THE cost of terrorism to world economies reached a record US$52.9 billion (S$75.5 billion) in 2014, up 61 per cent from the previous year's total of US$32.9 billion, and a 10-fold increase since the Sept 11 attack on the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in 2001.
According to the latest annual Global Terrorism Index (GTI) by the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP), which has been collecting data since 1997, the number of lives lost to terrorism increased by 80 per cent in 2014, reaching the highest level ever recorded at 32,658. This compares to 18,111 in 2013. The increase represents the largest yearly increase in deaths ever recorded.
The GTI takes into account the impact of terrorism in 162 countries in terms of its effect on lives lost, injuries, property damage and the psychological aftereffects of terrorism. It doesn't take into account the global national security expenditure needed to contain terrorism, which it estimates to be around US$117 billion.
The report, which comes in the wake of the attacks in Paris, France on Friday, reveals that terrorist groups Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and Boko Haram are now jointly responsible for 51 per cent of all global fatalities from claimed terrorist attacks. Boko Haram, which pledged in March 2015 its allegiance to ISIS, which this year claimed responsibility for attacks on Paris and Beirut as well as the downing of the Russian plane in Egypt, has become the world's deadliest terrorist group, overtaking the Taleban in Afghanistan.
Terrorism is also highly concentrated: just five countries - Afghanistan, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan and Syria - accounted for 78 per cent of all deaths in 2014. However, terrorism has spread significantly in the past year. The number of countries that suffered more than 500 deaths has more than doubled - from five in 2013 to 11 in 2014. The new additions were Somalia, Ukraine, Yemen, Central African Republic, South Sudan and Cameroon.
In South-east Asia, Thailand recorded the most terrorist incidents ever in the country with a 16 per cent increase from the previous year. However, there were fewer deaths than the peak recorded in 2009 of 255 people.
Interestingly, the study showed that the majority of deaths from terrorism do not occur in the West. Excluding the Sept 11 attack, only 0.5 per cent of deaths have occurred in the West since 2000. Including Sept 11, the percentage reaches 2.6.
Islamic fundamentalism was not the main cause of terrorism in the West. Instead, lone wolf attackers - motivated by right wing extremism, nationalism, anti-government sentiment and political extremism and other forms of supremacy - are the main perpetrators of terrorism in the West, causing 70 per cent of all deaths over the past 10 years.
The countries which are the greatest source of refugees and internally displaced people (IDP) also suffer the most deaths from terrorism. Ten of the 11 countries that had more than 500 deaths from terrorism in 2014 had the highest levels of refugees and IDP in the world.
Statistical analysis of the patterns of terrorist activity since 1989 found that there were two factors most closely associated with terrorism. These are the levels of political violence committed by the state, and the level of armed conflict within a country. The report finds that 92 per cent of all terrorist attacks between 1989 and 2014 occurred in countries where political violence by the government was widespread, while 88 per cent of all terrorist attacks between 1989 and 2014 occurred in countries that were experiencing or involved in violent conflicts.
Executive chairman of IEP Steve Killelea noted the drivers of terrorism differ between more and less developed countries. In the West, socio-economic factors such as youth unemployment and drug crime correlate with terrorism. In non-OECD countries, terrorism shows stronger associations with ongoing conflict, corruption and violence.
"Since we can see a number of clearly identifiable socio-political factors that foster terrorism, it is important to implement policies that aim to address these associated causes," Mr Killelea said.
This includes reducing state-sponsored violence, diffusing group grievances, and improving respect for human rights and religious freedoms, while considering cultural nuances, he stressed.
This article was first published on November 18, 2015.
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