A disaster is a serious problem that happens over a period of time and causes so much harm to people, things, economies, or the environment that the affected community or society cannot handle it on its own.[1][2] In theory, natural disasters are those caused by natural hazards, whereas human-made disasters are those caused by human hazards. However, in modern times, the divide between natural, human-made or human-accelerated disasters is more and more difficult to draw.[3][4][5] In fact, all disasters can be seen as human-made, due to human failure to introduce appropriate emergency management measures.[6]

Ruins from the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, remembered as one of the worst disasters in the history of the United States

Disasters caused by natural hazards are things like avalanches, floods, earthquakes, and wildfires.[7] Further examples are cold waves and heat waves, droughts, cyclones, landslides, lightning, tsunamis, volcanic activity.[7] Disasters can also be caused by anthropogenic hazards such as criminality, civil disorder, terrorism, war, and power outages.

When disasters happen, developing countries often suffer the most. Over 95% of deaths from disasters occur in these countries, and they lose much more money compared to other countries. Losses due to natural hazards are 20 times greater (as a percentage of gross domestic product) in developing countries than in industrialized countries.[8][9]

Definition and types edit

 
Painting of the Cathedral and the Academy building after the Great Fire of Turku, by Gustaf Wilhelm Finnberg, 1827

A disaster is a result of a natural hazard impacting a vulnerable community. Poor planning or development or a lack of preparation are human failures which make communities vulnerable to climate hazards.[10] When the impact of these events becomes too extreme, they are often called disasters. Disasters are defined by their influence on people: if a hazard overwhelms or negatively affects a community, it is considered a disaster.[11]

Disasters are routinely divided into natural or human-made. However, in modern times, the divide between natural, man-made and man-accelerated disasters is quite difficult to draw.[12][13][14]

Complex disasters, where there is no single root cause, are more common in developing countries. A specific disaster may spawn a secondary disaster that increases the impact. A classic example is an earthquake that causes a tsunami, resulting in coastal flooding, resulting in damage to a nuclear power plant (such as the Fukushima nuclear disaster). Some manufactured disasters have been wrongly ascribed to nature, such as smog and acid rain.[15]

Some researchers also differentiate between recurring events, such as seasonal flooding, and those considered unpredictable.[16]

Related to natural hazards edit

Disasters that have links to natural hazards are commonly called natural disasters although this term has been called a misnomer for a long time.[17]

Disasters with links to natural hazards
Example Profile
Avalanche The sudden, drastic flow of snow down a slope, occurring when either natural triggers, such as loading from new snow or rain, or artificial triggers, such as explosives or backcountry skiers.
Blizzard A severe snowstorm characterized by very strong winds and low temperatures
Earthquake The shaking of the Earth's crust, caused by underground volcanic forces of breaking and shifting rock beneath the Earth's surface
Fire (wild) Fires that originate in uninhabited areas and which pose the risk to spread to inhabited areas (see also Wildfire § Climate change effects)
Flood Flash flooding: Small creeks, gullies, dry streambeds, ravines, culverts or even low-lying areas flood quickly (see also Effects of climate change)
Freezing rain Rain occurring when outside surface temperature is below freezing
Heat wave A prolonged period of excessively hot weather relative to the usual weather pattern of an area and relative to normal temperatures for the season (see also Effects of climate change § Heat waves and temperature extremes).
Landslide Geological phenomenon which includes a range of ground movement, such as rock falls, deep failure of slopes and shallow debris flows
Lightning strike An electrical discharge caused by lightning, typically during thunderstorms
Limnic eruption The sudden eruption of carbon dioxide from deep lake water
Tropical cyclone Rapidly rotating storm system characterized by a low-pressure center, a closed low-level atmospheric circulation, strong winds, and a spiral arrangement of thunderstorms that produce heavy rain and squalls (see also Tropical cyclones and climate change)
Tsunami A series of waves hitting shores strongly, mainly caused by the displacement of a large volume of a body of water, typically an ocean or a large lake, usually caused by earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, underwater explosions, landslides, glacier calvings, meteorite impacts and other disturbances above or below water
Volcanic eruption The release of hot magma, volcanic ash and/or gases from a volcano
 
Global multihazard proportional economic loss by natural disasters as cyclones, droughts, earthquakes, floods, landslides and volcanoes

A natural disaster is the highly harmful impact on a society or community following a natural hazard event. Some examples of natural hazard events include: flooding, drought, earthquake, tropical cyclone, lightning, tsunami, volcanic activity, wildfire.[18] A natural disaster can cause loss of life or damage property, and typically leaves economic damage in its wake. The severity of the damage depends on the affected population's resilience and on the infrastructure available.[19] Scholars have been saying that the term natural disaster is unsuitable and should be abandoned. Instead, the simpler term disaster could be used, while also specifying the category (or type) of hazard.[20][21][22] A disaster is a result of a natural or human-made hazard impacting a vulnerable community. It is the combination of the hazard along with exposure of a vulnerable society that results in a disaster.

