Journal Express, Knoxville, IA

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
  • VIDEO: Boston bomb scare defendant appears in court

    The man accused of carrying a backpack containing a rice cooker near the Boston Marathon finish line on the anniversary of the bombings was arraigned Wednesday. He's being held on $100,000 bail.

    April 17, 2014

  • Consumer spending on health care jumps as Affordable Care Act takes hold

    Nancy Beigel has known since September that she would need hernia surgery. She couldn't afford it on her $11,000 yearly income until she became eligible for Medicaid in January through President Barack Obama's signature health care law.

    April 17, 2014

  • The case for separate beds

    The other night I slept on a twin bed in the guest room of the house I share with my husband and our two kids.
    It was the best night's sleep I've had in years.

    April 17, 2014

  • Raw oysters spike U.S. rise in bacterial infections, CDC reports

    Raw oysters, so good with hot sauce, increasingly can carry something even more unsettling to the stomach: A bacteria linked to vomiting, diarrhea and pain.

    April 17, 2014

  • To sleep well, you may need to adjust what you eat and when

    Sleep.  Oh, to sleep.  A good night's sleep is often a struggle for more than half of American adults.  And for occasional insomnia, there are good reasons to avoid using medications, whether over-the-counter or prescription.

    April 16, 2014

  • Doctors to rate cost effectiveness of expensive cancer drugs

    The world's largest organization of cancer doctors plans to rate the cost effectiveness of expensive oncology drugs, and will urge physicians to use the ratings to discuss the costs with their patients.

    April 16, 2014

  • Low blood-sugar levels make for grousing spouses

    Husbands and wives reported being most unhappy with their spouses when their blood-sugar levels were lowest, usually at night, according to research released this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Missing a meal, dieting or just being hungry may be the reason, researchers said.

    April 16, 2014

  • Screen Shot 2014-04-16 at 12.51.22 PM.png VIDEO: Toddler climbs into vending machine

    A child is safe after climbing into and getting stuck inside a claw crane machine at a Lincoln, Neb., bowling alley Monday.

    April 16, 2014 1 Photo

  • portraitoflotte.jpg VIDEO: From infant to teen in four minutes

    Dutch filmmaker Frans Hofmeester’s time lapse video of his daughter, Lotte — created by filming her every week from her birth until she turned 14 — has become a viral sensation.

    April 16, 2014 1 Photo

  • Victimized by the 'marriage penalty'

    In a few short months, I'll pass the milestone that every little girl dreams of: the day she swears - before family and God, in sickness and in health, all in the name of love - that she's willing to pay a much higher tax rate.

    April 15, 2014

Features
AP Video
Drought Concerns May Hurt Lake Tourism Vermont Goat Meat Gives Refugees Taste of Home Calif. Investigators Re-construct Fatal Bus Cras Appellate Court Hears Okla. Gay Marriage Case Horseless Carriage Introduced at NY Auto Show Chelsea Clinton Is Pregnant Beau Biden Plans 2016 Run for Del. Governor Flamingo Frenzy Ahead of Zoo Construction Obama: 8 Million Healthcare Signups Obama Hopeful on Ukraine, Will Watch Russians U.S. Sending Nonlethal Aid to Ukraine Military Holder: Americans Stand With KC Mourners Diplomats Reach Deal to Ease Tensions in Ukraine Obama Greets Wounded Warriors Boston Bombing Survivors One Year Later Sister of Slain MIT Officer Reflects on Bombing Raw: Blast at Tennessee Ammunition Plant Kills 1 Raw: Urinator Causes Portland to Flush Reservoir Hoax Bomb Raises Anxiety in Boston New York Auto Show Highlights Latest in Car Tech
Facebook
Hyperlocal Search
Premier Guide
Find a business

Walking Fingers
Maps, Menus, Store hours, Coupons, and more...
Premier Guide
Poll

Which service of the Knoxville Chamber of Commerce do you believe is most beneficial for its membership?

Events
Legislative lobbying
Promotional material publication
Educational programs for the community
Other
     View Results