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Chapter 4: Prevention through Governments

donors on the other, especially in poor countries where they may have some influence. The following section examines the first group, and foreign donors are discussed in the next chapter. Relief spending responds to media attention

Spending on relief increases with media coverage. Besley and Burgess (2002) find that politicians respond with greater alacrity to disasters that the media cover. And though their regressions reflect correlation (and a common underlying cause), a causal direction is plausible. They find that newspaper circulation increases the government’s disaster responsiveness: a 10 percent drop in harvests increases public food distribution by 1 percent in states with median per capita newspaper circulation, but in states at the 75th percentile in circulation, food distribution rises by 2.3 percent for the same drop in harvests. Francken, Minten, and Swinnen (2008) investigate what drove relief to 249 communities affected by cyclone Gafilo in March 2004 in Madagascar. Access to radio increased the probability of government relief by 24 percentage points, consistent with the results of focus group discussions where half the communes believe that the media influence politicians’ decisions and improve responsiveness. And the probability of government relief was 65 percentage points higher in communities where the majority supported the president during the 2001 elections. Such effects are the same in developed countries. For about 5,000 disasters occurring outside the United States between 1968 and 2002, the U.S. government’s relief response was often crowded out by other noteworthy media events clearly unrelated to disasters (such as the Olympics or the World Series) that coincided with the disaster (Eisensee and Strömberg 2007). For example, disasters are on average 5 percent less likely to receive relief during the Olympics than at other times. A disaster occurring during the Olympics must also have three times as many fatalities than a disaster on an ordinary day to have an equal chance of receiving relief. Nearly half of all Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) disaster relief payments in the United States were motivated by politics rather than need (Garrett and Sobel 2003). And presidential disaster declarations, often a prerequisite for federal aid, are more frequent in election years, though disasters and electoral cycles themselves are clearly unrelated (Sobel and Leeson 2008). Under the current U.S. system of disaster assistance, a state governor may ask the president to declare a “major disaster.” The president does not unilaterally determine the amount of aid that follows (the House and Senate must approve, though they usually concur), but is responsible for a necessary step and may benefit politically as a consequence. What drives the declaration, when some states benefit and others share the cost? Many (though not all) of the peaks correspond to presidential election years, consistent with disaster assistance often being an electoral issue that rewards incumbents (figure 4.5).2

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Profile for World Bank Group Publications

Natural Hazards, UnNatural Disasters: The Economics of Effective Prevention  

Earthquakes, droughts, floods, and storms are natural hazards, but unnatural disasters are the deaths and damages that result from human act...

Natural Hazards, UnNatural Disasters: The Economics of Effective Prevention  

Earthquakes, droughts, floods, and storms are natural hazards, but unnatural disasters are the deaths and damages that result from human act...