Resilience, Peace and Security

Is terrorism on the rise? Here's what the data tells us

A member of Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA), seen with a mural of the Islamic State in the background, stands guard in front of a building in the border town of Jarablus, Syria, August 31, 2016. REUTERS/Umit Bektas TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY      - RTX2NQ4X

OECD countries have seen a surge in deadly attacks Image: REUTERS/Umit Bektas

Camilla Schippa
Director, Institute for Economic and Peace
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Fragility, Violence and Conflict

Produced annually by the Institute for Economics and Peace, the Global Terrorism Index (GTI) analyses and studies the direct and indirect impact of terrorism on 163 countries.

The index examines the conditions under which terrorism occurs, the longer-term trends and geopolitical drivers, as well as the ideological aims and strategies deployed by terrorists. These factors have been measured over the past 16 years, with the intention of deepening our collective understanding how this form of violence occurs.

This year’s results present a juxtaposition of the dynamics of terrorism in modern society. On one hand, they show a 10% fall (since last year) in the number of deaths attributed to terrorist incidents – the first decline since 2010. On the other hand, the overall score on this year’s index has deteriorated by 6%, due to many countries experiencing record levels of terrorism.

The decrease in mortality can be attributed to military interventions against ISIS and Boko Haram in their core areas of Iraq and Nigeria and Iraq (these areas have seen a 32% reduction in deaths). But, as the reach of these terrorist groups spreads, we have seen countries such as France, Saudi Arabia and Tunisia experience their highest recorded levels of terrorism since 2000.

Image: Institute for Economics and Peace

A look at the numbers reveals that 2015 is the second deadliest year on record. The GTI scores the impact of terrorism based on the number of terrorist attacks, fatalities from these attacks, injuries and damage to property. To account for the lasting effects of terrorism, each country is given a score that represents a five-year weighted average.

Iraq, Nigeria, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Syria remain the five countries most affected by terrorism, followed by Yemen, Somalia, India, Egypt and Libya. However, though they are still in the top five, Iraq, Nigeria and Pakistan have recorded substantial improvements.

This map shows the impact of terrorism on the world and on specific countries.

Image: Institute for Economics and Peace

For OECD countries, 2015 saw a surge in deaths from terrorism. This follows the trend of mounting numbers of attacks over the past six years. In previous years, numbers of deaths from attacks had remained low, however there was a sharp spike in 2015 (jumping to 577 fatalities, from 77 in 2014: a 650% increase). This involved 21 of the 34 OECD countries experiencing at least one terrorist attack.

Alarmingly, these figures show no sign of abating, with 482 reported deaths in OECD countries in the first seven months of 2016.

Image: Institute for Economics and Peace

So what’s driving this terrorist activity? Analysis shows that within OECD countries, socio-economic factors such as youth unemployment, levels of criminality, access to weapons and distrust in the electoral process are the most statistically significant factors. In developing countries, these factors are a history of conflict, levels of corruption and inequalities between groups.

Importantly, 93% of all terrorist attacks between 1989 and 2014 occurred in countries with high levels of state-sponsored terror, involving extra-judicial killing, torture and imprisonment without trial, across OECD and non-OECD countries alike. Similarly, over 90% of all terrorist incidents occurred in countries engaged in internal or international conflict. This means only 0.5% of terrorist attacks occurred in countries that did not suffer from conflict or political terror. This underlines the close link between terrorism and ongoing conflict, grievances and political violence.

Based on methodology from the Institute of Economics and Peace, the global economic impact of terrorism reached its highest level in 2014 and remained high in 2015, costing the economy a total of US$89.6 billion. The 15% reduction on 2014 is a reflection of the overall fall in the number of people killed by terrorism and is conservative in its approach.

Image: Institute for Economics and Peace

What could be surprising to many is that the economic resources devoted to peacebuilding and peacekeeping operations, which are found to be critical in preventing and dealing with armed conflict and terrorism, represent just 2% of the economic impact of armed conflict and terrorism.

This year’s Global Terrorism Index reinforces the fact that terrorism is a highly concentrated form of violence, mostly committed in a small number of countries by a small number of groups. However, while the number of deaths is smaller this year, the impact and fear of terrorism continues to grow – most significantly in OECD member countries.

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