It looks harmless, but is really deadly. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
It looks harmless, but is really deadly. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Terrorism is spectacular and frightening. But while the horror of new attacks keep dominating media headlines and populist politicians’ propaganda, the number of terror-linked deaths is actually going down.

And to put terrorism in comparison, the number of people dying from lighting up a cigarette, suffering from diarrhea or crossing a road is several hundred times higher.

Last year, 29,376 people were killed in terrorist attacks. That’s 10% fewer than 2014, according to the Institute of Economics and Peace’s new Global Terrorism Index.

“This reduction in terrorism deaths is mainly attributed to a weakened Boko Haram and ISIL in both Nigeria and Iraq due to the military operations against them,” the report said.

That could be compared with smoking, which kills some 6 million people every year. The number is expected to increase to 8 million by 3030, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Some 3.8 million die from obesity each year, and 1.25 million from road traffic accidents.

Global death toll of different causes of death. Source: Oxfam

Indeed, more Europeans drown in their own bathtubs, and 10 times more die falling down the stairs, then from terror attacks, economic historian Johan Norberg points out in his new book called Progress.

“We have also seen an increase in attacks in western Europe in the last few years, even though the death toll is still only around two-thirds of what it was in the 1970s, when both separatist and communist terror groups were active,” he writes.

Read: An abstract from Johan Norberg’s book

The report also found that 93 per cent of all terrorist attacks between 1989 and 2014 occurred in countries with high levels of state-sponsored terror, involving extrajudicial killings, torture, and imprisonment without trial.

Only 0.5% of terrorist attacks occurred in countries that did not suffer from conflict or political terror. With the exception of Turkey, no Western country was among the 15 most affected last year.

Nevertheless, the attacks in Paris, Brussels and Ankara were among the most devastating in the history of these countries, and the number of deaths in OECD countries increased from 77 in 2014 to 577 last year. The attacks were connected to or inspired by Islamic State, Kurdistan Freedom Falcons and the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

“This complex global picture was rounded out by pockets of more positive news whereby many other countries saw improvements in their levels of terrorist activity,” the report said.

Read: Always look on the bright side of life

At the same time, people are increasingly worried about new attacks. Fears of terrorism in the United States are at a level not seen since September 11, 2001, a CBS News poll said last year, with almost 80% believing an attack was likely within the coming months.

“Fear is the primary psychological weapon underlying acts of terrorism,” Daniel Antonius, director of forensic psychiatry at the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences in Buffalo, New York, told CNN.

“It is this fear, or the anticipation of future acts of terror, that can have serious effects on our behavior and minds.”

Top 15 countries most affected by terrorism
1 Iraq
2 Afghanistan
3 Nigeria
4 Pakistan
5 Syria
6 Yemen
7 Somalia
8 India
9 Egypt
10 Libya
11 Ukraine
12 Philippines
13 Cameroon
14 Turkey
15 Thailand
Source: Institute of Economics and Peace: 2016 Global Terrorism Index.