Society - Culture
By: - at March 22, 2015

Top 15 Countries with the Shortest Life Expectancy

All these countries are in Africa:
Africa - Listing the lowest life expectancy from 15 to 1 (lowest)

Two of the most powerful determinates of life expectancy are genetics and health. Health is dictated by access to clean drinking water and diet, and both of these factors rely heavily on financial position. Poor people have much less nutritious diets than those who are wealthy because lets face it, food can be expensive and people purchase only the items they can afford. Feeding ones family with organic, highly nutritious foods all of the time can be a very expensive endeavor. In countries like the United States or other developed nations like the ones that are found in Western Europe, drinking water is less of a luxury. Only purified, store-purchased water in these nations would be considered a luxury. Many city water supplies in these nations could be considered substandard when compared to distilled or purified water varieties, but worrying about minor impurity issues is a far cry from the water issues that many African people face.

The average global life expectancy stands at a healthy 67.8 years - with men living 65.71 years and women living 70.14 years - and these values vary greatly from country to country. In most countries women outlive men but there are exceptions. In Qatar, Tuvalu and Kuwait, men typically outlive the women in these nations. One possibly for this break in trends could have to do with the extreme patriarchal nature of culture existing in many Arabic nations where extreme Islamic fundamentalism thrives. If a woman isn't married in many Arabic countries, her chance at a humane and decent life are next to none. Career opportunities and almost all social mobility for a women relies heavily on who she may be married to. Many are even seen as whores and those that are accused of adultery can even be stoned to death.

The countries whose citizens have the highest life expectancy are located in Western Europe, and there are 22 countries with a life expectancy of more than 80 years old. The countries that rank the highest are San Marino, Andorra, Switzerland, and Italy. People are losing half their lives in these less fortunate countries, often due to war, health epidemics, and famine. This list reflects the harsh reality of those countries with low life expectancy, and points out some of the causes.

15)  Zimbabwe  (54 Years)
The official name of this country is the Republic of Zimbabwe. This country is completely surrounded by land and sits on the planes of Central Africa. The most notable characteristic of Zimbabwe are that its borders are situated between two rivers, the Limpopo and the Zambezi. Zimbabwe covers approximately 390,000 square miles has a population of about 13 million inhabitants.

Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe
Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe
By Kelisi via Wikimedia Commons

Zimbabwe has low life expectancy for several reasons. The lack of hospitals and health centers make it difficult to take care of the sick and injured. There are very few doctors and nurses to tend to them, and almost no modern equipment for treatment and tests exists.

HIV/AIDS is one of the main causes for the high death rates due to disease and illness, as is the case in many African countries with limited access to adequate health care or means to prevent the transmission of the disease. Lack of education also impacts the spread of the virus. Many mothers accidentally transmit the virus to their children, and many infected adults die due to the lack of treatment or from complications when the treatment they actually receive proves to be inadequate.

Mbare Market, Zimbabwe
Mbare Market
By Shack Dwellers International via Wikimedia Commons

Adding to Zimbabwe’s hardship, in the year 2008, an outbreak of cholera ran unchecked in Zimbabwe, killing thousands of young people and dramatically lowering the country’s average life expectancy. The people and the country have not yet been able to recover from it.

14)  Cameroon  (53 years)
Cameroon’s official name is the Republic of Cameroon. This country was once both a French and a British colony, until it became independent from one country and then the other. Just as it has changed countries in its quest for independence, Cameroon has changed its name several times. The current country has settled on the name it is using now. Cameroon is situated in the territory of West Central Africa, and part of its coast is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean. This area forms part of the Guinea Gulf. Cameroon’s territory expands for 183 thousand square miles, and it has about 20 million habitants.

Mount Cameroon - Tiko, Cameroon
Mount Cameroon Tiko
By Amcaja via Wikimedia Commons

The main cause of death in Cameroon is Malaria. This disease is caused by the bite of a mosquito that carries a deadly parasite, called a Plasmodium parasite, inside. It causes a high fever and symptoms that look a lot like the flu—headache, chills, fatigue, and sweats, but left unattended, it has a high mortality rate.


Another deadly disease that affects this country is yellow fever, which also causes a high temperature, but which results in kidney failure. The lack of vaccines and means to detect and treat this illness make it highly fatal. Together, these two already deadly diseases, paired with HIV/AIDS, create an almost insurmountable foe for the people of Cameroon that can be very difficult to fight against. This deadly combination results in the death of far too many people every year.

13)  Burundi  (53 Years)
Another of the many republics of Africa, the Republic of Burundi sits in the area of the Great Lakes of Africa, where the famous Lake Victoria is situated. Burundi is not a very big country, with a small territory of just around 11 thousand square miles. Since it is such a small country in comparison with the other African states, the population is also quite a bit smaller. There are just around 9 million people living here.

