Economic and Natural Disasters since 1900

Economic and Natural Disasters since 1900

A Comparative History

John Singleton

In the wake of the global financial and Eurozone upheavals this timely book argues that the disaster cycle – a framework normally used in the context of natural disasters – is equally applicable to the analysis of other types of catastrophe. Employing a modified version of the disaster cycle framework to compare and analyse a range of catastrophes in different spheres, the author draws on ideas from a variety of disciplines including economics and economic history, disaster studies, management, and political science. This unique comparative approach presents case studies of several important disasters: Hurricane Katrina, the First World War, the depression of the early 1930s, Welsh coal mining accidents, the deadly effects of smoking tobacco, and the Global Financial Crisis and Eurozone catastrophe of the early twenty first century. The author argues that economists and economic policy makers routinely misuse the term crisis to describe episodes that ought to be called disasters.

Chapter 5: Mining disasters

John Singleton

Subjects: economics and finance, economic psychology, financial economics and regulation, history of economic thought, regional economics, environment, disasters


In Tommy, an account of the lives of British soldiers in the First World War, Richard Holmes (2004, 95) quotes a contemporary report of an incident in which stretcher bearers, wading up to their knees in water, struggle to carry wounded men to safety. Holmes then reveals that his source does not describe a battle in Flanders or France but rather a mining disaster in Wales. As Tawney and Holmes both explain, there were similarities between the risks run by miners and soldiers, although the risks were greater for the latter, at least between 1914 and 1918. Coal mining has always been a very dangerous occupation. Miners were exposed to numerous hazards, including flooding, rock falls, explosions and asphyxiation, not to mention the long-term health effects of breathing in dust. Most miners who died underground did so in ones or twos, but the death toll occasionally ran into hundreds when there was an explosion. Few large-scale mining accidents have occurred in developed economies in recent decades. The Pike River disaster, which claimed the lives of 29 miners in New Zealand in 2010, was an exception to the rule (Young 2012). Yet accidents with numerous fatalities still happen regularly in developing countries such as China (Wright 2012) and Turkey. People and property in the vicinity of coal mines are also at risk from negative externalities including pollution, subsidence and the collapse of tips of waste material extracted from underground.

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