Rand: Natural disasters lead to terrorism in low- and mid- per capita GDP countries

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Natural disasters result in higher levels of terrorism in countries with low to middle per capita gross domestic product, with geophysical and hydrological disasters in particular prompting a more sustained and escalating effect on terrorism, finds a paper by the Rand Corp.

Rand researchers pulled data about natural disasters, terrorism incidents and country characteristics covering the period from 1970 through 2007, finding statistically significant positive associations between disasters and the number of terrorist attacks. The lower the per capita GDP of a country, the more concentrated the effect of natural disaster leading to terrorism was, the Rand paper says. The relationship does not exist in high per capita countries, the paper also says, adding that terrorism attacks in Japan is unlikely to increase as a result of the recent earthquake and tsunami there.

Researchers have long found qualitative reasons to believe that a natural disaster could lead to increased terrorism, since post-catastrophe turmoil can create or exacerbate state and societal fissures.

State resources redirected toward disaster recovery might mean spending on security could suffer, which from terrorists' perspective, "amounts to a reduction in the potential costs of participating in terrorism," the paper notes.

A government's failure, or perceived failure, to provide fair and sufficient assistance following a disaster can also lead to political discontent, eroding the legitimacy of the government in the eyes of the public.

The problem of disaster recovery can be exacerbated yet further in areas that are politically weak or hostile to the government, since government often spends less on infrastructure and disaster prevention in those places, the paper also says.

Yet, there have been arguments against the connection between natural disaster and terrorism, with some noting that striking a populace already preoccupied with the effects of a catastrophe can cause resentment among an otherwise sympathetic public. Moreover, terrorist groups themselves might be incapacitated by natural disaster.

The quantitative relationship the paper establishes is the first of its kind, paper authors say. A deeper look at the data, they add, shows differences in post-disaster increase in terrorism that could be attributable to the predictability and deadliness of the disaster type. As a result, early warning systems and other methods of reducing the impact of a disaster could prevent substantial escalations in terrorism, the paper says.

For more:
- download the paper, "Earthquakes, hurricanes, and terrorism: Do natural disasters incite terror?" (.pdf)

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