Why you should fear chickens more than Al Qaeda and Ebola


Does the idea of travelling to Africa in today’s climate make you fearful? Do you worry about terrorism and ebola? Al Qaeda In The Islamic Magreb? Boko Haram?

Do you also worry about being killed on the roads, drowning or dying from eating a chicken whilst abroad (or at home for that matter)?

If your answer is no and no, then read no further.

If your answer is yes and yes then … well best to stay in bed and read something else.

If your answer is yes to the first question and no to the second, I’m sorry but you are living in cloud cuckoo land. Please read on.

For as long as I have been travelling in Africa I have lived with a strange irony: my friends and family have worried about my safety while I feel safer in Africa than I do at home.

My dear mother, an African herself, obviously worries terribly about her son wandering though the African bush. I have to point out that when i was a child she took me back to see her family in the then guerilla war torn Rhodesia time and time again. Her brother fought in this war. People close to our family were killed.

Since those days of childhood travel I have crossed the continent from south to north and east to west, on my own. Twenty eight countries and over a hundred thousand miles later I have never seen another war zone, I don’t know anyone who has been killed in conflict, I’ve never seen gunfire, I’ve never seen a pick up full of rebels or terrorists (and I hung out in the Sahara desert, or did until the pick ups came in and no one would let me go there anymore) and been present in Mali through a rebellion, a coup d’etat, Al Qaeda occupation of the north and a french military intervention. I’ve never seen bloodshed.

Before the Mali crisis I was dealing a lot with tourists’ worries about terrorism. This was totally understandable with the information available to people, but even so our perspective is so warped by our “images” of Africa that we lose reason. I had a client from Tel Aviv back in 2009 worrying about a terrorist attack at the Festival In The Desert. Then there have been a number of prospective clients deciding against a holiday in West Africa and opting to go to South Africa instead. THE most dangerous city in the whole of Africa is Johannesbourg, and the homicide rate in South Africa as a whole outstrips any other country by far, but it’s viewed as a bit western, a bit white, a bit like us.

Now with ebola, the fear in the outside world of travel to Africa is being magnified exponentially to such a ridiculous extent that tourist numbers to Tanzania have been decimated, although Tanzania is further from the ebola region than London.

Like most issues, our fear of abroad is not quite as black and white as we think, so I’m going to try to put things in perspective.

With both ebola and Al Qaeda, to suffer from either of these diseases you have to come into contact with the actual virus. With ebola this means being in contact with someone who has the disease and with Al Qaeda being in an area that they have access to. Neither of these diseases is random.

Ebola is simple. Even though it would still be easy to avoid, for the sake of argument just don’t go to a country where it is not contained. This means Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea for now. The vast majority of the rest of the huge continent of Africa (the size of Europe, the USA, China, India, Argentina and the mighty New Zealand all put together) even somewhere like Mali, where they have had a case, is very very safe. Your chances of contracting ebola are pretty much zilch.

Let’s go on with some numbers:

– Since the War on Terror began in 2001 the UK has lost 57 people to acts of terrorism within its borders, 56 of these were in the 7/7 bombings in London. The other was Lee Rigby, the British army fusileer who was killed in Woolwich in 2013. I cannot find statistics for UK citizens who have died abroad in acts of terrorism but off the top of my head I can think of about 5. Let’s double it to 10. At its most extreme, of all the UK citizens who travel abroad the chances of a UK death to terroism abroad is less than one a year. Even at home, which is of course much more of a target than somewhere like the random bush of Africa, since the war on terror began it is less than 4 deaths a year.

– The UK records on average 80 deaths per year from Salmonella. You are twenty times more likely to die from a chicken or an egg than you are from terrorism at home, and about 100 times more likely than to die of terrorism abroad.

– From 1990-2007 the UK lost 2152 people to non-pregnant listeriosis at an average of 127 per year (see:http://www.food.gov.uk/sites/default/files/multimedia/pdfs/committee/acmsflisteria.pdf)

– The total number of non military and non-natural deaths of US citizens abroad in 2007 was 671:

134 deaths as a result of automobile accidents109 deaths by drowning108 homicides98 suicides32 deaths as a result of motorcycle accidents26 deaths as a result of air accidents23 deaths related to drugs12 deaths of pedestrians11 deaths as a result of bus accidents9 deaths as a result of terrorist action6 deaths as a result of maritime accidents3 executions

(Taken from http://www.medicine.ox.ac.uk/bandolier/booth/risk/abroad.html)

The total number of US citizens travelling abroad was 40,798,278 (http://travel.trade.gov/view/m-2007-O-001/index.html) This gives a US citizen who travels abroad the odds of 1 in 60,802 of dying. His/her chances of dying from terrorism: 1 in 4,533,142.

– Within the US in 2010 there were 2,515,458 deaths at 807.3 deaths per 100,000 population. This gives a rate of 1 in 124

Reading the statistics for US deaths we can see that with travelling, as with things like murder, abuse or rape, you are far more likely to suffer at home than at the hands of a stranger. Of course statistics are misleading. Most people who travel abroad are going to be healthy, many of those who die at home will be old, already sick or have natural causes. So let’s look at the extreme.

In 2009 there were 8,855 gun related homicides in the US. As a proportion of a population of about 300 million this is 1 in 33,879 of the population dies each year beacuse of US gun policy.

That is even more incredible. A US citizen has double the chance of being killed by a gun inside the US than of dying from any means if they travel abroad, and is 133 times more likely to die from gun crime at home than terrorism abroad. If US citizens want to stay safe they should divert funds from the war on terror to fund their population leaving the US!!

So if you are really worried about terrorism or ebola abroad you’d better stay at home, lock your door, don’t get out of bed (there are statistics you know for people dying of a heartattack just getting out of bed in the morning), don’t go anywhere near your family or friends and don’t, whatever you do, eat chicken.