What makes a city dangerous?
Since 2013, Mexican NGO Seguridad, Justicia y Paz (Security, Justice and Peace) has published a list of the 50 most dangerous cities in the world.
Throughout history, cities have become more dangerous with higher homicide rates where poverty has worsened, unemployment has increased, migration from the region has accelerated and law and order institutions have weakened or become corrupt.
The drug trade and the associated presence of rival criminal gangs has also been proven to destabilise peace and security in cities around the world.
Australia’s most dangerous city
According to World Atlas, Wollongong in New South Wales is the most dangerous city in Australia.
Crime in Wollongong often involves groups of youths who attack foreign visitors and refugees in the city.
In June, 2015, a Syrian asylum seeker was attacked by two men amid reports of heightened racial tension and xenophobia.
Drug abuse is also high in Wollongong, with the incident rate for use and possession of amphetamine 100.3 per 100,000 as of 2014, high above the NSW state average of 70 per 100,000 that same year.
But in 2018, a Wollongong police chief reported a drop in crime rates including robberies, break-ins and domestic violence thanks to heightened police presence and new public order initiatives.
In comparison to the most dangerous cities in the world, Wollongong had a murder rate of just one person in both 2017 and 2018.
The most violent cities in the world
Latin America remains the most dangerous region on earth, dominating the list of worst cities across the top ten.
Dozens of cities and districts across South America from Colombia to Venezuela face increasing political instability, civil unrest, cartel kidnappings, organised crime, gang violence, high unemployment, fuel shortages and rising food prices.
Three of Brazil’s major centres made the top 10, with a total of 17 Brazilian cities included in the overall 50 most violent places.
As Colombia grapples to gain the upper hand in its decades long struggle against the drug trade, neighbouring Venezuela continues to be mired in abject poverty and rampant corruption under a government who have maintained power for 19 years and a regime the people have lost all faith in.
The Venezuelan economy is in total freefall as hyperinflation accelerates at an unprecedented rate, and millions of citizens have fled its borders to escape mounting violence, power outages and starvation.
Meanwhile Mexico features heavily, thanks to escalating violence between rival drug cartels who increasingly vie for control of the trafficking route to the US and beyond.
South Africa also featured prominently in the top 50, with Nelson Mandela Bay (46th), Durban (44th) and the capital city Cape Town (15th) all ranking.
Cape Town, the so-called ‘murder capital’ of a nation continually plagued by violence and racial tension, has been in the top 10 in previous annual listings and has been placed in the top 20 most dangerous cities since Security, Justice and Peace began analysing homicide rates.
The most dangerous cities in North America include Detroit, Michigan (43rd) and New Orleans, Louisiana (42nd).
The US city of Baltimore, Maryland, is America’s most violent place ranking 21st with 341 homicides in 2017 alone.
WHO takes a look at the ten deadliest cities on earth.
10. Belem, Brazil
The bustling port city of Belem in Brazil’s northern Para region is known locally as the gateway to Amazon rainforest and is the 11th most populous city in Brazil with a population of just over 2.4 million.
Belem is affectionately termed the City of Mango Trees thanks to the vast number of mangoes which grow there, but the city is also known for its violence and crime.
In 2017, Belem had 71.38 homicides per 100,000 residents meaning in the space of 12 months, the metropolitan area endured 1,743 murders inside its borders.
In tenth position, Belem earns the dubious title of one of the most dangerous places in the world.
9. Ciudad Guayana, Venezuela
Situated in Venezuela’s Bolivar State, Ciudad Guayana stretches for 40 kilometres along the famed Orinoco river and comprises two towns, Puerto Ordaz and San Felix.
Dotted with waterfalls and sprawling grassy plains, the region is one of Venezuela’s primary generators of electricity and is known for its Mendoza winery.
But Ciudad Guayana is also for its disturbingly high murder rate, experiencing 80.28 homicides for every 10,000 residents in 2017.
With a population of 906,879, the area had a tragic 728 killings in the space of one year, which were mostly linked to gang warfare, weak law and order institutions and easy access to guns.
As across the rest of the country, political unrest and failing industry has damaged the fabric of Ciudad Guayana for the foreseeable future at least.
8. Ciudad Victoria, Mexico
With a population of just over 361,000, the north Mexican region of Ciudad Victoria had 301 homicides over the course of 2017 (or 83.32 murders per 100,000 residents).
This high rate of killing has much to do with violent confrontations and rivalry between regional drug cartels, particularly in the capital Tamaulipas where 11 members of the same family were slaughtered in the same incident back in the summer of 2016.
Intimidation and fear mongering are rife across the district, where a journalist was brutally beaten to death in March 2018 - the third reporter murdered in the space of two weeks.
7. Fortaleza, Brazil
Fortaleza is the capital of the northeastern Brazilian state of Ceara, known for its beautiful beaches, palm trees and idyllic lagoons.
The city is also renowned for its rich culture of dance, performing arts and neo-Gothic architecture, but Fortaleza’s population of almost 4 million mourned the loss of 3,270 people murdered in 2017 alone.