In modern times, the divide between natural, human-made and human-accelerated disasters is quite difficult to draw.[23][24][25] Human choices and activities like architecture,[26] fire,[27][28] resource management[28][29] and climate change[30] potentially play a role in causing natural disasters. In fact, the term natural disaster was called a misnomer already in 1976.[22]

Natural disasters can be aggravated by inadequate building norms, marginalization of people, inequities, overexploitation of resources, extreme urban sprawl and climate change.[23] The rapid growth of the world's population and its increased concentration often in hazardous environments has escalated both the frequency and severity of disasters. Extreme climates (such as those in the Tropics) and unstable landforms, coupled with deforestation, unplanned growth proliferation and non-engineered constructions create more vulnerable interfaces of populated areas with disaster-prone natural spaces. Developing countries which suffer from chronic natural disasters, often have ineffective communication systems combined with insufficient support for disaster prevention and management.[31]

Unrelated to natural hazards edit

 
Airplane crashes and terrorist attacks are examples of man-made disasters: they kill people, cause pollution, and damage property. One example of this is of the September 11 attacks in 2001 at the World Trade Center in New York City.

Human-instigated disasters are the consequence of technological or human hazards. Examples include war, social unrest, crowd crushes, fires, transport accidents, industrial accidents, conflicts, oil spills, terrorist attacks, and nuclear explosions/nuclear radiation.[32]

Other types of induced disasters include the more cosmic scenarios of catastrophic climate change, nuclear war, and bioterrorism.

All disasters can be regarded as human-made, due to human failure to introduce appropriate emergency management measures.[6]

Famines may be caused locally by drought, flood, fire, or pestilence, but in modern times there is plenty of food globally, and sustained localized shortages are generally due to government mismanagement, violent conflict, or an economic system that does not distribute food where needed.[33]

Disasters without links to natural hazards
Disaster Profile
Bioterrorism The intentional release or dissemination of biological agents as a means of coercion
Civil unrest A disturbance caused by a group of people that may include sit-ins and other forms of obstructions, riots, sabotage and other forms of crime, and which is intended to be a demonstration to the public and the government, but can escalate into general chaos
Fire (urban) Even with strict building fire codes, people still perish in fires
Hazardous material spills The escape of solids, liquids, or gases that can harm people, other living organisms, property or the environment, from their intended controlled environment such as a container.
Nuclear and radiation accidents An event involving the significant release of radioactivity to the environment or a reactor core meltdown and which leads to major undesirable consequences to people, the environment, or the facility
Power failure Caused by summer or winter storms, lightning or construction equipment digging in the wrong location

Major disasters edit

Major disaster, as it is usually assessed on quantitative criteria of death and damage, was defined by Sheehan and Hewitt (1969),[34] having to conform to the following criteria:[35]

  • At least 100 people dead,
  • at least 100 people injured, or
  • at least $1 million damage

This definition includes indirect losses of life caused after the initial onset of the disaster such as secondary effects of, e.g., cholera or dysentery. This definition is still commonly used but has the limitations of number of deaths, injuries, and damage (in $).[35] UNDRO (1984)[citation needed] defined a disaster in a more qualitative fashion as:

an event, concentrated in time and space, in which a community undergoes severe danger and incurs such losses to its members and physical appurtenances that the social structure is disrupted and the fulfilment of all or some of the essential functions of the society is prevented.[36]

As with other definitions of disaster, this definition not only encompasses the social aspect of disaster impact and stresses potentially caused but also focuses on losses, implying the need for emergency response as an aspect of the disaster.[35] It does not, however, set out quantitative thresholds or scales for damage, death, or injury, respectively.[citation needed]

Impacts edit

As of 2019, countries with the highest vulnerability per capita release the lowest amount of emissions per capita, and yet still experience the most heightened droughts and extreme precipitation.[37] According to a UN report, 91% of deaths from hazards from 1970 to 2019 occurred in developing countries.[38] These countries already have higher vulnerability and lower resilience to these events, which exacerbates the effects of the hazards.

