Pregnancy, childbirth, and motherhood are never easy, even in the world’s wealthiest countries. But for millions of women, pregnancy and birth are still life-threatening, and the dangers to themselves and their children don’t end after delivery. A combination of armed conflicts, natural disasters, and poverty prevent many mothers and children from receiving the health care they need and cause millions of preventable deaths each year. The State of the World’s Mothers report from Save the Children documents these facts in heartbreaking detail:

  • Each day, an estimated 800 mothers and 18,000 young children die from largely preventable causes.
  • [In the ten countries rated as the worst places for mothers and children,] 1 woman in 27 dies from pregnancy-related causes and 1 child in 7 dies before his or her fifth birthday.
  • More than 250 million children under age 5 live in countries affected by armed conflict.
  • The poorest people suffer most from natural disasters – 95 percent of disaster fatalities occur in developing countries.
  • 56 percent of maternal and child deaths take place in fragile settings [nations and regions where the government fails to meet people’s basic needs].
  • Worldwide, women and children are up to 14 times more likely than men to die in a disaster.
  • On average, countries in conflict have less than half the minimum number of recommended health workers.
  • By the end of 2012, more than 45 million people worldwide were forcibly displaced due to conflict or persecution. In addition, natural disasters…displaced more than 32 million in 2012.

The ten worst places for mothers and children, in a ranking based on their “health, educational, economic, and political status,” are Somalia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Niger, Mali, Guinea-Bissau, the Central African Republic, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Chad, and the Côte d’Ivoire. The ten best places: Finland, Norway, Sweden, Iceland, Netherlands, Denmark, Spain, Germany, Australia, and Belgium. Both lists show a remarkable degree of geographic concentration, as the map below shows.

best worst places for moms kids

Despite the grim statistics and the complex situations that underlie them, progress remains possible. As the report documents, although Nepal had ranked among the world’s ten worst nations to be a mother just nine years ago, it has since devoted significant resources to improving access to health care, causing under-5 mortality to drop by 71 percent and maternal mortality to drop by 78 percent since 1990. Here’s hoping that other struggling countries are able to replicate its success.