That’s a homicide rate of 83.48 for every 100,000 residents, making it the 7th most deadly place in the world.
Brazil as a whole, Fortaleza included, has experienced an even greater spike in gang violence since the beginning of 2018 thanks to mounting tensions between local drug syndicates.
Open Democracy reported on the dozens of homeless and neglected children roaming the streets of the city in May 2018, and noted the region’s most vulnerable receive no assistance or welfare from the state.
Hunger and drug addiction are rife across Fortaleza, with high unemployment and low attendance at educational facilities.
6. La Paz, Mexico
La Paz is the capital of Baja California Sur state in northwestern Mexico with a population of 305,455 people and a stunning seafront promenade speckled with art galleries, parks and beaches.
Previously peaceful, Mexican drug violence caught the picture postcard city in its grip towards the end of 2017 - the homicide rate in La Paz currently stands at 84.79 per 100,000, with 259 murders recorded in 2017.
The mounting crime involves rivalry between the Jalisco and Sinaloa drug cartels for control of trafficking routes to the US.
The Guardian reported an increased police presence across La Paz during the summer of 2018 had apparently reduced killings, with extra troops deployed to cope with the expanding bloodshed which was proving a major deterrent to foreigners and putting a bruising dent in the Mexican tourism industry.
5. Tijuana, Mexico
One of the areas worst affected by mounting violence from the Mexican drug war is the border city of Tijuana in the state of Baja California.
It’s bustling main street usually does a stellar trade in souvenirs and loose, lively bars, but it’s a different trade that currently dominates the normally light-hearted, holiday style city.
The region saw a staggering 1,463 homicides in the first half of 2018 alone thanks to criminal drug trafficking and turf disputes – an increase of 44 percent over the same period of 2017.
When a man and woman were gunned down in the suburban Tijuana development of Villa del Alamo in January 2018, a neatly written note was left with their bodies.
It read: ‘Welcome to 2018…it belongs to Nueva Generacion’, a reference to the new, aggressive drug cartel Nueva Generacion Jalisco who have been gradually wrestling power from the historic Sinaloa syndicate for the last few years.
4. Natal, Brazil
The capital city of Brazil’s Rio Grande do Norte state, Natal is world famous for its exquisite coastline and 16th century Portuguese fortresses.
It is home to a population of almost 1.35 million, who negotiate the increasingly dangerous city streets largely governed by warring criminal factions involved in the cocaine trade.
But Natal also boasts the fourth highest homicide rate in the country, with 1,378 killings in 2017 alone (an average of 102.56 murders per 100,000 residents).
The city is known to have a high rate of violent crime, including robbery – tourists should always be vigilant as muggings and assault are common.
3. Acapulco, Mexico
Acapulco is a beach resort on Mexico’s Pacific coast backed by the Sierra Madre mountains and renowned for its wild nightlife and party scene since the 1960s.
But while Acapulco was once the favoured haunt of A-list celebrities like Elizabeth Taylor, the city experienced 910 homicides amid its populations of 853,646 people in 2017 alone - that is, 106.63 killings for every 100,000 residents.
Acapulco, and indeed Guerrero state collectively, has been rocked by worsening ‘narco’ or drug related violence in recent years.
Once a teeming tourist hotspot, much of the city now serves as a battleground for cartels and their (many of them) innocent victims.
In February 2018, the US issued a travel warning advising tourists to avoid the former party town, and for foreigners already there to stay indoors at night.
2. Caracas, Venezuela
Caracas, capital city of Venezuela, is home to around 4 million people and acts as the commercial and cultural centre of the embattled South American socialist nation.
The metropolis was declared the most dangerous capital city in the world in 2017, with 111.2 murders for every 100,000 residents.
Murder and kidnapping rates in the city resemble those of a war zone, and tourist visas to the country as a whole are almost impossible to come by in recent years so few foreigners examine the once grand facades of the capital’s best architecture.
Referred to as ‘a land in complete disarray’ by Bloomberg, Caracas has come to worldwide notoriety after international media released shocking images of impoverished Venezuelans queuing for tiny amounts of fuel, gas, and basic necessities.
After hyperinflation took hold, the economy collapsed and something as simple as a fast food meal can cost 20 million bolivars – the equivalent of $44,690 AUD.
1. Los Cabos, Mexico
Less than three years ago, the beachside resort town of Los Cabos was best known for its aquamarine waters, pristine sands and lavish five-star accommodation frequented by the rich, famous and ordinary tourists alike.
Until recently, the 300,000 strong municipality had been spared the bloodshed and tourism destroying violence of the Mexican drug war, but over the last 18 months security and peace have deteriorated at an alarming rate.
So much so, that Los Cabos murder figures have spiked more than 500 percent to a killing every day, 365 days a year - making it not only the most dangerous city in Mexico, but the most dangerous city in the world.
After taking five top 10 spots including first prize, Mexico is now home to the most dangerous places on earth.