Gang violence, mass shootings, poverty and sprawling populations: These are all unwanted characteristics exhibited by the 40 deadliest cities in the world.
The majority are clustered in the Western Hemisphere, data shows, with cities in South and Central America, as well as the United States, dominating the list.
Of the top ten, nine are in Mexico. Colima – the capital of the Mexican state of the same name – was ranked at the top of the list and above the likes of Tijuana, New Orleans, Cape Town, Kingston, Port-au-Prince and Cali, which also feature.
It is the sixth consecutive year a Mexican city has been ranked the world’s most violent by the The Citizen Council for Public Security and Criminal Justice CCPSCJ, an advocacy group based in Mexico City, which compiles an annual report.
Because of Mexico, cities on the North American continent make up 23 of the top 40, although six from the US are also included (New Orleans, Baltimore, Detroit, Memphis, Cleveland and Milwaukee), as well as one each from Jamaica and Haiti.
The 40 deadliest cities in the world are clustered in the Western Hemisphere, data shows, with South and Central America, as well as the United States, dominating the list of where the most violent metropolises are found. Pictured: The 40 deadliest cities are plotted with red dots on this map, with some notable cities highlighted with their population and homicide numbers
It is the sixth consecutive year a Mexican city has been ranked the most violent in the world by the The Citizen Council for Public Security and Criminal Justice CCPSCJ, an advocacy group based in Mexico City, which compiles an annual report. Pictured: The top 40 deadliest cities
An additional 13 are from South America and four in Africa – all of which are in South Africa: Cape Town, Durban, Port Elizabeth and Johannesburg.
The average homicide rate across the top 40 cities on the list is 64.55 per 100,000 people – more than ten times the global average of 5.36 per 100,000.
Several cities on the list share a number of similarities, including dense and rapidly expanding populations, districts rife with poverty and gang violence, as well as law enforcement agencies and governments that are unequipped to tackle the issue.
Here, MailOnline delves into the world’s 40 most deadly cities, and finds out what makes them so violent…
In 2011, Colima was ranked first among small cities and tenth overall in Latin America as a place to live by FDI – a subsidiary of the UK publication the Financial Times.
FDI evaluated the city on six categories: economic potential, human resources, cost-benefit ratio, quality of life, infrastructure and favorable business environment.
Just over a decade later, however, it has been ranked the most violent city in the world, with a shocking 182 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants in 2022.
In total, the city of just over 330,000 people saw 601 people intentionally killed.
Not only does it occupy the unwanted place at the top of the CCPSCJ’s rankings, but the homicide rate is the third highest recorded since the council began its records.
A forensic technician walks at a crime scene where unknown assailants left the bodies of men wrapped in blankets in Zacatecas, Mexico on February 5, 2022
What’s more, it is actually a slight improvement on the rate of 196 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants that it recorded in 2021 when it also topped the list.
The situation has not improved in 2023, according to Mexico Daily Post, which in July reported that 70 people were victims of homicide in January alone.
Among the victims in the region so far this year was a university student who played American Football, a doctor, and a 16-year-old boy, the Mexico Daily Post reports.
The main cause of violence in the city, it says, is a dispute between rival drug cartels fighting for control of the territory, as well as smuggling routes to the US.
The city sits on the coast of the Pacific Ocean and has access to the port of Manzanillo, one of the most important in Latin America and often used by criminal groups to import chemicals and drugs.
Intelligence reports from the United States say at least four major cartels contest Colima: Jalisco Nueva Generación (CJNG), Sinaloa, Santa Rosa de Lima, and Cárteles Unidos.
In their fight for control, they have unleashed a wave of violence on the city.
Assassinations, kidnappings, extortion, robberies and brazen attacks on local security forces are commonplace, with local authorities unable to get control of the violence.
In addition to Colima, eight other Mexican cities made up the top 10 of the CCPSCJ’s list: Zamora, Ciudad Obregón, Zacatecas, Tijuana, Celaya, Juárez, Uruapan and Acapulco, according to the report.
Six more Mexican cities (Irapuato, Cuernavaca, Cancun, Chihuahua, Morelia and León) were included in the top 40.
Zamora, located in the western state of Michoacán, came in second, with 178 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants while Ciudad Obregón, the second largest city in the northwestern state of Sonora, recorded 138 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants.
Zacatecas, the capital and largest city of the north-central state of Zacatecas, came in fourth with an average of 134 per 100,000 inhabitants and the Pacific border city of Tijuana, across from California, ranked fifth with 105 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants.
