Cultures of Disaster: Society and Natural Hazards in the Philippines

By Greg Bankoff | Go to book overview
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5

The politics of disaster management and relief

The written and statistical records provide ample evidence of a long history of repeated natural hazard that has exacted a high price on the peoples and communities of the archipelago in terms of broken lives, personal loss and property damage over the centuries. More recently, the rising impact and frequency of disasters has cost the nation dear, threatening its political stability, undermining its economic development and disrupting its social cohesion. The way the modern state attempts to deal with this chronic state of crisis and the activities of those who articulate power in that society provide new and valuable insights into societal and class dynamics within the Philippines. The management of natural hazard and the organization of disaster relief and rehabilitation have increasingly been considered primarily the business of government and the implementation of subsequent policy has effectively turned ‘disasters into political exercises’ (Feria-Miranda 1994:249).

In a nation particularly vulnerable to extreme seismic and meteorological disturbances, the relationships between disaster and politics and between hazard and class are significant ones that form the basis of vulnerability and partially explain the growing disparities in the Philippines between the haves and have-nots. The extremes of wealth and power that have historically characterised Filipino society are not simply the result of political, economic and social processes as presently conceptualised by western social science models but are also linked to the frequency and magnitude of natural hazards that underlie many of those processes, though they are seldom if ever identified or enumerated. Disasters exacerbate inequalities in society: some among the rich become richer and more powerful and many among the poor are rendered more marginalised and disadvantaged. Placing a greater emphasis on the importance of the natural world and the physical sciences carries with it no intention to negate previous theoretical insights; rather, it is an attempt to increase our appreciation of the complex inter-relationship of the forces at work in shaping modern societies. To understand the politics of disaster in the Philippines requires first an examination of the structure and then an assessment of the effectiveness of the disaster management and relief mechanisms that the modern state has evolved to cope with these

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