Benefiting from Disaster?: Public and Private Responses to the Wenchuan Earthquake

HKUST IEMS Working Papers No. 2016-36


Sangui WANG

We provide the first household survey-based evidence on the impact of the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake on the welfare of rural households. Asset and income losses were substantial, especially in seriously affected areas. Our main finding is that there was an overwhelming government response to the disaster. Subsidies provided to households in 2008 were so large that mean income per capita was 17.5% higher in 2008 than in 2007 and the poverty rate actually declined from 34% to 19%. Using distance from the epicenter as an instrument for earthquake damage, we find a strong positive statistical relationship between lost value of housing and other assets due to the earthquake and increases in income per capita and government transfers received, and much weaker responsiveness of private transfers, wage labor supply, and borrowing. 

Forthcoming in World Development .

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