What is a Disaster ?

  • The term disaster owes its origin to the French word “Desastre” which is a combination of two words ‘des’ meaning bad and ‘aster’ meaning star.
  • Thus the term refers to ‘Bad or Evil star’.
  • A disaster can be defined as “A serious disruption in the
    functioning of the community or a society causing wide spread material, economic, social or environmental losses which exceed the ability of the affected society to cope using its own resources”.
  • A disaster is a result from the combination of hazard, vulnerability and insufficient capacity or measures to reduce the potential chances of risk.
  • A disaster happens when a hazard impacts on the vulnerable population and causes damage, casualties and disruption.
  •  Any hazard – flood, earthquake or cyclone which is a triggering event along with greater vulnerability (inadequate access to resources, sick and old people, lack of awareness etc) would lead to disaster causing greater loss to life and property. For example; an earthquake in an uninhabited desert cannot be considered a disaster, no matter how strong the intensities produced.
  • An earthquake is disastrous only when it affects people, their properties and activities.
  • Thus, disaster occurs only when hazards and vulnerability meet.
  • But it is also to be noted that with greater capacity of the
    individual/community and environment to face these disasters, the impact of a hazard reduces.

What is a Hazard ? How is it classified ?

  • Hazard may be defined as “a dangerous condition or event, that threat or have the potential for causing injury to life or damage to property or the environment.”
  • The word ‘hazard’ owes its origin to the word ‘hasard’
    in old French and ‘az-zahr’ in Arabic meaning ‘chance’ or ‘luck’.
  • Hazards can be grouped into two broad categories namely natural and manmade.
  • Natural hazards are hazards which are caused because of natural phenomena (hazards with meteorological, geological or even biological origin). Examples of natural hazards are cyclones, tsunamis, earthquake and volcanic eruption which are exclusively of natural origin. Landslides, floods, drought, fires are socio-natural hazards since their causes are both natural and man made. For example flooding may be caused because of heavy rains, landslide or blocking of drains with human waste.
  •  Manmade hazards are hazards which are due to human negligence. Manmade hazards are associated with industries or energy generation facilities and include
    explosions, leakage of toxic waste, pollution, dam failure, wars or civil strife etc.

Various types of hazards 

 Geological Hazards – 1. Earthquake    2. Tsunami
3. Volcanic eruption   4. Landslide   5. Dam burst     6. Mine Fire

Water & Climatic Hazards – 1. Tropical Cyclone                     2. Tornado and Hurricane    3. Floods     4. Drought                 5 . Hailstorm    6. Cloudburst     7. Landslide  8. Heat & Cold  wave      9. Snow Avalanche      10.Sea erosion

Environmental Hazards-         1. Environmental pollutions  2. Deforestation       3. Desertification      4. Pest Infection
Biological-                 1 . Human/ Animal Epidemics                      2. Pest attacks      3. Food poisoning    4. Weapons of Mass    Destruction

Chemical, Industrial and  Nuclear Accidents-                          1. Chemical disasters    2. Industrial disasters                        3. Oil spills/Fires 4. Nuclear

Accident related-          1. Boat / Road / Train accidents / air crash/ Rural / Urban fires  Bomb / serial bomb blasts      2. Forest fires  3. Building collapse    4. Electric Accidents  5. Festival related disasters  6. Mine flooding

What is vulnerability ?

  • Vulnerability may be defined as “The extent to which a community, structure, services or geographic area is likely to be damaged or disrupted by the impact of particular hazard, on account of their nature, construction and proximity to hazardous terrains or a disaster prone area.”
  • Vulnerabilities can be categorized into physical and socio-economic vulnerability-
  • Physical Vulnerability: It includes notions of who and what may be damaged or destroyed by natural hazard such as earthquakes or floods. It is based on the physical
    condition of people and elements at risk, such as buildings, infrastructure etc; and their proximity, location and nature of the hazard. It also relates to the technical capability of building and structures to resist the forces
    acting upon them during a hazard event.
  • Socio-economic Vulnerability: The degree to which a population is affected by a hazard will not merely lie in the physical components of vulnerability but also on the socio-economic conditions. The socio-economic condition of the people also determines the intensity of the impact.
  •  Hazards are always prevalent, but the hazard becomes a disaster only when there is greater vulnerability and less of capacity to cope with it. In other words the frequency
    or likelihood of a hazard and the vulnerability of the community increases the risk of being severely affected.

What is capacity ?

  • Capacity can be defined as “resources, means and strengths which exist in households and communities and which enable them to cope with, withstand, prepare for, prevent, mitigate or quickly recover from a disaster”. People’s capacity can also be taken into account.  capacities could be:
  • Physical Capacity: People whose houses have been destroyed by the cyclone or crops have been destroyed by the flood can salvage things from their homes and from their farms. Some family members have skills, which enable them to find employment if they migrate, either temporarily or permanently
  • Socio-economic Capacity: In most of the disasters, people suffer their greatest losses in the physical and material realm. Rich people have the capacity to recover soon because of their wealth.

What is risk ?

  • Risk is a “measure of the expected losses due to a hazard event occurring in a given area over a specific time period. Risk is a function of the probability of particular
    hazardous event and the losses each would cause.” The level of risk depends upon:  1 . Nature of the hazard             2 . Vulnerability of the elements which are
    affected  3 . Economic value of those elements
  • A community/locality is said to be at ‘risk’ when it is exposed to hazards and is likely to be adversely affected by its impact.
  • Whenever we discuss ‘disaster management’ it is basically ‘disaster risk management’.
  • Disaster risk management includes all measures which reduce disaster related losses of life, property or assets by either reducing the hazard or vulnerability of the elements at risk.