Amore e pianto, vivono accanto

pssst … there are other countries outside the borders of your own country ;)

For those of you who are aware there are other countries outside the borders of your own country (I have some acquaintances who don’t appear to know this), there are approximately 197 countries in the world. I say ‘approximately’ because not everyone agrees on South Sudan or, particularly, on Taiwan. Regardless of the exact number and regardless of how well-informed you think you are, I suspect there at least a few facts presented here that will surprise you. I confess to being unaware of several.

Nothing profound or important about this piece – just a few interesting facts about the world that might not have come onto your radar.

So here we go:

25. Covers the most time zones: France

If you count everything, including overseas territories, France holds the title by covering 12 time zones. The United States would be the runner-up with 11 and then Russia with 9. Where I live – in Canada – some people gripe that the French influence is everywhere. Well, it appears it is.

24. Most likely to sink beneath the waves: Maldives

Whether you accept the reality of global warming (or are an pig-headed naysayer), this country has the biggest reason to worry about rising sea levels. At an average height of less than 6 feet above sea level, it isn’t going to take much to put it under water. Maldives is the lowest nation on Earth.

23. Chunkiest people: Nauru

Now there’s a title we probably shouldn’t strive to match. It’s estimated that more than 95% of Nauru’s population is overweight, making it the chubbiest nation on Earth (c’mon, USA – try harder). The obesity of these people seems primarily the result of the importation of western fast food that arrived just as its own wage levels were rising with the global export of their phosphate wealth.

22. Roads made of environmentally sensitive material: Guam

Their roads are made of coral. There is no natural sand on Guam so in order to make roads, they grind up coral to mix with oil rather than importing sand or ready-made asphalt from abroad. So while the rest of the world bemoans the die off of coral reefs …

21. Greatest number of sheep per person: Malvinas

Yes, yes I know – the Brits insist on calling this the Falkland Islands. But they’re wrong. Regardless, there are only about 3,000 people here and half a million sheep – an average of about 350 sheep per person. Do you know what their greatest export is? Go on, have a guess …

20. Oldest sovereign state: Egypt

Egypt was really the world’s first country, with the founding of the First Dynasty at about 3100 BCE. In many centuries since they’ve been under someone else’s control – but they’re still here, and they were the first.

19. Most lakes: Canada

This is where I live (not on this actual lake, although it looks kinda nice). And the water is everywhere. It’s part of the hazard behind the North American Free Trade Agreement of 1994. NAFTA allowed us the opportunity to give to the US – with absolutely nothing in exchange – the right to drain our water when they finally decide their west coast is too parched. That time is not far off, and we’re apparently too daft to realize what we signed on for.

But for now, at least, the lakes are really pretty.

18. Longest hike to get to your nearest neighbour: Mongolia

This place is really empty. Seriously empty. It averages 4 people per square mile. Compare that to the Mong Kok district of Hong Kong at 340,000 per square mile. Those folks are so close together they can hear when their neighbour changes his mind.

17. Most tanks: Russia

This is the largest country in the world by land mass – almost double the size of number two (Canada). But that’s not its only claim to fame – it also has more tanks than any other country. About 21,000 of the damn things. But they are old and not on the cutting edge of killing machines. Still, I’ve been in Moscow traffic and I can assure you a tank is a necessity.

16. Fewest rivers: Saudi Arabia

Actually, not a single one. No streams, brooks, rivulets, or rills. Nuthin’ but sand. And oil. Lots and lots of oil. All of their water comes from underground reservoirs or desalination plants.

15. Youngest average population: Niger

These things are usually measured by calculating the portion of the population that is younger than 15. In Niger, about 49% of the population has barely reached puberty – so you can imagine the excess of hormones floating around.

14. Most diverse country: India

In almost any way you could think to measure it, India is diverse. In every category – cultural, economic, climatic, racial, linguistic, ethnic, and religious – India is either the most diverse country in the world, or the runner-up. Running this place is truly the human equivalent of trying to herd cats.