The cities of Celaya and Uruapan in the central state of Guanajuato placed sixth and seventh, respectively. Celaya registered 99.6 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants and Uruapan followed with 78 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants.
The top 10 list is rounded out by Ciudad Juárez at nine and Acapulco in tenth position. Ciudad Juárez, a border town located in the northwestern state of Chihuahua and south of El Paso, Texas, registered 68 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants. It was second in 2019 with 104 murders per 100,000 inhabitants.
Acapulco, meanwhile, saw 66 homicides per 100,000 people in 2022.
Of those nine Mexican cities, Tijuana is the largest with a population of more than two million. Ciudad Juárez has a population of 1.5 million.
Killings in Tijuana rose by about 9 percent in the 12 months ending in June this year, according to the federal public safety department. Tijuana has more homicides than any other city in Mexico, with 1,818 killings in the 12-month period ending in May.
As in Colima, it is well known that several drug cartels are waging turf battles in Tijuana, that which across the border from San Diego, California.
In June, it was reported that the city’s mayor – Montserrat Caballero, moved to an army base for her own safety, after she received threats.
President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said the threats had been made by ‘organized crime groups,’ a term used in Mexico to refer to drug cartels. López Obrador said the same threats had been received simultaneously against the governor of the border state of Baja California, a former governor and the mayor.
Forensic personnel work at the crime scene where unknown assailants left the bodies of three dismembered people in a vacant lot in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, on August 31
A policeman carries a child away during a gun battle in Tijuana, in Mexico’s state of Baja California, January 17, 2008 (file photo)
Caballero has acknowledged the cartels’ strong presence in the past. In 2022, after gangs carjacked and burned at least 15 vehicles throughout the city, Caballero made a direct public appeal to stop targeting civilians.
‘Today we are saying to the organized crime groups that are committing these crimes, that Tijuana is going to remain open and take care of its citizens,’ Caballero said in a video in 2022, adding ‘we also ask them to settle their debts with those who didn’t pay what they owe, not with families and hard-working citizens.’
Obrador himself is criticised in the CCPSCJ report, which cites his ‘Abrazos, no balazos’ (Hugs, not bullets) approach to tackling the violence in the country.
‘There is no precedent in the world of a national government – like happens today in Mexico – [that] has adopted as a public security policy that hands criminals [the power] to exercise violence and openly proclaim it,’ the report says.
The only city not in Mexico that made it into the top 10 of the CCPSCJ’s list was not in South America, as some may expect, but actually in the United States.
With a shocking homicide rate of 71 per 100,000 people, New Orleans – one of America’s most historic and beautiful cities – came in eighth overall.
The CCPSCJ reported 266 homicides in the city of 376,971 people in 2022, becoming the murder capital of the United States above the other American cities on the list, which also includes Baltimore, Detroit, Memphis, Cleveland and Milwaukee.
Baltimore came in 17th place with 58 homicides per 100,000, Detroit came in 23rd with 49 per 100,000, Memphis in 25th with 48, Cleveland in 27th with 46 and Milwaukee came in 39th place with 38 homicides per 100,000 people.
Police officers work at the scene of a shooting that occurred during the Krewe of Bacchus parade in New Orleans, February 19, 2023
From 1990 to the mid-2010s, murder rates in the United States were on the way down. However, they have spiked again in recent years, and in 2021 hit 6.8 per 100,000 people – the highest rate since before the year 2000.
The spike has experts worried that the US is slipping into another violent era, similar to that seen between the 1970s and 1990s.
The number of gun-related deaths in the United States has risen significantly in the last two decades, with gun homicides in particular rising sharply in recent years.
In New Orleans, 97 percent of homicides in 2022 were from gun violence.
Data shows 887 were either injured or killed in the city by gunfire in 2022, with analysts saying more than a quarter of the murders happened in three areas – Central City, the Seventh Ward and Little Wood.
In fact, the city has recorded the nation’s highest murder rate of any big city more than a dozen times since 1993, with 1994 seeing 424 murders in a single year – a homicide rate of 86 per 100,000, the highest ever recorded by any US city.
Like in the Mexican cities listed, New Orleans has long had an issue with gang violence.
Before Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the city’s gangs tended to be small local groups divided among the city’s 17 wards. However, gang related homicides spiked in 2007, and the groups have grown in number, even expanding into other cities.
Criminologists and police officials have put the recent violence in the city – and across the US more generally – down to several potential factors, including stress from the Covid-19 pandemic, police forces pulling back after racial justice protests and the proliferation of guns.
