Saturday, July 07, 2012

Afghanistan School Poisonings - Mass Hysteria?

If you do work in Afghanistan, you've likely heard stories about large numbers of students at girls' schools that have come down sick. The Taliban has been widely blamed for these incidents, allegedly conducting a poisoning campaign to stop or disrupt girls' education programs. Despite Taliban denials, if poison is indeed being used as a weapon, there are obvious security implications for NGOs with a presence in Afghanistan.

The World Health Organization has been investigating these incidents for the past three years and just released a report that concludes there is no conclusive evidence of poisoning. Instead, researchers are attributing the events to mass hysteria. If the report is correct (and its conclusions seem to be spot on), this is a fascinating case study of how a perceived threat can snowball into something that takes on a life of its own.



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