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"Chaos Map" Tool Informs Decision-making Around Resource Insecurity

CAMBRIDGE, United Kingdom

A new tool, described as a “Chaos Map” of the world, may help people and governments to understand how escalating “chaos” can occur when pressures caused by limited resources are compounded by climate change or rising populations.

Dr Davide Natalini and Professor Aled Jones of Anglia Ruskin University, UK, scanned reports covering food, water, and fuel insecurity published since 2005 to plot what “unrest” was present within a territory in a given year across six categories: conflict, demonstrations, looting, protest, riot and suicide, also considering number of deaths by the resource insecurity to which they were directly attributable - food, water or fuel.

The resulting Chaos Map displays these intensity scores, giving an accessible, visual indication of ‘hotspots’ of unrest – or a picture of chaos, recording incidences of social unrest that have ultimately resulted in death.

The researchers plotted more than 1,300 deaths between 2005 and 2017 on an interactive map of the world, sourcing data from news items, focusing on key search words, such as “food protest” or “fuel crisis”, to match events that include at least one reported death due to underlying food, fuel or water security issues. They assumed the intensity of each episode is represented by the number of deaths connected to it. Therefore, a riot that resulted in one death is less “intense” than a demonstration that resulted in 20 deaths.

Out of a total collective “chaos figure” of 1,625 deaths over the period studied, 20 percent of deaths on the chaos map are attributed to suicide. The highest death toll was 425 in Sri Lanka, for a single event in August 2006 when Tamil rebels and the Sri Lankan army fought to control an irrigation sluice near Trincomalee, the researchers say.

This map, described as a pilot project, currently holds data on events up to 2017. But it is something the project aims to update and maintain in order to provide consistent open access data for the research community, as well as governments and NGOs.

Jones said: “As climate change increases the severity of extreme weather over the coming years and we see continuing political instability in key oil-producing regions, there is likely to be an increased frequency and severity of physical shocks to our food, fuel and water supplies”.