Tracking typhoons to pursue pork barreling

Post developed by Katie Brown in coordination with Allen Hicken.

Each year, 30 typhoons and tropical storms batter the Philippines. The damage costs between $17 and $19 million per year, nearly 10 percent of the nation’s GDP. The Japanese Meteorological Agency developed a storm tracking system that measures date, time, location, wind speed, barometric pressure, and storm type every six hours. The map below displays the paths of storms striking the country in 2010.

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In addition to tracking typhoons, could this map also help gauge the role of political affiliations in the distribution of public resources, a.k.a., pork barreling? Enter the work of Center for Political Studies (CPS) researcher Allen Hicken, who is also Director of the Center for Southeast Asian Studies and Associate Professor of Political Science. In a forthcoming paper, “Pork & Typhoons: The Political Economy of Disaster Assistance in the Philippines,” Hicken, along with graduate students James Atkinson and Nico Ravanilla, developed a new approach to studying pork barreling.

Specifically, the research uses a storm index created by University of Michigan faculty member Dean Yang to create a baseline of expected relief fund distribution and trace variations by political ties. The Philippines’ democracy is both one of the oldest and weakest in Asia. Political clans are central to Filipino political life. The research considers political ties both in terms of party links and clan connections between a politician and a region.

To what extent do political calculations affect the allocation of government disaster reconstruction funds? The results show that need does indeed impact relief received. However, the authors also find that, “Political ties between members of congress and local mayors, especially clan ties, increase per capita targetable funds allocated to that municipality.” Thus, tracking typhoons can expose pork barreling.

Though typhoons and clan ties may be unique to the Philippines, natural disasters and pork barreling are global phenomena. Thus, the innovative methodology pioneered in this paper could be applied to other nations to increase understanding of political ties and resource allocation.