Carolus Magnus School in Burundi
By Bernd Weisbrod via Wikimedia Commons

This doesn’t mean that the death rates aren’t relatively high, though. Burundi suffered a long gruesome civil war that lasted for ten years, and that left the country in a state of chaos and disarray. The war itself resulted in many deaths all by itself, but even after it, the consequences are still causing a high mortality rate.

Central Bujumbura
Central Bujumbura
SteveRwanda via Wikimedia Commons

Poverty is a serious problem that the people of Burundi face every day, along with starvation and malnutrition. This lack of resources, combined with poor access to hygiene, and proper healthcare are bad enough as it is, but when you add HIV/AIDS to a country already struggling to survive, the end results are catastrophic on the population’s life expectancy.

12)  Mozambique  (53 years)
Officially known as the Republic of Mozambique, this republic borders southern Africa, and its shores are also bordered by the Indian Ocean. With a total surface of 309 thousand square miles, it has 24 million habitants.

Mount Murresse and Tea Plantations, Northern Mozambique

The main cause of death in Mozambique is HIV/AIDS and a general lack of adequate health care. Since there are not many doctors or even adequate forms of medicine, mothers struggle through childbirth. Many women die in labor, while many babies are stillborn or die at birth. Even if they survive, a high number of newborns never make it past the first 28 days of life. The next landmark that children in Mozambique struggle to pass is the five years of age mark, as the infant mortality rates of children younger than this is still higher than in adults. Once they manage to survive that long, their main enemies are HIV/AIDS and other viral diseases.

European Tourists on the Beach in Inhambane, Mozambique
Inhambane, Mozambique
By Bruneau Pierre via Wikimedia Commons

11)  Nigeria  (53 years)
The Federal Republic of Nigeria's borders are mainly surrounded by land. Situated in West Africa, despite being mainly interior, Nigeria has some territory that touches the coasts of the Guinea Gulf. With a surface area of 356 thousand square miles, it has a population of 170 million habitants, which makes it a very densely populated territory in comparison to other African countries of a similar size.

Zuma Rock Formation
Zuma Rock Formation
By Jeff Attaway via Wikimedia Commons

Nigeria has one of the highest infant mortality rates in the world. More than 20 percent of children in the country die before reaching the age of five, meaning that one out of every five children die before that age. Considering that the average childbirth rate of Nigerian women is five, it means that every mother in the country loses at least one child before they can reach their teens.

Bida Durbar Festival
Bida Durbar Festival

The main causes of death in Nigeria are the high levels of pollution and contamination in rivers, and the epidemic of yellow fever that only grows stronger when the insects that host the virus can multiply in stagnant or polluted waters. HIV/AIDS is also an important cause of death, adding Nigeria to the list of African countries that struggle against the disease.

10)  Chad  (51 years)
Also known as the Republic of Chad, this country is situated south of Libya, with Sudan to its east, the Central African Republic to the south, Cameroon and Nigeria to the Southwest, and Niger to the West. Chad is a fairly big territory, which explains how it can share borders with so many other states. The total area of Chad is 481 thousand square miles, and it has a population of 10 million habitants, which is a low density population for such a big country.

Tribal Delegation in Chad
Tribal Delegation Chad
By Mark Knobil via Wikimedia Commons

Sadly, the vastness of its territory doesn’t mean it has enough resources to properly take care of its growing population. The main cause of death in Chad is an inadequate healthcare system. The lack of hospitals and medical professionals to take care of the sick makes it all too easy for people to die due to lack of vaccines, infections, accidents, and complications caused by minor health issues that didn’t receive the necessary attention and medication when it was needed.

Women in Mao Where Water is Scarce

By Amcaja via Wikimedia Commons

HIV/AIDS and other diseases transmitted during sexual intercourse also cause a serious toll on the population’s numbers.

9)  Angola  (51 Years)
The Republic of Angola is a country situated in the southern coast of Africa, and it borders on the Atlantic Ocean. The country is 481 thousand square miles, and its population is 18 million. Again, it’s not a land with a high density population, but the health hazards are not few nor can can they be taken lightly.

Coatinha Beach in Benguela, Angola
Coatinha Beach Benguela, Angola
By jlrsousa via Wikimedia Commons

Angola has a high infant mortality rate, and, unfortunately, there is little wonder as to why, with the myriad of diseases that are rampant in the area. Aside from AIDS and Malaria, which are recurrent on the African continent, many maladies are carried by insects, like Dengue and Leishmaniasis.

Miradouro da Lua, or "Watchpoint of the Moon" - Luanda, Angola
Watchpoint of the Moon

Dengue is an illness that is carried by mosquitoes, but sadly there is no vaccine for it yet; the only measure to fight it is to avoid being bitten, though that is hardly helpful in tropical areas like Angola. On the other hand, Leishmaniasis is caused by the bite of the sand fly that carries a parasite, and it can affect internal organs like the liver, spleen, and bone marrow. Aside from all of these already dreadful illnesses, Angola also suffers from frequent epidemics of cholera.

