Although there are those who would disagree, Natural Disasters are probably not driven by politics, but nor are they immune from politics. Far from it. The actions taken by human actors undoubtedly affect the prevention, mitigation, and damage of natural disasters and their aftermaths.
The ‘shock’ refers to the natural act itself e.g. the earthquake. The ‘aftershock’ comes later – this is why I made reference to the ‘insurance aftershock’ in my book, The Christchurch Fiasco. It transpires that post the Christchurch earthquakes — EQC, CERA, the Christchurch City Council, and the Government of the day equate to the net impact of the ‘aftershock’ on the population – the physical ‘disaster’ is far from the whole event. It is also made up of those shocking post disaster events, such as delayed insurance payouts, top-down authoritarian decisions, ineptitude of EQC, evidence of corruption in the post quake city – and the list goes on…
Though governments are supposed to care about the social welfare of their citizens, they also have an interest in maximizing government income. Though governments do spend on both preventative and palliative measures to lessen the impact of a potential natural shock, they also use natural disasters to redistribute power through the political effect, for example favouring disaster spending in regions that are politically aligned with the party in power. Dire circumstances provide rapacious governments with a stronger ability to increase their level of theft and to hide it. Arguably we are seeing that take place here in Christchurch. Disasters can be used as a blunt policy instrument to target or reward populations and to enrich a government and the ‘corporate classes’.
Interesting too, is the fact that a time of crisis can increase markedly the amount of information a population has about current or incumbent politicians and their governance style and outcomes. This is because disaster produces a highly informative environment where voters are continually debating and experiencing the performance and merits of the operators in power – be that a Prime Minister or a City Council. It is in these high information environments that voters learn enough to enable them to consider taking the decision to replace the political incumbents.
For example, certain incumbents in Christchurch are currently responsible for rebuilding a city infrastructure and restoring the lives of affected communities to some semblance of order. During normal times there is usually little information about how good a job the incumbent did or is doing, but during an earthquake or hurricane voters quickly learn a lot more about whether the incumbent has done a good job and who these people actually are. When there is this much information floating around, information about performance may become sufficiently informative to overcome a voter’s initial tendency to support an incumbent. Their likelihood of re-election by the persons of the affected area therefore has the potential to take a hammering. And the truth is that as voters we often understand little beyond our own or our local community’s pain and pleasure. . . as voters we often have only a vague, or at worst primitive understanding of the connections between incumbent politicians actions and our own pain or pleasure. Governments also rely on national media disinterest (or control) to ensure that populations outside the affected area get to hear little of their manipulations within the area.
From where I’m sitting, the National Government won’t be getting my vote in the next election. I hear that from many other people too. Educated voters are fully rational, and guess what – re-election rates are lower for incumbents following natural disasters. The mechanism is informational. A rational voter votes retrospectively — i.e. based on what they perceive to be the past performance of the incumbent—but does so only because that past performance is informative about expected future performance. So look out National, if you want the Canterbury vote you’ll have to do better than the current lack lustre performance. An example of this is the long awaited insurance advocacy service which was mooted over ten months ago. (See http://www.stuff.co.nz/the-press/news/8361725/Dismay-over-delays-in-insurance-advice). The month of May will now see the introduction of a service which is said to help those with “the most complex problems”. (See http://www.stuff.co.nz/the-press/news/8574627/Free-insurance-advisory-service-to-launch). The service will not be an advocacy service which is what residents have been calling for. (See http://avonsideblog.org/2013/04/20/ceras-residential-advisory-service/).
There will be many votes in Canterbury the Government will not be able to count on come election time.
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