In the Louisiana city itself, officials and residents say the police force is overwhelmed, and estimates it has just 50 to 60 percent of the officers it needs to police the city effectively.
According to a report last year, the average 911 response time in New Orleans is two-and-a-half hours, although the department says this is much shorter in the most serious of emergency calls.
One of the biggest complaints among police officers, according to the Wall Street Journal, is a 2012 agreement that gives a federal judge authority to oversee police reforms to address the issues of inequity, abuse of power and corruption that have long affected the department.
A police officer passes a child’s bicycle after a mass shooting at the scene of a Fourth of July holiday weekend block party in Baltimore, Maryland, U.S. July 2, 2023
This has meant the force struggles with retention and recruitment, with officers unhappy with being written up for infractions such as dress code violations.
Like New Orleans, Baltimore also has a reputation for its crime rate and – as has become all too common for cities across the US – was the site of a mass shooting earlier this year, in which two people were killed and 28 were injured.
It was the largest mass shooting incident in the city’s history.
Homicides in the city are heavily concentrated within a small number of poverty-ridden neighbourhoods, with around 80 percent being committed in just 25 percent of the Maryland city’s districts.
As for Detroit, while its crime rate has decreased considerably since a peak in the 1980s, it still ranks highly among the world’s most dangerous cities, as do Memphis, Cleveland and Milwaukee.
South America has a long, storied history of violence. The continent has some of the highest crime rates in the world which experts put down to a combination of extreme poverty, drug cartels and geography.
Between 2000 and 2017, Latin America – which stretches from the southern tip of South America to Mexico in the north – experienced more than 2.5 million murders.
Brazil, South America’s largest country, is one of the nations that has the largest inequality in terms of the gap between the very wealthy and the poverty stricken – and ranks only second to South Africa in world rankings of income inequality.
In 2018 alone, Brazil saw more than 63,000 murders, with the incidence rate of muggings, armed robberies, sexual assault and murder being very high, particularly in its largest cities such as Rio de Janeiro and Recife.
Members of the Civil Police take part in a large scale operation against drug trafficking, to occupy and secure parts of Jacarezinho favela in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on January 19, 2022
Of the 13 South American cities on the CCPSCJ’s list of the most dangerous in the world, ten are in Brazil: Mossoró, Salvador, Manaus, Feira de Santana, Vitória da Conquista, Natal, Fortaleza, Recife, Maceió and Teresina.
Five – Salvador, Manaus, Natal, Fortaleza and Recife – have populations of more than a million people and three (Salvador, Fortaleza and Recife) have vast populations of over 3.5 million people.
But it is Mossoró, a relatively small city of 260,000, that had the highest homicide rate in Brazil and South America in 2022, according to the CCPSCJ’s report.
It states that Mossoró – found in the state of Rio Grande do Norte – saw 167 homicides last year, meaning it had a homicide rate per 100,000 people of 63, putting it 11th on the list.
The rapidly growing city has developed a reputation for drug trafficking, robberies, assaults and other gang-related crimes that are put down to poverty and ill-equipped law enforcement.
Salvador (pop. 3.5 million) was Brazil’s next most dangerous city, with a homicide rate of 57 putting it in 19th, followed by 21st place Manaus (population 2 million) with a rate of 51, 22nd placed Feira de Santana (pop. 650,000) with a rate of 50 and 26th placed Vitória da Conquista (pop. 380,000) with a rate of 47.
Natal, with a population of 1.2 million, saw 569 homicides in 2022, thus giving it a homicide rate of 45 – putting it in 28th.
Fortaleza (placed 35), the largest Brazilian city on the list with a population of 3.9 million, saw 1,678 homicides, a rate of 43 per 100,000, while Recife – with a population of 3.7 million, saw 1,494 homicides and a rate of 40 per 100,000.
Maceió, population 960,000, had a rate of 39 homicides per 100,000 and Teresina, population 860,000 and a rate of 37, were ranked 36th and 40th respectively.
Three other South American cities outside Brazil also made the list: Cali and Santa Marta, both in Colombia, and Guayaquil in Ecuador.
Cali in particular is famous for its historic violence on account of the presence of the Cali cartel, which in the mid 1990s had control over around 80 percent of the world’s cocaine market, and are said to have been directly responsible for the growth of the market into Europe – where they also controlled roughly 80 percent.
While the influence of the Cali Cartel as it was known in the 90s has waned as its leaders were arrested one-by-one, violence in the city has persisted.
