Thursday, 5 December 2013

Disasters and politics


When the Maxima supermarket collapsed in the Latvian capital, Riga, last month, with the deaths of at least 54 people, (see my blog of Nov 22) it also brought down the government.  Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis resigned after the president, Andris Berzins, described the disaster as ‘murder’.

Disasters often have important political consequences. The Bangladesh cyclone of 1970 was the deadliest in history, killing up to a million people. It was also the last straw in the fractious relationship between East and West Pakistan. The response of the government in the West was seen as grudging and inadequate, and the East began a war of independence from which it emerged as the new nation of Bangladesh.

In 2008, another cyclone, Nargis, killed perhaps 140,000 people in Myanmar. Again, the government was heavily criticised, for the slowness of the relief effort and its reluctance to accept foreign help. Many saw this as the beginning of the current transition to democracy.

Going further back into history, a devastating hailstorm  that flattened crops across much of France in 1788 played a crucial role in fomenting the Revolution that came the following year, as it bankrupted the government through loss of tax revenues, and sent food prices into the stratosphere.

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