13. Fastest disappearing: Ukraine

On average, Ukraine loses about .8% of its population annually – due to emigration and decline in birth rate. It’s estimated that by 2050 the population of Ukraine will be about 30% less than at present.

12. Fewest citizens who actually live there: Malta

Malta has gone through some tough economic times (who hasn’t?) at the same time as they experienced an increased birth rate. The economy drove lots of people to move elsewhere, taking their newly increased families with them. There are more Maltese living abroad than within the country itself.

11. Smaller than a city park: Monaco

The Vatican city state actually has a smaller land mass (at .17 sq mi), but it doesn’t have permanent residents. So at .8 sq mi, Monaco is the smallest permanently inhabited nation. And it’s smaller than New York City’s Central Park. Probably holds about the same number of weirdos, though.

10. Most jungle: Suriname

Well, not the largest jungle – but the highest percentage of land mass that IS jungle. About 91% of Suriname’s land area is jungle. Its half million residents live mostly along the coast near the capital of Paramaribo while less than 5% (mainly indigenous) live in the jungle.

9. Most denuded: Haiti

Look at the picture above. The yellow line is the border between Haiti and the other country on Hispaniola, Dominican Republic. The difference is dramatic. Haiti was largely denuded of forest cover over years of ill-planned land management. And this is a problem that perpetuates itself because the land has become largely barren without forest cover to hold water and nurture the soil.

8. Largest country without farmers: Singapore

There are other nations where there is no agriculture, but this one is the largest. Not a single crop.

7. Most languages: Papua New Guinea

Known to its residents as PNG, the official language is English. Despite that, fewer than 2% of the people actually speak English. PNG has over 820 languages, roughly 12% of the world’s total.

6. Most educated people: Canada

Approximately 50% of Canada’s population has been educated at the post-secondary level. But don’t let that fool you. From personal experience, I can assure you that doesn’t make us smart – never confuse education with intelligence. Our closest rivals for educated folks are Israel at 45% and Japan at 44%.

5. The most desert: Libya

When NATO (read: US, UK, France, Canada) were bombing the crap out of Libya last year, did you notice how wherever the cameras panned there was nothing? Desert everywhere you looked. In fact, 99% of Libya is desert and in many parts of the country, there might be decades in between raindrops.

4. Least peaceful: Somalia

This might be a bit misleading because we all know the US is the least peaceful – it’s just that they are always least peaceful somewhere else. Somalia, on the other hand, seems to be in a constant state of turmoil within its own borders. It even overtook Iraq as the least peaceful nation while Iraq was in the middle of a war.

3. Greatest generator of oxygen: Russia

Although we are often told the Amazon forest is the lungs of the world, in fact the greatest source of breathable air is Russia. Its province of Siberia contains about 25% of the world’s forests, spanning an area larger than all of Canada (the second largest country) which makes Russia the largest converter of carbon dioxide into breathable compounds.

The greatest generator of hot air is the US Congress.

2. Largest producer of opium: Afghanistan

Before the Taliban, this country grew tons of poppies that were turned into opium and heroin. The Taliban tried to put a stop to that. Now that the country is under new management, the poppies are back and so is the trade in opiates. This is where 95% of the world’s heroin comes from. Isn’t it interesting that the crop increased after Afghanistan was taken over by the US – makes you think the War on Drugs is not meant to eradicate them but to ensure that you profit from them.

1. Most people in prison: United States

Hooray – the US is constantly claiming it is Number One at everything. This is one title it can truly claim. The US is the uncontested leader at locking people up. It has more than 2.2 million of them in the clink. So a country with about 5% of the world’s population has about 25% of the world’s incarcerated people. China is second with around 1.5 million prisoners and Russia third at 870,000.

It is surely coincidental that the US is also the largest consumer of the major export from Afghanistan.

Paul Richard Harris is an Axis of Logic editor and columnist, based in Canada. He can be reached at

Read the Biography and additional articles by Axis Columnist, Paul Richard Harris

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