Forecasting Future Atrocities - Pacific Standard

Forecasting Future Atrocities

Researchers attempt to predict which countries are most at risk for genocide or politicide over the coming five years.
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An armed solider in Birao, Vakaga, Central African Republic. (Photo: hdptcar/Flickr)

An armed solider in Birao, Vakaga, Central African Republic. (Photo: hdptcar/Flickr)

No one can predict the future, but we're getting better at making well-informed guesses all the time. The National Weather Service can warn us of impending storms, police departments across the country use analytics to predict where crimes might occur, even Google can sometimes finish our search sentences. So it's only natural that, in 2012, a group of Australian researchers attempted to predict atrocities. The report identified 15 countries most at risk for experiencing genocide or politicide between 2011 and 2015. Now, the University of Sydney's Atrocity Forecasting Project has released a new report that assesses the countries most at risk over the coming five years, and re-visits the accuracy of the prior predictions.

The project, led by Benjamin Goldsmith, an associate professor at the University of Sydney, used a statistical model to identify the countries most at risk for politicide or genocide, meaning any cases where governing authorities implemented or promoted policies "intended to destroy, in whole or part, a communal, political, or politicized ethnic group." The model ran off of information on nearly 20 different risk factors for atrocities, including infant mortality, elections, neighboring conflicts, and the use of guerilla warfare tactics. The model spit out some obvious candidates, like Syria and Afghanistan. But at the top of the list was the Central African Republic, a country that was seemingly stable until a 2013 coup. "Our approach 'saw' the risk in this case based only on data up to 2010, however, placing it at the top of our list," the authors write.

To test the overall accuracy of their predictions, the researchers tracked genocide and politicide onsets with data from the Political Instability Task Force, Genocide Watch, and the United Nations Special Advisors on the Prevention of Genocide and on the Responsibility to Protect. They found that their list captured between one-third and one-half of incidents, depending on which data was used to track onsets, and only missed 10 percent of incidents.

Given the "reasonably good performance" of the model the first time around, and an abundance of new data, the team has released another list of the 15 countries most at risk for genocide or politicide from now until 2020. South Sudan, Sudan, Iraq, Nigeria, and Yemen top the list this time; the Central African Republic has fallen to number 12 on the list, followed by Pakistan, Egypt, and Algeria.

Predicted Genocide/Politicide Risk, 2016–20. (Map :Atrocity Forecasting Project)

Predicted Genocide/Politicide Risk, 2016–20. (Map :Atrocity Forecasting Project)

While the list is by no means a definitive guide to future atrocities, it can serve as a red flag for potential problems for governments and international organizations as they plan for the future.

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