Accounting for Natural Disasters & Humanitarian Interventions

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    Critical Perspectives on Accounting xxx (2014) xxxxxx

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    YCPAC 1868 13

    Contents lists available at ScienceDirect

    Critical Perspectives on Accounting

    journal homepage: www.elsev ier .com/ locate /cpaEditorialAccounting for [1_TD$DIFF]natural disasters and humanitarianinterventions[5_TD$DIFF]When we hear about a national emergency or a national disaster, we are inclined to think about natural calamitiessuch as the 2010 Haiti earthquake, the 2012 Philippine Typhoon Bopha, or the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami or even man-made disasters such as 9/11 or other terrorist attacks andwars, or technological/ecological/industrial catastrophes [6_TD$DIFF] such asthe 2012 deadly fires in both the Honduras penitentiary Centre and the textile factory in Pakistan.

    According to the 2013 [7_TD$DIFF]World Report on Disasters[8_TD$DIFF] issued by the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red CrescentSocieties ( [9_TD$DIFF]IFRC; and, 364 natural disasters and 188 technological disasters werereported worldwide in 2012, together with a small yet significant number of armed conflicts. The above catastrophes haveresulted in the loss of life, the displacement of populations and sometimes even the reconfiguration of entire ecosystems.And in response to these disasters, a number of organizations and governments [10_TD$DIFF]through humanitarian efforts haveresponded with prompt intervention.

    Admittedly in the early 20 [11_TD$DIFF]th century general literature in Social Sciences began to investigate the above outlined disastertypologies. Samuel Henry Prince, for example, thoroughly analyzed the 1917 Halifax explosion ([12_TD$DIFF]1920), when a Frenchmunition ship, the Mont Blanc, exploded after a collision in the inner Canadian [13_TD$DIFF]harbour. The history of 1755 Lisbonearthquakes has also been the focus of long debates to date (e.g., Dynes, 2000). Importantly, since the start of the 1980s therehas also been the launch of entirely addressed journals set out to explore social and [14_TD$DIFF]behavioural aspects of disasters andemergencies, such as The International Journal of Mass Emergencies and Disasters. Despite this widespread interest in SocialSciences, there have been very few, recent and precious studies on the intersection between accounting and disasters,focusing either on wars (i.e., Cooper and Catchpowle, 2009 on the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq) or technological/industrial disasters (i.e., Matilal and H[15_TD$DIFF]opfl, 2009; Cooper et al., 2011 on the Scotland ICL industrial disaster), as well asinvestigations on accountability that guide accounting practices in the context of general emergency relief (i.e., Everett andFriesen, 2010). Nevertheless, it appears that to date there are no contemporary studies addressing the interplay betweenaccounting and natural disasters.

    The willingness to publish this special issue, launched in January 2011 [6_TD$DIFF] Critical Perspectives on Accounting Journal [16_TD$DIFF] witnesses its vision of addressing the above outlined paucity of accounting research. Each of the articles in this issue whichare listed in alphabetical order take a look at the relationship between accounting and natural disasters from a totallydifferent perspective. The first article of this issue written by Richard Baker, is an analysis of the breakdowns ofaccountability in the context of natural disasters, focused on Hurricane Katrina [17_TD$DIFF] 2005, which was one of the mostdevastating, costly and deadly storms ever experienced in the United States. Whilst the death toll exceeded [18_TD$DIFF]1800 victims,and total damages were far beyond $125 billion causing the displacement of more than 250,000 people ([19_TD$DIFF]U.S. Department ofHealth and Human Services Office for Civil Rights[20_TD$DIFF],, the city, state and federal governments response to thehurricane indicates the failure of responsible parties to act correctly in the safeguard of victims, most of which were black,poor and elderly, thus highlighting breakdowns in accountability during and after the disaster. Baker also questionswhetheror not the above failures were ascribable to institutional racism enmeshed in the historical genome of NewOrleans, and thusthe manuscript [6_TD$DIFF] using McKernan, 2012 argumentation [6_TD$DIFF] emphasizes the need to go beyond calculative accountability toachieve a moral dimension of the accountability multi-facet concept, more inclined to responsibility towards others,which was sadly lacking in the city, state and federal government actions in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

