'Cyclone Not Above Politics' : East Pakistan, disaster politics, and the 1970 Bhola Cyclone

Publication type

Journal Article

Research Team

Hazards and Society

Geographic Area

Asia, Middle East > Pakistan


On 12 November 1970, the Bhola Cyclone swept across the southern districts of East Pakistan, killing over 300,000 people. Small islands were swept away and dead bodies of humans and cattle lay strewn across the devastated landscape. Following the news of the destruction, journalists, students, artists, and political workers rushed to the affected area with basic relief supplies, without waiting for the Military Law Administration (MLA) to intervene. The cyclone's occurrence just three weeks prior to the first general elections in Pakistan added a new dimension to the already simmering political crisis. The extensive media coverage of the disaster brought the pitiful state of infrastructural development and lack of governance in East Pakistan under local and global scrutiny. The cyclone and the corresponding issues soon became embroiled within the larger political demand for regional autonomy. The MLA came under attack from sections of East Pakistan's politicians, press, and public, as well as international political actors, for its poor disaster governance. This article uses the Bhola Cyclone of 1970 as the lens to explore the complex interconnections between environmental disasters and a key issue of governance. While the Bhola Cyclone has been a subject of recent discussions, this article uses a disaster-politics analytical framework to understand the disaster's role in the subsequent political turbulence and the emergence of Bangladesh.


Publication Details


Modern Asian Studies







Date Published



Article Number

Article number: PII S0026749X20000293

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