Earthquakes, Hurricanes, and Terrorism

Do Natural Disasters Incite Terror?

by Claude Berrebi, Jordan Ostwald

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Abstract

A novel and important issue in contemporary security policy is the impact of natural disasters on terrorism. Natural disasters can strain a society and its government, creating vulnerabilities which terrorist groups might exploit. Using a structured methodology and detailed data on terrorism, disasters, and other relevant controls for 167 countries between 1970 and 2007, the authors find a strong positive impact of disaster-related deaths on subsequent terrorism deaths and incidence. They find that, on average, an increase in deaths from natural disasters of 25,000 leads to an increase in the following year of approximately 33 percent in the number of deaths from terrorism, an increase of approximately 22 percent in the number of terrorist attacks, and an increase of approximately 16 percent in the number wounded in terrorist attacks, holding all other factors constant. Furthermore, the effects differ by disaster types and country characteristics. Results were consistently significant and robust across a multitude of disaster and terrorism measures for a diverse set of model specifications. The results have strong implications for both disaster and terrorism mitigation policy.

This paper series made possible by the NIA funded RAND Center for the Study of Aging and the NICHD funded RAND Population Research Center.

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