As of 2008, there were on average 400 disaster events per year, more than double the amount since the 1980s.[39]

Effects of climate change edit

Hazards such as droughts, floods, and cyclones are naturally occurring phenomena.[40] However, climate change has caused these hazards to become more unreliable, frequent and severe. They thus contribute to disaster risks. Countries contributing most to climate change are often at the lowest risk of feeling the consequences.[37]

Prevention and response edit

Disaster risk reduction edit

 
Disaster risk reduction progress score for some countries in 2011. The score of 5 is best. Assessments include four indicators that reflect the degree to which countries have prioritised disaster risk reduction and the strengthening of relevant institutions.[41]
Disaster risk reduction (DRR) (or disaster risk management) is an approach for planning and taking steps to make disasters less likely to happen, and less damaging when they do happen. DRR aims to make communities stronger (more resilient or less vulnerable) and better prepared to handle disasters. When DRR is successful, it decreases the vulnerability of communities because it mitigates the effects of disasters.[42] This means DRR can reduce the severity and number of risky events. Since climate change can increase climate hazards, DRR and climate change adaptation are often looked at together in development efforts.[43] Most sectors of development and humanitarian work have potential for DRR initiatives to be included. People from local communities, agencies or federal governments can all propose DRR strategies. Policies for DRR intend to "define goals and objectives across different timescales and with concrete targets, indicators and time frames."[42]: 16 

Disaster response edit

 
Relief camp at Bhuj after the 2001 Gujarat earthquake

Disaster response refers to the actions taken directly before, during or in the immediate aftermath of a disaster. The objective is to save lives, ensure health and safety and to meet the subsistence needs of the people affected.[44]: 16  This includes warning/evacuation, search and rescue, providing immediate assistance, assessing damage, continuing assistance and the immediate restoration or construction of infrastructure (i.e. provisional storm drains or diversion dams). The aim of emergency response is to provide immediate assistance to maintain life, improve health and support the morale of the affected population. Such assistance may range from providing specific but limited aid, such as assisting refugees with transport, temporary shelter, and food to establishing semi-permanent settlements in camps and other locations. It also may involve initial repairs to damage or diversion to infrastructure.

The focus in the response phase is on keeping people safe, preventing the next disasters and meeting the basic needs of the people until more permanent and sustainable solutions can be found. The main responsibility to address these needs and respond to a disaster lies with the government or governments in whose territory the disaster has occurred. In addition, humanitarian organisations are often strongly present in this phase of the disaster management cycle, particularly in countries where the government lacks the resources to respond adequately to the needs.

Etymology edit

The word disaster is derived from Middle French désastre and that from Old Italian disastro, which in turn comes from the Ancient Greek pejorative prefix δυσ- (dus-) "bad"[45] and ἀστήρ (aster), "star".[46] The root of the word disaster ("bad star" in Greek) comes from an astrological sense of a calamity blamed on the position of planets.[47]

See also edit

References edit

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  2. ^ "Disasters & Emergencies: Definitions" (PDF). Addis Ababa: Emergency Humanitarian Action. March 2002. Archived (PDF) from the original on 6 November 2015. Retrieved 26 November 2017 – via World Health Organization International.
  3. ^ "Why natural disasters aren't all that natural". openDemocracy. 26 November 2020. Archived from the original on 29 November 2020. Retrieved 29 December 2020.
  4. ^ Gould, Kevin A.; Garcia, M. Magdalena; Remes, Jacob A.C. (1 December 2016). "Beyond 'natural-disasters-are-not-natural': the work of state and nature after the 2010 earthquake in Chile". Journal of Political Ecology. 23 (1): 93. doi:10.2458/v23i1.20181.
  5. ^ Smith, Neil (11 June 2006). "There's No Such Thing as a Natural Disaster". Items. Archived from the original on 22 January 2021. Retrieved 29 December 2020.
  6. ^ a b Blaikie, Piers, Terry Cannon, Ian Davis & Ben Wisner. At Risk – Natural hazards, people's vulnerability and disasters, Wiltshire: Routledge, 2003, ISBN 0-415-25216-4
  7. ^ a b "Natural Hazards | National Risk Index". hazards.fema.gov. Retrieved 8 June 2022.
  8. ^ "World Bank: Disaster Risk Management".
  9. ^ Luis Flores Ballesteros. "Who's getting the worst of natural disasters?" 54Pesos.org, 4 October 2008 Archived 3 September 2017 at the Wayback Machine
  10. ^ "Why natural disasters aren't all that natural". www.preventionweb.net. 14 September 2017. Retrieved 6 June 2022.
  11. ^ Zibulewsky, Joseph (April 14, 2001). "Defining disaster: the emergency department perspective". National Library of Medicine. Retrieved October 21, 2023.
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  15. ^ Didi Kirsten Tatlow (15 December 2016). "Don't Call It 'Smog' in Beijing, Call It a 'Meteorological Disaster". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 1 January 2022.
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  45. ^ "Dus, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, "A Greek-English Lexicon", at Perseus".
  46. ^ "Aster, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, "A Greek-English Lexicon", at Perseus".
  47. ^ "Disaster" in Etymology online

External links edit