Has anyone ever asked you “where is the most dangerous place on Earth?” It’s a pretty subjective question because it depends entirely on the parameters you set.
The remotest part of Antarctica is clearly pretty dangerous, because without a way to get to warmth or food, you’re going to freeze to death pretty sharpish. If you’re deathly allergic to bee stings, however, then you might as well pop down to Antarctica, which is the only continent on Earth not to feature them.
There are, thanks to atmospheric, geological, zoological or anthropological processes, plenty of places on Earth where you are highly likely to be killed. With that in mind, then, here are some picks for the most dangerous places on Earth, but note that there are plenty more out there.
1 – Mount Everest’s Peak
It’s entirely unsurprising that this should feature on the list. Mount Everest itself, apart from being the tallest mountain on Earth – unless you’re being very picky – is also one of the most dangerous to climb.
You’ve got more hazards than you probably expect: Apart from the risk of gravity snatching you away from the edifice and breaking your fragile body down below, there’s also the risk of earthquakes, which can trigger fatal avalanches – something grimly demonstrated back in April 2015, when 19 people died at Base Camp.
You’ve also got exposure to the cold, which can steal a good few lives. There’s also altitude sickness, which, according to LiveScience, kicks in at around 2,440 meters (8,000 feet) above sea level, with the more serious version of the condition only affecting healthy people just over a kilometer or so above that.
Thanks to the low air pressure at those heights, the concentration of oxygen molecules drops. This makes respiration more difficult, which leads to all kinds of symptoms, including – but not limited to – dizziness, headaches, nausea, breathlessness, fatigue, and more. According to the UK’s National Health Service, symptoms are usually worse at night.
If you ignore these symptoms or climb to the peak – more than 8.8 kilometers (over 29,000 feet) above sea level – then you could get high-altitude cerebral edema (HACE). HACE involves the swelling of the brain caused by this oxygen deprivation. Apart from causing hallucinations, people who have it often don't realize and think they’re fine.
If not treated immediately, it’s often fatal – and people climbing Everest have died in this very manner, or from exposure/fall-related deaths linked to their hampered cognitive abilities.
Above 8,000 meters (26,247 feet), you have entered what has been colloquially referred to as the Death Zone. Here, the oxygen concentration is one-third of that at sea level. As noted by Gizmodo, your body will use up its oxygen supply faster than breathing it, so if you stay here too long, you are guaranteed to die.
2 – Vanuatu
It’s not enough to say living alongside the western seaboard of the US, or the eastern coast of New Zealand, is one of the most dangerous places on Earth. Massive megathrust earthquakes and tsunamis are expected, but it’s difficult to say when – and you’re far more likely to die in a car crash in those areas any day of the week. Natural disasters are killers, though, so does anywhere on Earth get more of them, and is most vulnerable to damage, than anywhere else?
That’s where the World Risk Report, authored by the UN University, comes in. It ranks countries based on how likely they are to be impacted by natural disasters and how exposed they are. You can look at their methodology here, but data between 2012 and 2016 puts Vanuatu at the top of the list.
As noted by BBC Earth, this Pacific island nation is threatened by earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and cyclones, and lacks the infrastructural capacity to handle them, both during and after the event occurs. Next on the list is Tonga, which has the same problems except for volcanic eruptions; instead, droughts happen.
The Philippines came in at #3, as many of its cities are extremely vulnerable to natural disasters, and its ability to deal with them pales in comparison to anywhere along the western seaboard of the US. Access to resources matter, and as we’ve noted here, inequality and lack of wealth is a killer in dangerous times.
3 – Lake Kivu, DRC/Rwanda
You may have never heard of this particular location, but in 1986, it unleashed a ghostly terror upon those living nearby. This volcanic, highly stratified (layered) lake had accumulated and trapped centuries’ worth of dissolved carbon dioxide within its waters.
It’s not clear what triggered it – although it’s often suspected of being due to a landslide – but on August 21, the exsolving of this colorless, odorless gas from the lake occurred en masse. It rolled down the slopes, filled the valley, and suffocated more than 1,700 people as they slept in their beds, some living as far as 24 kilometers (15 miles) away.
Something similar once took place at the nearby Lake Monouon, and both events are referred to as “limnic eruptions”. Thankfully, in the case of Nyos, French scientists have been installing degassing pipes over the last couple of decades to ensure that carbon dioxide no longer accumulates in the water. As noted by Slate, they’ve also added a solar-powered warning system.
This is where Lake Kivu comes in.
Straddling the border between the DRC and Rwanda. It’s 2,000 times bigger than Lake Nyos, and has 2 million people living by its shoreline. It’s also full of methane and carbon dioxide, so the potential for another sudden effusion of lethal gas exists – just with far more people in the way, which makes this a cataclysm-in-waiting.
Methane is also incredibly valuable, so both nations have agreed to mine it as part of the Kivuwatt Biogas Project. They have to be extremely careful though: As noted by researchers, if the methane – currently trapped beneath the deepest water in the lake – is disturbed, it could rapidly degas into the atmosphere, killing those nearby.
4 – Sierra Leone
There’s more to worry about than nature, of course. If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you’re under 30, and the world can be a dangerous place for the young.
A recent Guardian analysis of data by the World Health Organization (WHO) found that, if you’re aged between 15 and 29, Sierra Leone is the most dangerous place to live. In 2015, you had a one-in-150 chance of dying. They also note that its youth mortality rate – 671 per 100,000 – is even higher than that in Syria (579 per 100,000), which is arguably the most violent place on Earth right now.
Sierra Leone is one of the poorest countries on Earth. It has limited access to safe, clean drinking water, and it’s burdened by a grim healthcare infrastructure. It’s recently experienced Ebola outbreaks, as well as a bloody civil war from 1991 to 2002.
5 – Yellowstone
Hah! Made you look. No, I’m not referring to the caldera here. The odds of that erupting on any given year are incredibly low – one-in-730,000, according to the United States Geological Survey (USGS). Even if it does erupt, it’s unlikely to be a supereruption, which would at minimum unleash 1,000 cubic kilometers (240 cubic miles) of fresh volcaniclastic material.
It’s either going to be a lava flow or a hydrothermal blast, which is far more common in its eruptive history. Right now, there’s nowhere enough molten, eruptible magma down there to trigger an eruption, and nothing would happen even if you dropped a nuke on it.
So there. You’re far more likely to die falling into one of their geothermal springs, which will literally dissolve you into nothingness in a day. Saying that, did you know that there’s a slither of land in Idaho, covered by the Yellowstone National Park (YNP), where there’s no way to be trialed for anything, including murder?
You can read about why in more detail here and here, but here’s a quick version.
YNP, the first national park in the US, was founded in 1872, before Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho joined the Union. The 130-square-kilometer (50-square-mile) patch of land that’s in Idaho does not have a jury, so if you killed someone there, you have a constitutional right to be tried there.
As no one lives there, though, there is no local jury. You could allow them to try you in Wyoming, where the District Court that oversees the entirety of YNP resides in that state. Unless you do that, then legally, you cannot be tried at all.
Legal experts have said that something needs to be done here, but so far, the loophole remains. So watch your backs, people.