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I read an article in the Economist this week following the release of the 2017 Safe Cities Index, which is produced each year by The Economist Intelligence Unit, listing the safest and least safe cities in the world. The article attracted my attention because Manila was rated as the 6th least safe city in the world.

The index is based on 49 indicators that cover not only personal safety, but also digital security, health security and infrastructure security. So it may not totally represent the situation on the ground in respect of personal safety.

I’ve been to 9 of the 10 safest cities, and 9 of the 10 least safe cities, so I think I’m probably as well qualified as anyone to comment on the findings.

The survey results were:

The 10 least safe cities:

1. Karachi (most dangerous)

2. Yangon

3. Dhaka

4. Jakarta

5. Ho Chi Minh City

6. Manila

7. Caracas

8. Quito

9. Tehran

10. Cairo

The 10 safest cities:

1. Tokyo (safest)

2. Singapore

3. Osaka

4. Toronto

5. Melbourne

6. Amsterdam

7. Sydney

8. Stockholm

9. Hong Kong

10. Zurich

I’m not surprised that Karachi is listed as the most dangerous city in the world because it’s the only city of which I don’t have any photographs, because I never felt safe taking a camera out there.

When I was in Rawalpindi once, and taking photographs, I was set upon by a group of men in a market who accused me of taking photographs of women, which they said was forbidden in Pakistan.  I am sure that is not the case (and anyway there wasn’t a woman in sight on the street), but the experience was very frightening and I felt lucky to get out unscathed.

The Rawalpindi market where I was set upon by a group of men for taking photographs of women. As can be seen from the photograph, there wasn't a woman in sight.

The Rawalpindi market where I was set upon by a group of men for taking photographs of women. As can be seen from the photograph, there wasn't a woman in sight.

Karachi is a far more intimidating place than Rawalpindi, so I kept off the streets in Karachi and never took my camera out there.

What does surprise me is that Yangon is listed as the second most dangerous city.  I’ve walked the backstreets of Yangon and never felt unsafe. I would have thought that Sana’a would have been listed as the second most dangerous, but perhaps the survey excludes cities that are now in war zones.

Cairo is rated as only the 10th most dangerous city, but I would have put it higher on the list – probably above Jakarta.

And Moscow and Johannesburg are listed as safer cities than Cairo. Personally I feel less safe in all those three cities than I do in Manila

The ironic thing about this listing is that I’ve walked the backstreets (sometimes at night) of 8 of the most dangerous cities (Caracas is the only one to which I’ve not been), and yet the only cities in which I have been mugged in the world are St Petersburg and Sydney – the latter listed here as the 7th safest city in the world!

So I guess the takeaway message is that despite all the surveys that are done each year, it ultimately comes down to being in the wrong place at the wrong time as far as personal safety is concerned.

Update 28 October 2017:

When I posted the above commentary about the 2017 Safe Cities Index report a week ago, I had only read the Executive Summary. I also posted a link on one of the Manila expat Facebook groups and that produced a lot of indignant comments about Manila being rated as the 6th least safe city in the world.

That prompted me to download the full report and read it. Having now done that, I now have a better idea how the Economist reached its conclusion that Manila is the 6th least safe overall – but it’s not related to personal safety.

That’s because the index is based on 49 indicators that are classified under four domains: digital security, health security, infrastructure security and personal security.

Manila was rated second from the bottom in digital security. In fact it almost tied for bottom place with Jakarta on that domain.  Digital security relates to the ability of citizens to access the internet “without fear of privacy violations or identity theft”. It also takes account of each city’s “awareness of digital threats, the level of technology employed and the existence of dedicated cyber security teams.” It’s understandable that Manila wouldn’t rate very highly on any of those indicators.

The city was rated fifth from the bottom fifth in infrastructure security. This relates to the condition of the city’s physical infrastructure and its vulnerability to natural disasters and terrorist attacks. It also takes account of transport safety and the number of fatalities in traffic-related accidents. So again it is understandable why Manila is not rated highly on any of those indicators.

But Manila was not listed in the bottom 10 for either health security or personal safety. The index methodology part of the report states that equal weighting was given to each domain. Therefore it appears that in order to end up 6th from the bottom overall, a very low score on digital security must have dragged down Manila’s overall rating.

So whilst it may be correct to describe Manila as the 6th least safe city in the world according to the indicators evaluated in this report, that conclusion relates primarily to digital and infrastructure security – not personal safety as the headlines might suggest.

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