8)  Mali  (51 Years)
The Republic of Mali is a West African country completely surrounded by land, sharing borders with Algeria, Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivore, Niger, Guinea, Senegal and Mauritania. Its territory spans a grand total of 479 thousand square miles and it has a population of 14 million habitants.

Hombori, Mali
Hombori, Mali
By Timm Guenther via Wikimedia Commons

The main causes of death in Mali are many, and all of them are terrible. Hunger is one of the primary causes of death, along with bad hygiene and the fact that there is no access to safe drinking water. Only the later one is enough to kill thousands of people from stomach infections and diarrhea. Malaria also runs rampant in this country, along with many other infectious diseases that only grow stronger and spread further due to the lack of access to the means to stay clean.

Market and Great Mosque of Djenne, Mali
Djenne, Mali
By Ferdinand Reus via Wikimedia Commons

Many other diseases that can be treated by simple vaccines, like measles, cause many deaths in Mali. Adding to the list are cholera and tuberculosis, because it is so difficult to maintain standard health practices that will keep the population healthy.

7)  Guinea-Bissau  (50 Years)
Guinea-Bissau is situated in West Africa and touches borders with Senegal to the north, Guinea to the south and east, and with the Atlantic Ocean at its western border. It’s a small country which has covers a distance of only 14 thousand square miles and has a population reaching 1.6 million habitants.

People on the Streets of Guinea-Bissau
People on the Streets of Guinea-Bissau

Despite its petite size, Guinea-Bissau still suffers from two of the biggest pandemics in Africa, both HIV/AIDS and Malaria. But Malaria is especially dangerous for children, due in large part to the deadly high fevers that come with it.

Typical Scenery in Guinea-Bissau
By jbdodane via Wikimedia Commons

According to 2010 estimates, as many as 86 percent of the 660,000 Malaria deaths in the country were small children.

6)  Swaziland  (50 Years)
The Kingdom of Swaziland is situated between South Africa and Mozambique, and it’s a relatively small country of just 6,704 square miles and over one million residents. Its small size only makes it all the more devastating for you to learn that it has the highest HIV/AIDS infection rate in the world, with 25 percent of adults having the deadly disease. This, of course, makes it the number one health issue the population has to deal with, but the country lacks the resources necessary to prevent and fight AIDS. Due to this, up to 64 percent of deaths in Swaziland are caused by the deadly disease.

Swazi People Dancing in a Cultural Village Show
Swazi People Dancing in a Cultural Village Show
By BZer0 from Wikimedia Commons

The second cause of death is tuberculosis. This illness is not caused by a virus, but by bacteria, and it usually attacks the lungs, causing painful and bloody coughing fits. It doesn’t only attack the lungs, though, as it will often attack other internal organs like the liver, the spine, or even the brain. Tuberculosis can be treated, but when it’s not, then it can be deadly.

Princess Dlamini at Reed Dance Festival in Swaziland 2006
Princess Dlamini at Reed Dance Festival in Swaziland 2006

5)  Somalia  (50 years)
The Republic of Somalia is situated in the Horn of Africa, and it’s surrounded by Ethiopia and Djibouti, with its coasts bordered by the waters of the Indian Ocean that dip into the Gulf of Aden. Somalia is a country of medium size in relation to other African states, with a surface area of 246 thousand square miles; its population is about 10 million.

Somalia Drought
Somalia Drought

The main causes of death in Somalia are an extremely poor healthcare system and a lack of preventative care. Because of the Somalia Civil War that lasted for most of the 1990s, the healthcare, which was controlled by the government, collapsed. This means that the population suddenly lacked working hospitals and health professionals, as well as access to medicines. Famine and draught ravish the country nearly ever year, and more and more Somalians are packed into relief camps.

Port of Mogadishu
Port of Mogadishu

The lack of correct sanitation and the precarious conditions the civilians live in after the war became a breeding ground for all kinds of diseases to spread. And, because people no longer had access to vaccination and treatment, many viral diseases that could have been treated suddenly turned deadly.

4)  Lesotho  (50 years)
The Kingdom of Lesotho is a small little enclave situated inside the territory of South Africa. The country covers 11,583 square miles and has a population of 2 million. Perhaps due to its small size, more than half of the habitants of Lesotho live below the poverty levels, which is already enough of a reason for its early mortality levels.

Roma Village, Lesotho
Roma Village, Lesotho
By Martin Schärli via Wikimedia Commons

Hunger, lack of drinking water, accessible and adequate healthcare and vaccination -- all of these are a dangerous mix of deadly reasons for this country’s short life expectancy.

