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Where Are the World’s Most Fragile Cities?

Climate change, economic inequality, and political unrest are making some of the world’s fastest growing cities dangerously unstable. But even the most fragile places are fixable.
A man walks at the site of the October 14 twin bombings in Mogadishu, Somalia.
A man walks at the site of the October 14 twin bombings in Mogadishu, Somalia. Marius Bosch/Reuters

In 1991, the city of Medellín in Colombia registered a homicide rate of 381 per 100,000—among the highest ever recorded anywhere. In neighboring cities like Barranquilla, Bogotá, and Cali, the levels of violence associated with drug trafficking and political unrest were equally fearsome. Entire neighborhoods were cordoned-off, even to police and public service providers. Gangs, paramilitaries, and guerrillas routinely brought city services to a standstill. The rampant insecurity had severe economic consequences, shaving off anywhere between 4 and 11 percent of the country’s gross domestic product a year.

Today, however, levels of violent crime in Colombia’s cities have plummeted to levels not seen since the 1970s. Medellín’s current homicide rate is around 21 per 100,000, far below that of Detroit, Baltimore, or New Orleans. Bogotá’s murder rate dropped from 80 per 100,000 in 1993 to just 16 today. Even Cali and Barranquilla’s stubbornly high murder rates fell to historic lows. This is good news, since these four cities account for roughly one third of all murders in the country. The national homicide rate is currently 22 per 100,000, the lowest since 1974.