    Alessandro Lai, Giulia Leoni and Riccardo Stazzecchini investigate the social aspects of the accounting system (Miller,1994) erected by the authorities responsible for recovery after the major Italian flood of November 2010. Essentiallyaccounting apparatuses may [6_TD$DIFF] or may not as some studies suggest [6_TD$DIFF] be used to unveil and account for the transparent andPlease cite this article in press as: SargiacomoM. Accounting for [1_TD$DIFF]natural disasters and humanitarian interventions, CritPerspect Account (2014),

    1045-2354/ 2014 Published by Elsevier Ltd.

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    YCPAC 1868 13fair management of public funds specifically targeted at disaster prevention and recovery. Themajor Italian flood case offersevidence of the deployment of accounting procedures which were not only able to increase visibility allowing to track downdamages and recovery processes, but also promoted trust, mutual understanding, dialogue and solidarity among the victims,thus paving the way to the construction of a sense of inter-dependency between most players involved (Bryer, 2011;Morgan, 1988; Roberts, 1991, 1996). For example, the flood victims did not only account for their damages, but becameactive participants (Munro, 1996) of the accountability process. By doing so, with the ongoing concern of receiving mediaand political attention, and the obtainment of fair reimbursements, the flood victims developed a sense of commonvictimization, which has made them act as a local community against the rest of the Country. By providing evidence of thesocializing effects of accounting in the aftermath of a natural disaster, the authors suggest further investigations into aneglected critical accounting strand of research.

    The study provided by Massimo Sargiacomo, Luca Ianni and Jeff Everett; enriched by Pierre Bourdieus ideas (e.g.[21_TD$DIFF]Bourdieu and Wacquant, [22_TD$DIFF]2002; Bourdieu, 2000) examines the role of accounting and other calculative practices in theaftermath of a major earthquake, focusing mostly on the very first emergency relief efforts deployed by the Italian CivilDefence/Protection (i.e., Protezione Civile). Drawing on document analysis and interviews with key participants involved inthe response to the 2009 Abruzzo disaster, the study chronologically examineswhen, how, andwithwhat effects accountingand other associated practices were mobilized and conscripted in the name of both traditional and critical moral-politicalideals, specifically, efficiency, freedom, and wellbeing. Accordingly, using the three alternate corresponding lenses ofprivate-interest maximization, inequality and suffering, the authors pinpoint how accounting wasmobilized and enlisted tohelp deal with the disaster; and as time passed it became less focused on alleviating suffering and more concerned abouttraditional ends. Thus, the emergency game involving the race against timegetting people fed and housed, involved thereduction ofmoral hazard and fraud (via the requirement of completed accounting forms), improved financial accountability(via the preparation of accounting reports), and the prediction of future uncertainty (via the development of cost simulators).In doing so, the paper seeks to help bridge the gap between ethics and critical accounting research.

    Dennis Taylor, Meredith Tharapos and Shannon Sidaway focus their attention on the nature and extent of downwardaccountability (e.g. Najam, 1996; Kilby, 2004; Gray et al., 2006) shown by non-governmental organizations and keygovernment agencies to victims of the Australias 2009 Black Saturday bushfires disaster. Drawing on document analysis ofthe above organizations, the authors seek to identify the traits of downward accountability there embedded, which includereadability, closeness and empowerment of beneficiaries. Moreover, according to subsequent interviews, the emergence ofdownward accountability clues in the preceding above-mentioned documentation and reports seems to derive from themotivation for upward and internal accountability. The evidence obtained through the investigation shows that theprincipal-agent expectations are not present in downward accountability fostered by charitable deeds-based on recoveryactions. Relatedly, the authors emphasize that downward accountability, as emerging in a post-natural disaster scenario,does not chime with a stakeholder-oriented accountability typology network.

    StephenWalker, adopting an historical perspective, elegantly provides a thorough investigation of the interrelationshipsbetween accounting and the 1930 US drought


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