Demonstrators clash with riot police during a protest against a tax reform bill launched by Colombian President Ivan Duque, in Cali, Colombia on April 29, 2021
A decade ago, much of this was put down to an on-going ‘mafia war’ between two ‘neo-paramilitary’ groups – Los Rastrojos and Los Urabeños – both of which are involved in drug trafficking.
Los Rastrojos was seen as the heir to the Cali Cartel, and in 2011 alone its members were accused of being responsible for 80 murders in the city, although – with 1,700 assassins employed by the group – the true number could be higher.
The city has cracked down on the activity of such groups in recent years, and by 2017 the last faction of the Los Rastrojos is believed to have been rounded up.
Despite this, the city of 2.4 million still saw 1,007 homicides in 2022, a rate of 42 per 100,000 people – placing it 32nd on the list.
Officials have pinned the blame on drug trafficking and guerrilla groups, combined with anti-government protests. Protesters say police brutality is partly responsible.
The Colombian city of Santa Marta (population 712,000) also features on the list, with 280 killings – a rate of 39 homicides per 100,000. It ranks 37th.
Popular with tourists, the city sits in the north of the country on the Caribbean coast. A recent uptick in violence there has been blamed on turf wars, with drug traffickers battling for control of the major port city.
The 13th South American city on the list is Ecuador’s Guayaquil. Ranked as the 24th most dangerous in the world, the city home to 3.1 million people saw 1,537 homicides in 2022, a rate of 48 per 100,000.
Ecuador, which borders Colombia, has seen what has been described as a ‘tide of violence’ in recent years, culminating last month in the assassination of presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio, plunging the country into chaos.
Guayaquil in particular has been a focal point of such violence, with the city already recording almost 1,400 homicides in 2023 so far – and is expected to see more than last year by the year’s end.
Ecuadorian troops carrying out an operation at the Men’s Social Rehabilitation Center No. 1, also known as the Litoral Penitentiary, in Guayaquil, Ecuador, August 25 2023
A national emergency was declared in the wake of the shocking assassination, while Guayaquil itself has seen multiple successive states of emergency imposed.
Behind the violence is what the UN’s Office on Drugs and Crime describes as a global ‘prolonged surge in both the supply of and demand for cocaine’.
As the US market turns to other drugs such as fentanyl, the European market has bolstered demand for cocaine, with gangs in the Balkans as well as Italy’s feared ’Ndrangheta mafia understood to have expanded into Ecuador.
This, according to The Guardian, has supercharged local criminal groups that are accused of using extreme violence, much like that which has been seen carried out by the cartels in Mexico and other Latin American nations in recent decades.
In terms of the sheer number of people who were killed in homicides in 2022, three South African cities – Cape Town, Johannesburg and Durban – saw far more than any other city on the list.
In fact, across the whole country, the last three months of 2022 saw around 83 people murdered in South Africa every single day.
Cape Town alone, with a population of almost 4.8 million people, saw 2,998 people killed in homicides, while Johannesburg – population 6.1 million (making it by far the largest city on the list) – saw 2,547.
South African police officer takes aim at protesters during the ongoing strike by taxi operators against traffic authorities in Cape Town, South Africa, August 7, 2023
Similarly, with a population of 4 million, Durban saw 2,405 homicides in 2022.
While the three cities saw more murders than any other, their homicide rates were lower than some of the Mexican and US cities on account of their vast populations, with Cape Town ranking 12th overall, Durban 15th and Johannesburg 34th.
They had homicide rates of 63, 59 and 41 out of 100,000 respectively.
Nelson Mandela Bay (formerly Port Elizabeth) – population 1.3 million – also featured on the list in 18th place, with 687 homicides in 2022, and a homicide rate of 57.
Since the country hit peak levels of violence in 2001 – when a South African was more likely to be murdered than die in a car crash – it had seen gradual drop in homicides over the last two decades.
Numbers are on the rises again, however, with an uptick in gang activity. Mob violence is regularly meted out in informal settlements where police are less trusted.
Against this backdrop, there have also been rising fatalities of innocent bystanders caught up in the violence.
On-duty nurses have been known to have been shot, and women accused of witchcraft are murdered regularly. This is put down to poverty and illiteracy.
Muggings-gone-wrong also claim the lives of many.
As with many other cities on the list, analysts put the extreme violence down to vast, poverty-stricken populations living in densely packed settlements. Such conditions mean criminal gangs can thrive.
Like Brazil, South Africa also has vast wealth inequality. The top 20 percent of the population holds near 70 percent of the income, while the bottom 20 percent of the population have less than 5 percent of the country’s income.
