The use of composite indicators has grown vastly over the past three decades. These indicators, which combine different data sources, can help to understand risks over time and compare between countries. Users of these indicators should, however, realise that the reliability and uncertainties of these indicators is often not clear.
There is growing public awareness of global risks that are related to land degradation, poverty, food security, migration flows, natural disasters and levels of violence and conflict. In the past decades, a wealth of databases has become available, which are used to quantify those risks and to influence governance globally. This article addresses a question that underlies the social and political application of risk indicators, namely: how reliable are such data that can be accessed or downloaded ‘in a few mouse clicks’? Reliability is an important issue for users of these data since poor data will lead to poor inferences. Thereby are flawed data usually related to poor and fragile countries, countries that need humanitarian aid and financial investments the most. In order to get a grip on this reliability issue, the article explores the possible uncertainties attached to global risk-related indicators.
An important conclusion is that the coherence between indicators from different organisations but with identical definitions varies. The article shows that indicators for ‘impacts of natural disasters’ show low agreement among institutes. However, indicators denoting ‘governance’ or ‘all security risks combined’ show remarkable high correlations. Furthermore does the article discuss solutions for coping with uncertainties in the partial or complete absence of such information.