How important is safety to your expat life?
Being an expat in the Middle East I am often asked ‘is it safe?’; I cannot deny that security concerns are ever present in everyday life but according to the latest Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) survey, my home town Abu Dhabi is the safest city in the Middle East and 25th overall in cities surveyed – so should I now be resting easy?
As always survey headlines need to be taken with a grain of salt; business and tourism boards from cities that rank well, of course, like to beat their drum about these achievements but there are definitely limitations to the current EIU results.
What exactly does the survey tell us?
Safety in this survey has been taken based on 40 qualitative and quantitative indicators across four categories; health security, infrastructure safety, digital security and personal safety.
The EIU point out that being statistically safe does not tally to a perception of safety, with only two cities (Zurich and Mexico City) ranking the same on both scales, meaning city leaders still have more to translate safety into public perceptions. Much progress has made over the past decade in improving the prevalence of ‘street crime’, but overall reported crimes are still on the rise in urban centres due to the rapid increase in the number of cyber-related offenses.
The EIU also note that safety is closely linked to wealth and economic development; unsurprisingly developing countries ranked lower in the survey. Of the five Middle East cities included in the survey, four are considered high wealth but only Abu Dhabi ranks in the top half.
The overall ‘winner’ on the safety index is Tokyo, but city leaders recognize there is still a lot of work to be done in disaster prevention and the environment, particularly air quality (health security was their poorest performing category – this afflicts a number of the worlds ‘megacities’).
I should point out that the survey pool they have used for this index is severely limited – only data from 50 international cities has been compared which is hardly representative of the expat world.
The conclusion drawn by EIU seems to be that progress in the physical world needs to be matched in the virtual world. Technology needs to be used more for everything from street lighting systems to allowing local agencies to share data. Having the available resources to deliver this is seen as vital.
Where does safety fit in your list of ‘needs’?
Safety may not be the first thing you think of when deciding where to work and live (I’m guessing job availability and pay are likely to be forefront of mind in most expats moving decisions) but as a family it is likely to receive fairly high consideration when working out the pros and cons of a move.
The EIU provides a number of surveys which rank cities internationally, the latest #safecitiesindex is just one of several used to rank world cities. Out of interest taking combined results from different EIU indices, Toronto, Canada while not ranking highest in any one index gets the best overall combined index score (other indices include livability, cost of living, business environment, democracy and food security).
Employees should use this survey as just one of many negotiating tools with an employer. In cities that rank lowly for example, you could make a case for increased danger pay and assess the feasibility of being able to move your family with you.
Do I feel safe in the Middle East?
There has in recent months been an isolated act of terror against a westerner and non-specific threats made against teachers at western curriculum schools, but we do live in an age where extremists are deliberately trying to incite fear and cities such as Sydney and Paris have equally been subjected to these sorts of random acts which have unfortunately become far too commonplace.
Personally, I do feel safe in Abu Dhabi but there is more that could be done in improving the physical presence of security in our schools, and a lot more can be done to improve safety on our roads –driver behaviour can be a daily nightmare to deal with. The bigger issue that still exists is tackling matters of domestic abuse and the fair treatment of domestic employees,these matters too often seem to be swept under the carpet and go unreported; I feel that there is not equality for all in the justice system which contributes to a feeling of safety (and human rights). Like anywhere you would travel in the world, be vigilant all the time, especially with your children and you will be as safe here as any leading developed city.
Do you live in one of the top ranking ‘safe cities’? Would you agree with the EIU or is your overall safety still a daily concern?
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