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Responding to Catastrophe: Repression Dynamics Following Rapid-onset Natural Disasters


Journal of Conflict Resolution

Published online on


Natural disasters often cause significant human suffering. They may also provide incentives for states to escalate repression against their citizens. We argue that state authorities escalate repression in the wake of natural disasters because the combination of increased grievances and declining state control produced by disasters creates windows of opportunity for dissident mobilization and challenges to state authority. We also investigate the impact of the post-disaster humanitarian aid on this relationship. Specifically, we argue that inflows of aid in the immediate aftermath of disasters are likely to dampen the impact of disasters on repression. However, we expect that this effect is greater when aid flows to more democratic states. We examine these interrelated hypotheses using cross-national data on immediate-onset natural disasters and state violations of physical integrity rights between 1977 and 2009 as well as newly collected foreign aid data disaggregated by sector. The results provide support for both our general argument and the corollary hypotheses.