A Thoughtful, Analytical Approach to NGO Security

Aid Worker Deaths Due to Violence

Aid Worker Deaths or Injuries Due to Violence

Afghanistan Non-Government Organization Safety Office Quarterly Data Report

ANSO has released it's quarterly data report titled "Afghanistan Non-Government Organization Safety Office Quarterly Data Report (January 1st 2008 - March 31st 2008)".

Abstract:

NGOs have been directly targeted for attack on 29 occasions in the first quarter of this year with 16 of those attacks associated to Armed Opposition Groups (AOG) and 13 to criminals. Although comparable to last years figures in volume (30), the attacks of this year have resulted in many more fatalities indicating an escalation in the seriousness of attacks on NGO. This assessment is demonstrated in the fact that NGO incidents attributed to AOG have doubled from in first quarter of 2007 to 16 in the same period this year. The NGO incidents include, amongst others, seven AOG armed attacks which between them resulted in nine fatalities, nine injuries and near total destruction of two NGO compounds; seven armed abductions accounting for 12 persons kidnapped and an additional two fatalities including a female US citizen; and ten serious armed robberies accounting for one additional NGO staff injury and a long list of losses and damages to property. These figures are all higher than last year by a significant margin.


You can download the full .pdf report here.

Darfur, Afghanistan, Beer, and Breakfast

Google Trends can be a useful tool for context analysis. If you've ever wondered why your security budget is dwindling despite the rise in security incidents or why the head office seems to have forgotten you it can be a pretty useful tool.

For those who haven't seen it before Google Trends compares the relative Google search frequency of up to five user specified terms. For example if you want to compare relative search interest in various hot beverages you might enter "coffee, tea, cocoa" and press search. Google Trends returns a nice neat chart that shows how many searches were made for each term over time. It also shows a "news reference volume" chart, or in other words the frequency with which the term has shown up in the media.


Relative frequency of search terms Darfur, Iraq, Afghanistan, Congo and Sweden

The chart above was generated when I compared relative interest in Darfur, Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Congo, with Sweden as a control.
The results were pretty interesting. Searches for Iraq seem to correspond with increases in media coverage. No surprises there. The big surprise for me was Sweden. Google user are more interested in Sweden than they are in Darfur, Afghanistan, and the Congo. Talk about forgotten conflicts!

Flag B is interesting. It marks George Bush's call for more NATO troops in Afghanistan and clearly shows an increase in media coverage of Afghanistan. It even overtook coverage of Iraq for a short while. However, the general public took no notice.

Headlines associated with country comparison

Relative search frequency by region

The regions chart is enlightening. Americans are predominantly interested in Iraq and seem to have forgotten about Afghanistan. The Canadians, who have troops in Afghanistan but not Iraq seem equally interested in both countries. And finally, the Swedes seem to be totally obsessed with Sweden.


beer_comp

Not without trepidation replaced Sweden with "beer" in my search terms. I shouldn't have. I now know that your average computer using westerner is more interested in beer than they are in Iraq and Afghanistan combined. "Darfur?... never heard of it... do they have good beer?"

If you are feeling particularly masochistic try breakfast or worse boobs. For a brief while in 2004 your average Google user was more interested in what was happening in Iraq than what they were going to have for breakfast. That aberration hasn't repeated itself since. Its also interesting to note that while American's seem equally fascinated by Iraq and breasts, Canadians have a distinct preference for the later.

Saving Sri Lankan Websites at Risk

Inspired by the demise of the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) website, government censorship of sites like Tamilnet, and the demise of websites like Tafern, Sanjana Hattotuwa has set up Websites at Risk. His intent is to archive civil society and NGO websites that are at risk of being closed down with little or no notice. These websites are valuable sources of information and lessons learned for humanitarians, researchers and NGO security practitioners.

Sanjana deserves a big round of applause for this initiative.

SIPRI, ISN and FIRST - Open Source Data at its Best

I believe that publicly funded data (data from governments, the UN and other world bodies, and INGOs) should be truly public. By this I mean that anyone can easily, and without cost, access the data in a non-propietary format. No locked pdf files. No password protected databases. No one-query-at-a-time, one-answer-at-a-time forms. Just the data in a simple user accessible format.

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) and the International Relations and Security Network (ISN) understand. They have teamed up to provide an integrated database known as FIRST . FIRST contains free, open source, clearly documented information from research institutes around the world. The databases filled with hard facts on armed conflict, peace keeping, arms production and trade, military expenditure, armed forces and conventional weapons holding, nuclear weapons, security, international relations, human rights, and health statistics. Most of the data can be exported in comma-seperated value (.csv) or Excel (.xls) formats. These formats are easily imported by many analytical tools allowing the user to carry out their own processing and analysis.



As an excellent example of what can be done with data from FIRST check out Jeffrey Warren's Vestal Design interactive data visualization of world-wide arms transactions. You can view the full Java-based visualization at ARMSFLOW. I love this kind of thing. Effective data visualization allows you to quickly present complex data to senior level decision makers without overwhelming them.