Qiloane Near Thaba Bosiu, Lesotho
Qiloane Near Thaba Bosiu, Lesotho
By Martin Schärli via Wikimedia Commons

But if you add to this the fact that it also has a really high infant mortality rate, and one of the highest percentages of HIV/AIDS patients, it’s no wonder how this little country would have such a hard time helping the citizens live past the half century mark.

3)  Congo  (49 years)
Also known as the Democratic Republic of Congo, this central African country is ranked 11th on the list of largest countries in the world, which just by itself is a considerable feat. With a surface area of 905 thousand square miles, 75 million people call Congo home.

An USAID-Supported Animal Husbandry Training Program in Congo
An USAID-Supported Animal Husbandry Training Program in Congo

The main cause of early death is a large series of maladies that could be prevented and controlled with vaccination but are not. HIV and AIDS are serious problems here, as is Malaria. In addition, Congo suffers from Polio, Typhoid, Yellow Fever and Ebola. The Ebola virus originated in Congo and is usually carried by animals of the area, infecting both primates and humans. It’s highly fatal, as it causes high fevers and internal hemorrhages, muscle pains, and stomach afflictions. Ebola has no treatment, and since its origins are unknown, there is also no way of preventing infection, which is why it’s such a problem here.

Congolese Farmer
Congolese Farmer
By Moyogo via Wikimedia Commons

This country also has the second highest infant mortality rate in the world, which is explained by all the viral and infectious diseases that can be contracted inside its territory.

2)  Central African Republic  (48 years)
The Central African Republic shares borders to the Northeast with Sudan. Inside its 240 thousand square miles live an estimated 4 million residents.

Rebel Militia in the Northern Countryside
Rebel Militia in the Northern Countryside
By hdptcar via Wikimedia Commons

The main cause of early deaths in Central African Republic is the lack of preventive treatment. The country is plagued with many endemic diseases, but it does not have the vaccines and treatment needed to be able to avoid massive infection in the population. Malaria and Yellow Fever are commonplace in this country, as are Leprosy and Tuberculosis. While Leprosy (the official name is Hansen’s disease) doesn’t necessarily kill, it can lead to complications that can assist other diseases in killing the afflicted. As leprosy affects the skin and nerves, and can cause blindness, it can often also leave a person numb so that they lose the ability to feel pain from other health problems and infections. This can result in their leaving the new illness unattended until it’s too late.

Typical Village in Central African Republic
Typical Village in Central African Republic
By hdptcar via Wikimedia Commons

Leprosy paired with HIV/AIDS, of which the Central African Republic has a high percentage, can easily become a deadly combination that puts this country at number two of this list.

1)  Sierra Leone  (47 years)
The last country is the Republic of Sierra Leone. This country is situated in West Africa, with the Atlantic shores to the Southwest of its territory. It consists of 28 thousand square miles of land, and has approximately 6 million inhabitants. The reasons for Sierra Leone’s short life expectancy are many—each as terrible as the next.

School in Koindu Destroyed During the Civil War
School in Koindu Destroyed During the Civil War

Unfortuntely, the civil war led to many child kidnappings in which children were forced to become soldiers against their will, causing the deaths of thousands of young boys before they could reach adulthood. This, paired with a high mortality rate in newborns and infants, as well as in mothers during childbirth, makes growing past childhood almost an impossibility. Adding to this, there is also a lack of working water distribution systems. Often times, even in the main cities, water is cut off, if there is a direct supply at all. This forces many people to drink contaminated water, when they can have access to any, which causes an onset of endemic diseases to spread, as well as other problems derived from drinking contaminated water, like diarrhea, which today is one of the greater causes of death in the world.

Sierra Leone Rice Farmer
Sierra Leone Rice Farmer

Of the endemic diseases that affect Sierra Leone, like AIDS, Cholera and Yellow Fever, which are already common ground the country shares with other African countries, they also suffer Lassa Fever and Meningitis. The latter is an inflammation of the membrane that covers the brain and spine, and it can be caused by viruses, bacteria, drug use or physical injuries.

African nations are at a disadvantage as they were recently colonies of major European nations who pulled out of Africa just as recent as the middle of the 20th century. When European rule ceased, power vacuums occurred causing horrible atrocities like civil war, genocide, and systematic rape. Looking towards the future, Africa must secure stable governance and provide stable, clean, and effective infrastructure components like drinking water, food supply, vaccines, and appropriate health care. Addressing the HIV/AIDS issue will be essential to the long-term prosperity of many African nations.

Since 2005, the life expectancy in the African continent has risen by six years. Positive trends like this can be accelerated through better education, health care, and preventative measures. The efforts of global humanitarian organizations as well as local governments can make a huge difference here. There is still hope that these people can have longer and healthier lives.





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