This inequality is closely linked to racial divisions that have persisted since the end of apartheid in 1994, and adding fuel to the flames of violence in the country.
A member of the South African Police Services aim at looters following sporadic looting and vandalism outside the Lotsoho Mall in Katlehong township, Johannesburg, July 12, 2021
Jamaica and Haiti
After Mexico, the United States, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador and South Africa, only two more countries had cities featured on the list: Jamaica and Haiti.
Respectively, Kingston in Jamaica and Port-au-Prince in Haiti ranked 16th and 20th on the CCPSCJ’s list, both of which have a fearsome reputation for violence.
Figures show that when Jamaica first gained independence, the murder rate was 3.9 per 100,000 inhabitants, one of the lowest rates in the world.
However, by 2021 this had risen to 52 per 100,000 – the highest rate of all countries not at war, even above the likes of South Africa, El Salvador and Mexico.
At the centre of the violence are Jamaica’s major cities, including Kingston, Montego Bay and Spanish Town – all of which experience high levels of crime.
In 2022, Kingston – home to 1.2 million people – saw 722 homicides, a rate of 58 per 100,000 – an even higher rate than the country’s overall rate from a year earlier.
Much of this has been attributed to Jamaican posses, a loose coalition of gangs in the Caribbean country that also extend to London, New York City and Toronto and who dominate west and south sides of Kingston.
They even have links to the main Jamaican political parties, the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) and the People’s National Party (PNP).
Few gangs would say they are not affiliated with either of the two parties.
Posse members are known for gun battles with the police, drive-by shootings over turf disputes with rival gangs, as well as brutal murders of members caught ‘ripping off’ profits made from drugs by the groups.
The gang members have little regard for human life, with extreme violence directed at anyone deemed to have shown disrespect, or to have got in their way.
Similarly, Haiti’s capital of Port-au-Prince – less than 300 miles away from Kingston across the Caribbean Sea – has also seen a surge in extreme gang violence in recent years, resulting in civilian killings and prompting vicious vigilante retaliations.
While the city has for a long time been at the centre of turf wars, the violence became particularly acute in the wake of the assassination of president Jovenel Moïse in 2021.
The poorest country in Latin America descended into this fresh wave of bloodshed and chaos after its president, Jovenel Moïse, was assassinated last year. Pictured: protests in July 2021
Like many others on the list, the city – home to 2.9 million – is poor and densely populated, with hundreds of thousands living in slums. There, the gangs thrive.
The CCPSCJ list shows that 1,596 homicides took place in Port-au-Prince in 2022, a homicide rate of 55 per 100,000 residents.
The United Nations says gangs have control of 80 percent of the capital, where Murders, rapes and kidnappings have become commonplace.
Others say it is 100 percent, with officials virtually powerless to stop the violence.
In one ten-day orgy of violence in Port-au-Prince back in July 2022, gangs waged open warfare against each other in Cité Soleil – one of the capital’s slums home to 250,000 – launching raids into rival territory where they shot civilians on sight.
Gangsters stormed into people’s homes and raped any woman they found, before retreating back into their own territory – only to return again the next day.
The worst violence occurred on a single road leading out of the slum’s Nan Brooklyn district, as about 20,000 people fled.
As citizens attempted to escape down the main road, they were shot in the streets. Several children were killed, with their parents not even afforded the dignity of being allowed to give them a proper burial. Bodies were instead burned.
Across the 10 days, around 300 people were killed and at least 50 women and girls were subjected to rapes – many of which happened in front of their young children.
This was just one of many mass attacks carried out by the city’s gangs, who fight for every inch of the city’s streets, while regularly entering and breaking alliances.
With authorities showing little willingness or power to step in and put an end to the gang violence, locals have started to take matters into their own hands.
In a shocking incident in May, an angry mob beat and burned 13 men to death with gasoline-soaked tyres after pulling them from police custody at a traffic stop. The 13 were suspected of being gang members.
A police officer stands guard near a site where alleged gang members were set on fire by a crowd of people, when trying to drive away, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti April 24
Six more burned bodies were seen in a nearby neighbourhood later on that same day. Witnesses claimed police killed them before residents set them on fire.
The UN’s special envoy to Haiti has urged the immediate deployment of a specialised international force to counter the escalating gang violence, and to develop the Caribbean nation’s understaffed and ill-equipped police force.
However, the United States and Canada have shown no interest in leading a force – and neither has any member of the UN Security Council.
With no end in sight to the violence, there’s little reason to hope that Port-au-Prince will not continue to be one of the world’s most dangerous cities.