are still infinitely more at threat of actually dying from what the World Health Organisation calls “non-communicable” diseases—the four biggest killers being cancer, heart disease, diabetes and chronic respiratory disease. And while you can’t catch them from another person, your geographical position in the world still seems to make a difference. The WHO publishes figures every few years assessing the overall percentage risk in each nation of premature death from such conditions. If you don’t fancy upping sticks to North Korea, which has the lowest official figures, Japan, Switzerland, and Australia came in second, third and fourth as safest in the table, all with probability figures of under 10 percent. News to calm any dangerously over-beating heart.
Is anywhere safe? Well no, but it’s all relative. And the Global Terrorism Index ranks every country on the planet in terms of the estimated chance of an attack and its potential impact. The survey names countries such as Portugal, Belarus, and Mongolia as the least affected by terrorism, but it also dispels any impression you may have gathered from media coverage of attacks in developed countries that first-world targets are most at risk.
Serge Sroobants, director of the Sydney-based Institute of Economics & Peace, which compiles the study, tells VICE, “when you look at regions most impacted by terrorism, 90 percent of incidents occur in the top 10, in places like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Libya, and parts of Africa. The perception of western societies being dangerous is much stronger due to the attention of the media.”
Whether it’s floods, bushfires, or sandstorms, nowhere seems entirely safe from the wrath of an angry god. But according to last year’s World Risk Report, a global survey of natural disaster hazards, Pacific islands such as Tonga and Vanuatu were found to be most vulnerable due to rising sea levels, cyclones, and earthquakes. Meanwhile, some surprising spots such as Qatar and Saudi Arabia were at the other end of the chart, alongside sun-soaked islands in the southern Caribbean. But climate change means there’s uncertainty everywhere.
“We know that a warmer atmosphere can hold more moisture, so we expect events like the UK floods to be exacerbated by climate change,” says atmospheric scientist Dann Mitchell of Bristol University’s Cabot Institute. “Islands are particularly at risk because hurricanes can hold more water, so they can rain out more, and with sea levels rising, the storm surges can get further inland. But I would question how safe a country like Saudi Arabia is. In terms of drought and heat, the Middle East is particularly vulnerable, and while there’s a lot of money in some areas of the country to deal with it, there are other parts that are very poor, and they will be hit hardest.”
The only regions likely to stay relatively unscathed for now, it seems, are Caribbean islands lying south of the so-called hurricane belt. “There’s still a sea-level issue with those islands,” says Mitchell, “but I suspect if the hurricane belt moves it will go northward, as hurricanes have to form away from the equator.”
If you dig further into the details contained within the Global Terror Index, one statistic is startling, as Serge Sroobants points out: “Between 2014-18, there was an increase of 320 percent in far-right terror attacks in Northern Europe, North America, and Oceania. And those figures are still rising.”
It’s surely no coincidence that the rise of right-wing populism, epitomised by the election of Donald Trump in the US and the UK’s divisive Brexit policy (now being ruthlessly pushed through by alt-right poster boy, Boris Johnson) have also helped legitimise far-right movements. So you’d be forgiven for seeking out a gentler, more tolerant regime under which to live.
According to analysis by US-based global democracy watchdog Freedom House, Scandinavian nations Finland, Norway and Sweden, with a 100-point rating, still top the charts (although far right parties have won more votes in Finnish and Swedish elections recently). Iceland also scores highly, with chair of the left-green movement Katrin Jakobsdottir their PM since 2017.
Meanwhile, New Zealand is seemingly heading in the opposite direction to the conservative tide, thanks in part to the no-bullshit leadership of Jacinta Ardern, and across the border from Trumpland, Justin Trudeau has gained a lot of friends among liberal-minded folk during his Premiership of Canada. Of course, fascist blowhards rear their ugly heads wherever you are, but it’s comforting to know not every nation is making them feel right at home.
WAR AND CONFLICT
The world is getting less peaceful: a widespread opinion, perhaps, but the Institute for Economics and Peace can tell you it’s also a demonstrable fact. The IEP compiles an annual Global Peace Index, which reports troubling findings.
“When we look at the Peace Index,” says Institute director Serge Sroobants, “we see that the world today is 3.78 percent less peaceful than it was a decade ago. This has mostly been driven by conflict in the Middle East and North Africa.” Nonetheless, you’re still relatively safe if you live in a first-world democracy, he reckons. “Democracies are on top of the Index, and particularly members of the European Union.”
So if that’s another reason for Brits to flee their Brexit-tainted shores, they won’t have to travel too far for a more secure environment. As well as ranking near the bottom of the IEP’s Global Terror Index, Portugal and Iceland are also vying for top spot in the Peace Index. “These are countries not really involved in conflicts or investing in militarisation and societies where grievances and problems are addressed in a non-violent way,” says Sroobants.
It’s all very well physically fleeing to safe corners of the globe to escape your fears, but this is the 21st century—a well-targeted cyber assault could remotely cripple the infrastructure of any nation. A study published last year by tech research company comparitech looked at everything from the prevalence of malware infection in mobile devices and computers to incidences of crypto-mining, and the quality of that country’s systems to combat it. Japan and France came out on top, with Canada in third place as the safest English-speaking nation.
Spiders are top of the shitlist for many nervous types around the world. But while moving away from arachno-filled regions such as Australia and the tropics can help on that score, a general fear of insects—or entomophobia—is also common, and more complicated.
As a rule, though, serious entomophobes need to head for dry and/or cold climates. In which case, Iceland might be the most agreeable option. It’s by no means as cold as the name suggests, with the Gulf Stream keeping it relatively reasonable for most of the year, yet its oceanic climate has led to a zero population of mosquitoes. The worst you’re likely to encounter here is the midge or the black fly in summer, and even then, only in countryside and Lakeland areas.
The fear of storms is in the top 10 phobias reported by an ABC news survey a couple of years back, and thunder and lightning can induce blind terror in previously rational human beings.
Thunderstorms are also pretty rare in northern countries such as Iceland, Scandinavia, and the Baltic countries, even if they’re no strangers to high winds. But if lightning is a particular fear, there are places you can certainly go to find sanctuary. In 2018, lightning detection project Vaisala compiled five years’ worth of data and discovered that coastal Chile and the Patagonian region of Argentina were virtually free from being zapped—as was Egypt, thanks to its desert climate.
Right on cue, though, just after the report was published, thunderstorms hit Cairo and Luxor in the spring of 2018, and due to lack of storm drains and the usual wet weather precautions we take for granted, chaos ensued.
While Australia may be home to nine of the 10 most venomous snakes in the world, New Zealand, just across the Tasman Sea, is known as a country with no native snake population. That said, slippery characters such as the yellow-bellied sea snake have occasionally washed up on Kiwi shores.
If you really want peace of mind, Ireland, Iceland, and Hawaii are all snake-free islands. Legend has it that St Patrick banished the creatures from the emerald isle back in the mists of time, but scientists insist that the ice age and a generally unfavourable climate are the real Irish heroes here.