A global survey of 223 cities ranks some of the capitals in Central Asia and the South Caucasus the world’s worst places for foreigners to live. Tajikistan’s capital, Dushanbe, for example – where officials build themselves multi-million-dollar palaces and ignore basic property rights, education, and a failing healthcare system – now ranks the worst city in Asia for expatriates to make a home.
The annual ranking, released February 19 by Mercer, a New York-based human resources consultancy, measures cities based on quality of living for foreigners, not locals. The company takes into consideration 39 factors including political stability, the effectiveness of law enforcement, censorship, pollution and healthcare, electricity supplies, the quality of schools and public services, availability of consumer goods and climate. The scores are “weighted to reflect their importance to expatriates.” The ranking has been published since 1994.
A decade ago, Asia would probably have offered more competition at the lower end of the rankings. But with stunning economic growth across much of the continent, today it is post-Soviet Central Asia that sweeps the bottom of the table. Dushanbe (ranked 209 globally) was one-upped in Asia by the capital of Bangladesh, Dhaka (208), and fell two places in two years. Ashgabat came third from the bottom in Asia at 206, falling seven places since 2012. Fourth- and fifth-worst, respectively, Bishkek ranked 204 and Tashkent 202. (Almaty ranked 169 in 2012; Astana wasn’t surveyed. If you want to know where they rank this year, you’ll have to shell out $499 for the report.)
These cities’ low marks are “essentially due to the following combination: Political instability and lack of infrastructure. Often facilities and infrastructure such as hospitals, advanced public transports and services such as electricity, potable water are poor or not to an international standard. Furthermore, personal safety of expatriates and their respective families can also be of a concern in these cities,” Mercer Senior Researcher Slagin Parakatil told EurasiaNet.org.
In Europe, Tbilisi ranked worst at 191, but it has jumped in two years from 213. It was followed by Minsk (189) and Yerevan (180). Tbilisi “continues to improve in its quality of living, mainly due to a growing availability of consumer goods, improving internal stability, and developing infrastructure,” Mercer said in the statement.
That Ashgabat should feature so prominently might be a wake-up call for the leaders in any other resource-rich country. But in totalitarian Turkmenistan, which has spent billions building an inhospitable monument to megalomania, the rankings are unlikely to stop the relentless construction.
Globally, Baghdad ranked the worst for quality of living at 223. On the flipside, Mercer ranked Singapore and Tokyo as the most livable cities in Asia; Vienna and Zurich topped the Europe and global ranks.
Mercer stresses that the closely watched annual rankings are designed “to help multinational companies and other employers compensate employees fairly when placing them on international assignments.” They are “not designed or intended for use as the basis for foreign investment or tourism.”