World Wide Arms Flow Chart 1981

Now if only there was a way to get NGOs to share security incident data in the same way!

The Global Risk Report Rank Ordered

"Sources and Methods" has a great post on rank ordering the risks from the 2008 Global Risk Report. I'm not really conversant with all the math but his rank ordered list is pretty interesting. Where do you suppose international terrorism ranks compared to a pandemic? Or how about "failed and failing states" compared to "natural catastrophe: earthquake?"

Suicide Attacks in Pakistan 2007

The Pak Institute for Peace Studies' Security Report has some interesting data on suicide attacks in Pakistan in 2007. Actually there is all manner of data covering many aspects of the violence plaguing Pakistan but I've only had time to play with the suicide bombing data. Digging deeper into the numbers reveals some interesting facts.

Suicide Attacks by MonthCasualties Due to Suicide Attack by Month

If we examine the number of suicide bomb attacks per month we see a peak in July 2007. This coincides with an active suicide bombing campaign against predominantly military and police targets. However if we compare it to the adjacent chart showing casualties due to suicide bomb attacks we can see another peak in November and the start of one in December. The July, November and December peaks coincide with attacks on Pakistan Peoples Party rallies and/or attacks on the party chair, Benazir Bhutto.

Incidents of suicide bomb attacks and casualties by region of Pakistan
This chart reveals that most of 2007's suicide attacks occurred in the NWFP. The single but very lethal attack in Karachi also stands out.

Assessed Intended Target of Suicide Bomber

Attacks probably intended to target the military accounted for 47% of suicide attacks with attacks against the police accounting for another 20%. Assessing the actual target of suicide attacks is difficult since the perpetrators are no longer around to explain their intent so these numbers are approximate. The 'mixed' category in particular may be the result of bombers attempting to attack police or military targets without regard for nearby civilians.

Nine percent of the attacks were assessed to be primarily intended to target civilians while 13% where assessed as being intended to attack government personnel and/or political entities, including VIPs.

A comparison of BBIED vs VBIED as method of attack

In 2007 suicide bombings in Pakistan were almost evenly split between Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Devices (VBIEDs) and Body Borne Improvised Explosive Devices. There were a small number of 'complex attacks' involving either multiple bombers or combinations of suicide bombers and conventional attacks.

Relative lethality of VBIEDs and BBIEDs

It was a comparison of the relative lethality of the variants of suicide attacks that surprised me somewhat. I had expected complex VBIED attacks to produce the highest number of casualties per incident yet we can see that complex BBIED attacks on average produced two and a half times as many casualties. However, on second examination it becomes apparent that suicide bomber on foot are able to get much closer to their targets and are able to merge easily with large crowds. Even a relatively small quantity of explosives will cause many casualties when employed indiscriminately at political rallies and religious festivals. In addition it appears that VBIEDs were employed primarily against harder military and police targets.

I would have liked to compare civilian victims of suicide bombers against total casualties but unfortunately the data fidelity is just not there. However PIPS did have a table showing total civilian casualties as a result of 2007's cumulative attacks and clashes. Once again civilians seem to bear the brunt of the violence as the chart below shows.

Casualties of Clashes in Pakistan 2007

So what does all this mean for NGO's and others wanting to increase their personal security? Well there shouldn't be any surprises here. The data supports the tried and true advice:

* Avoid potential targets including military and police personnel and facilities as best you can.
* Don't wear clothing that might be mistaken for a uniform.
* Don't mingle with military or VIP convoys while driving.
* Avoid travelling on routes and at times used by military convoys and/or VIPs.
* Avoid political rallies especially when VIPs are present.
* Avoid large crowds including during religious festivals.

A Periodic Table of of Visualization Methods

Visual-literacy.org has a great periodic table of visualization methods. You can find something here to help tackle the most complex of analytical problems.

table of visualization methods
Periodic Table of Visualization Methods

Thanks Rick!

Data Visualization

Smashing Magazine has an excellent summary of current innovative data visualization techniques that’ll leave your PowerPoint presentations crying in the corner. There are plenty of ideas and links to get the analytical juices flowing. I’ve run across several of the resources before and for me two stand out.

The first is Dr Hans Rosling’s now legendary talk at TED wherein he explains a new approach to presenting complex statistical data. His Trendalyzer software turns decades of complex data into colourful animations that make world trends come to life. He takes mountains of publicly funded information, normally squirreled away in UN data silos, and turns it into knowledge that can be acted upon. Watch the whole video and see if it doesn’t change some of what you think you know.

The second is newsmap. This enlightening application displays the dynamic content of Google News as blocks. The more websites and news services that carry a headline the larger the block becomes. As the creator points out newsmap displays the underlying patterns in the news media, reflecting and highlighting it bias. How is this useful? Well consider this. The headlines that make it onto the newsmap display are the ones that are bombarding the senior decision makers, donors, and general public. Where does your particular issue fit in? Has it made the headlines?

newsmap

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