Aberfan: Government and Disasters

By Iain McLean; Martin Johnes | Go to book overview

Commission in securing the payment from the disaster fund for tip removal.

Chapter 3 explores the relationship between the NCB and Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council. A small local authority whose citizens depended on the coal industry, was unable to challenge a large corporation. In the aftermath of the disaster, this unequal relationship continued to cause problems for the council whose resources were almost overwhelmed by the tasks that it had to confront. While other parts of South Wales were witnessing a rise in support for Plaid Cymru, in Merthyr, and particular Aberfan and Merthyr Vale, anti-government feeling was channelled into independent resident groups and the local MP, S. O. Davies, who had been expelled by the Labour Party. The chapter examines the lessons of Aberfan for disaster management.

Chapter 4 introduces the rest of the book. It explains why Aberfan is still remembered and still important before moving on to look at the field of disaster studies and how disasters are socially constructed. It outlines which disasters will be examined in the book and sets out the hypotheses that the subsequent chapters will challenge.

Nothing like Aberfan had happened since the Second World War, and nobody realised quite how large a task counselling the survivors would be. Chapter 5 documents what services were made available to help Aberfan in its recovery. It locates this within the contemporary understanding of traumatic stress and shows how there was some misunderstanding of the needs of the bereaved, survivors and community. The management of trauma after Aberfan is then compared with later disasters including Dunblane, Bradford and Hillsborough. Our understanding of the traumatic impact of disasters has increased significantly. Yet the kind of long-term problems suffered in Aberfan have continued to be witnessed after other disasters. Despite the advances in knowledge, there remains no clear consensus on how to help disaster victims while the misguided actions (and inaction) of different authorities continue to deepen the trauma that disaster creates.

The press labelled the Aberfan Disaster Fund 'the second Aberfan disaster'. The question of how to spend the huge sum of money donated caused arguments and further distress in the village. Chapter 6 investigates how the Charity Commission, duty-bound to uphold an outdated and inflexible law, intervened and obstructed payments by the charitable Disaster Fund to individual victims and for the cemetery memorial. It did not intervene to protect the Fund from a government raid on its money to pay for the removal of dangerous coal tips above Aberfan a raid that seems dubiously

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