Economic and Natural Disasters since 1900
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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.
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Chapter 2: Hurricane Katrina: a classic natural disaster

John Singleton


One year before the onset of The Depression, which was the most devastating macroeconomic disaster of the twentieth century, the US Chamber of Commerce claimed that too much water was the most serious threat to the safety and prosperity of American business and the American people. The Chamber’s comments were made in response to the devastating Mississippi floods of 1927, which cost hundreds of lives and severely disrupted the economy of a region that was already one of the poorest in the USA. Notwithstanding the Chamber’s hyperbole, flooding along the Mississippi River, caused by persistent rain or hurricanes, has been a recurring problem over the past two centuries. New Orleans, a city that rests partially below sea level, is particularly vulnerable to flooding, and in 2005 its defences were overwhelmed by Hurricane Katrina. About 80 per cent of New Orleans was inundated. Had the eye of the storm passed through the centre of the city rather than to the east, the damage and loss of life would have been far worse. The disaster management cycle was developed with natural catastrophes in mind. Consequently, Hurricane Katrina is a fitting subject for this book’s first application of the disaster cycle framework. The main purpose is not to identify what could have been done better, although some critical assessment is unavoidable, but rather to observe how decision makers and organizations behaved at different stages of the disaster.

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