Natural disasters creating oppressive governments, new study finds

Tornadoes, cyclones, hurricanes, and other natural disasters are causing governments to become more oppressive, an international study has uncovered.


After reviewing data from 1950 to 2009, the researchers found that a strength of a country's democratic system is often shaken by a significant natural disaster and that autocracy tends to emerge.

When ranking countries from autocracy to democracy, it was concluded that storms deteriorate democratic conditions in island nations by 3.46% in the following year, and 10.1% over the subsequent five years.

And these governments also increase their level of political oppression by around 2.5% per year following storm-related disasters, according to the research from Durham University Business School, Deakin Business School and Monash School of Business Malaysia.

“The rise of authoritarian regimes in countries such as Haiti, Fiji and the Philippines are examples of countries where frequent severe storm events could have been a contributor to why these countries governments have remained autocratic,” Deakin Business School's professor Mehmet Ulubasoglu, said.

“These are countries we’re now dubbing ‘storm autocracies’. With climate change likely to cause more frequent natural disasters in these small islands, it is likely that we will see a greater decline in democracy in these countries.”

The researchers explained how government intervention following a disaster allows countries to tighten control over their citizens and take advantage while day-to-day business and routines are disrupted.

And these citizens are less inclined to revolt against the tightening of political regimes as they become more accepting after a natural disaster of the fact that autocratic governments are much more efficient in decision-making during crises.

It was also found that small islands are particularly impacted by this rise of autocracy, with landlocked countries and coastal countries not experiencing as much of an impact on their government system.

“Storms often put our physical environment in peril, but its aftermath dampens democratic conditions in island countries,” said Dr Muhammad Habibur Rahman of Monash School of Business Malaysia.

“We observe that the incumbents in islands tend to secure their citizens’ supports through providing post-disaster relief expenditure.

“Frequent storms offer more opportunities to the governments in allocating relief assistance than they generally do in exchange of restricting their citizens’ democratic rights; the ultimate outcome turns out to be authoritarian populism.”


Image credit | iStock

Chris Seekings is a reporter for TRANSFORM

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