Somalia is the most corrupt country in the world, according to Transparency International's annual Corruption Perceptions Index. With Afghanistan and Iraq also near the bottom, the group says conflict and corruption often go hand in hand.
Transparency International's index lists 178 countries, with Somalia designated the most corrupt nation. Its closest competitors at the bottom of the list are Afghanistan, Myanmar, and Iraq.
Transparency International's Shantal Uwimana says conflict is a major contributing factor in the spread of corruption. "Countries where there is a level of political, social, and economic instability, corruption tends to find a fertile ground," he said.
The index is composed of surveys conducted between January 2009 and September 2010. It is based on perceptions of corruption in the public sector, rather than concrete measures.
Countries are scored on a scale of zero through 10, with zero the most corrupt. Transparency International says three-quarters of countries scored below five. That, it says, is a sign that corruption remains a major global problem.
Uwimana says it is the world's poorest countries that are worst hit by corruption. But she says wealthier countries are also at risk - and a number have slipped in the ranks this year. "You realize countries like Greece, Italy and the USA, where compared to the score they had in previous years, you can see that the situation has worsened," he said.
The United States has fallen out of the top 20 least corrupt countries. It is in 22nd position, behind Qatar and Chile.
Transparency International U.S. chief Nancy Boswell says political funding disputes, the sub-prime mortgage crisis, and the disclosure of Bernard Madoff's ponzi scheme were factors in the perception that corruption levels in the United States have gone up.
Uwimana says increased corruption in some countries, such as Greece, may in part be due to the global financial crisis.
She says corruption affects every sphere of society all over the world - from coping with climate change to eradicating poverty. She says plans to improve the lives of people around the world cannot succeed if corruption remains at the heart of the public sector.
She says the U.N. Millennium Development Goals are an example of where corruption must be wiped out. "When you look at the goal for achieving universal education you realize that bad governance and corruption is a key element in the fact that we are not able to achieve the goals, because resources that are allocated, for example to the education sector, are then diverted for other use," he said.
Denmark, New Zealand, and Singapore were seen as the least corrupt countries, each scoring more than nine points. The 2010 report is the 15th Transparency International has published. It is used by governments and the business community to track investment climates around the world.