Mt. Vernon Register-News

Community News Network

November 12, 2013

Are democracies better at dealing with disasters?

WASHINGTON — In an earlier post, I talked about how the economic conditions in the Philippines could play a role in the severity of the damage caused by Typhoon Haiyan, but what about the country's politics?

The Philippines is classified as "partly free" by Freedom House and has endemic problems with corruption and cronyism. But the country is an electoral democracy with an increasingly open political process, and recent progress has been made in reaching a peace deal with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and tackling corruption. Will improving democratic conditions in the country make any difference in the country's disaster relief efforts? They could.

Events like earthquakes, typhoons and droughts are acts of God and politically neutral. (Let's ignore climate change for the moment.) But the level of development in a country will often determine the extent of the damage. Chile, for instance, experienced a more severe earthquake than Haiti in 2010 according to the Richter Scale, but only a fraction of the death toll.

There's some research to suggest that democracies are better at preparing for disasters and responding to them than autocracies. Take for instance, Myanmar's blocking of international aid after Cyclone Nargis or China's crackdown on those who questioned the shoddy construction that made the death toll from the 2008 Sichuan earthquake much higher than it needed to be.

Nobel Prize-winning economist Amartya Sen famously argued that famines do not occur in functioning democracies, because democracies ''have to win elections and face public criticism, and have strong incentive to undertake measures to avert famines and other catastrophes.''

In a 2002 paper, London School of Economics economists Timothy Besley and Robin Burgess built on this argument in a study of how Indian regions responded to falls in food production and crop flood damage. They found that Indian states "where newspaper circulation is higher and electoral accountability greater" were far more responsive in responding to people's needs in the wake of disasters.

In 2010, Alejandro Quiroz Flores and Alastair Smith developed the idea further, arguing that democratic countries have greater incentives to prepare for disasters and put response systems in place than autocracies. "You have a better chance surviving a disaster in a poor democracy than a rich autocracy," Smith says.

In democracies, leaders take a political hit when casualty numbers are high and the response by authorities is perceived as inadequate. (Think Bush after Katrina.) If the number of casualties are low and the response and the authorities are seen as responsive, a leader can even benefit politically. (Think Obama after Sandy.)

The incentives work differently for autocracies. Leaders depend not on public support but on the loyalty of their closest followers. So funds that could be spent on improving infrastructure or developing disaster response systems are better spent on enriching the leader's cronies.

Disasters can hurt autocratic governments by concentrating displaced people in small areas and giving opposition leaders a focal point to rally around. The Fores/Smith paper argues that the anti-government protests that followed the 1985 Mexico City earthquake helped the city develop a stronger civil society, leading eventually to the direct election of the city's mayor and the erosion of the PRI party's monopoly on power. Patrick Meier argues in iRevolution that online organizing in the wake of disasters can serve a similar function.

Here's where the bad news comes in for the Philippines. The country's infrastructure is in rough shape after years of underinvestment. With one recent president convicted of corruption and another charged with election fraud, it would be understandable for Filipinos to be skeptical of their leaders.

Indeed, there's already something of a blame game developing between President Benigno Aquino III and the local authorities in devastated Tacloban city. Hopefully this controversy will put some pressure on authorities to take steps to prevent the next storm from being quite so deadly.

               

           

 

1
Text Only
Community News Network
  • Bill Clinton coming to eastern Kentucky to stump for Grimes

    By RONNIE ELLIS
    CNHI News Service

    GLASGOW — Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes is again calling in the “Big Dog” in her quest to unseat five-term Republican U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell.

    July 27, 2014

  • How spy agencies keep their 'toys' from law enforcement

    A little over a decade ago, federal prosecutors used keystroke logging software to steal the encryption password of an alleged New Jersey mobster, Nicodemo Scarfo Jr., so they could get evidence from his computer to be used at his trial.

    July 25, 2014

  • Russia's war on McDonald's takes aim at the Filet-o-Fish

    Russia said earlier this week that it had no intention of answering Western sanctions by making it harder for Western companies to conduct business in Russia.
    But all bets are off, apparently, when you threaten the Russian waistline.

    July 25, 2014

  • Facebook continues moneymaking trend

    Facebook seems to have figured out - for now at least - the holy grail for all media right now: how to make money selling mobile ads.

    July 24, 2014

  • 072214 Diamond Llama 1.jpg Llama on the loose corralled in Missouri town

    A llama on the lam cruised Main Street Tuesday before it mistook a resident’s fenced backyard for a place to grab a meal and freshen up.

    July 22, 2014 2 Photos

  • Screen Shot 2014-07-22 at 2.00.42 PM.png VIDEO: Train collides with semi truck carrying lighter fluid

    A truck driver from Washington is fortunate to be alive after driving his semi onto a set of tracks near Somerset, Ky., and being struck by a locomotive, which ignited his load of charcoal lighter fluid.

    July 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • mama.jpg What we get wrong about millennials living at home

    If the media is to be believed, America is facing a major crisis. "Kids," some age 25, 26, or even 30 years old, are living out of their childhood bedrooms and basements at alarmingly high numbers. The hand-wringing overlooks one problem: It's all overblown.

    July 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • Malaysians wonder 'Why us?' after second loss of airline jet

    It was all too familiar. Grieving families rushing to airport. The flashing television graphics of a plane's last radar appearance. The uncomfortable officials before a heavy thicket of microphones.
    For many Malaysians, the disappearance of Flight 370 in March has been a long trauma from which the nation has not yet recovered.

    July 18, 2014

  • The terrible history of passenger planes getting shot out of the sky

    What is more clear is that, if initial reports are true, this would be the deadliest incident of a civilian passenger plane being shot down in modern memory. In some instances, the causes of the disaster are still shrouded in mystery. Here are some of the worst events.

    July 17, 2014

  • 130408_NT_BEA_good kids We're raising a generation of timid kids

    A week ago, a woman was charged with leaving her child in the car while she went into a store. Her 11-year-old child. This week, a woman was arrested for allowing her 9-year-old daughter to go to the park alone. Which raises just one question: America, what the heck is wrong with you?

    July 17, 2014 1 Photo

Twitter Updates
Facebook
Stocks