A disaster is a sudden, calamitous event that seriously disrupts the functioning of a community or society and causes human, material, and economic or environmental losses that exceed the community’s or society’s ability to cope using its own resources. Though often caused by nature, disasters can have human origins.
The word disaster implies a sudden overwhelming and unforeseen event. At the household level, a disaster could result in a major illness, death, a substantial economic or social misfortune. At the community level, it could be a flood, a fire, a collapse of buildings in an earthquake, the destruction of livelihoods, an epidemic or displacement through conflict. When occurring at district or provincial level, a large number of people can be affected. Most disasters result in the inability of those affected to cope with outside assistance. At the household level, this could mean dealing with the help from neighbours. At the national level, it could mean assistance from organizations, various non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and government agencies themselves. As the limiting factor in disaster response is often the coping capacity of those affected, improving their resilience when responding to disasters is a key approach to lessening the consequence of a disaster.
There is no single measure of a disaster that can capture the full scope of a disaster. A common measure is the number of people killed or affected. The individual will consider the impact on his or her family and livelihood. Disaster managers will assess the speed and success of the disaster response. Economists will measure physical loss to houses and buildings and loss of production. Politicians will assess political damage from a poor response by state agencies. Health workers will consider the resources required to contain an outbreak of Ebola or Coronavirus. Others may focus on the nature of the hazard, the social consequences and the impact to specific elements of the infrastructure. To think seriously about a disaster means we must consider all affected and their losses both in the immediate and the longer term.
A disaster may occur with or without a warning phase. A response is made following a disaster. The response may be helped substantially by any preparedness actions which were made before the disaster occurred. Relief activities occur during the emergency phase, which follows the impact of the disaster.
General Effects of Disasters
The typical effects of disasters may be one or more of the following :
- Loss of life
- Destruction of property, plantations and crops
- Disruption of production, lifestyle & transport
- Loss of livelihood and occupation to people
- Disruption to essential services like electricity, water supply and gas supply
- Damage to national infrastructure
- Disruption of communication and other networks
- Disruption to government systems and schemes
- Shortage of food resources
- Spreading of diseases
- National economic loss
- Sociological effects
- Psychological after effects.
Types of Disasters
There are 2 major types of disasters :
1. Natural Disasters
A natural disaster can be defined as a major event brought about by the natural processes of the Earth that causes widespread destruction to the environment and loss of life. The list of natural disasters include weather phenomena such as tropical storms, extreme heat or extreme cold, winds, floods, earthquakes, landslides and volcanic eruptions.
Management of Natural Disasters
- Early warning systems can alert costal populations of approaching tsunamis and they can give populations time to be evacuated from danger areas.
- Responsible land use can reduce the risk of landslips caused by unchecked felling of trees. For other events classified as natural disasters, risks can be dramatically reduced through careful planning.
- Construction codes when enforced can reduce loss from earthquakes. Governments can institute measures to assist in extreme cold and extreme heat.
- Food security programmes can protect a population against food crisis arising from pests and failed crops.
- Surveillance systems and high coverage by routine immunization programmes can help prevent outbreaks of disease.
- Social programmes can reduce vulnerability to disasters which otherwise could not be controlled.
Types of natural disaster
Natural disasters may be broadly grouped into major and minor types depending upon their potential to cause damage to human life and property. The disasters like earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, droughts, floods and cyclones could be regarded as major types. The disasters like hailstorms, avalanches, landslides, fire accidents, etc. whose impact is localised and the intensity of the damage is much less than the others may be categorized as minor disasters.
Natural disasters can be categorised into 4 parts :
- Geophysical (e.g., Earthquakes, Landslides, Tsunamis and Volcanic Activity)
- Hydrological (e.g., Avalanches and Floods)
- Climatological (e.g., Extreme Temperatures, Drought and Wildfires)
- Meteorological (e.g., Cyclones and Storms/Wave Surges)
2. Man-Made Disasters
Man-made disasters are extreme hazardous events that are caused by human beings. Some examples of man-made disaster emergencies include chemical spills, hazardous material spills, explosions, chemical or biological attacks, nuclear blast, train accidents, plane crashes, or groundwater contamination.
Man-made disasters have an element of human intent, negligence, or error involving a failure of a man-made system, as opposed to natural disasters resulting from natural hazards. Such man-made disasters are crime, arson, civil disorder, terrorism, war, biological/chemical threat, cyber-attacks, etc.
Man-made disasters can be caused by :
- Environmental Degradation
- Accidents (e.g., Industrial, Technological and Transport usually involving the production, use or transport of hazardous materials)
Though weather and geologically related disasters are considered to have generated the greatest number of deaths and economic loss, disasters generated by humans are increasing in importance. As society has become more complex, it is evident that people are increasingly responsible, directly or indirectly, for the consequences of events previously ascribed to forces beyond their control. Globalization is now carrying industrial production to previously agrarian societies. The risk from the unintended release of hazardous materials is becoming ever more widespread. Potentially hazardous products are now available in communities and populations which do not have adequate regulations governing their use and, in fact, may not even be aware of their presence or health risks. Rapidly increasing transport of people and commodities across continents means that transportation disasters pose increasing threats to millions.
Disaster Management can be defined as the organization and management of resources and responsibilities for dealing with all humanitarian aspects of emergencies, in particular preparedness, response and recovery in order to lessen the impact of disasters.
Disaster management conveys the important idea that protecting populations and property also involves the estimation of risks, preparation, activities which will mitigate the consequences of predictable hazards and post-disaster reconstruction in a way that will decrease vulnerabilities. An important goal is building a culture of awareness that preparation is not only possible, but also will greatly reduce the consequences from disasters in terms of human and economic loss.
An effective response to disaster begins with effective planning, but must include many other steps. Each of these steps depends on the strength of other links in the disaster management chain. While no one organization or group ‘owns’ a disaster, the ultimate responsibility rests with governments to protect its people against disaster. No government can carry out these responsibilities without cooperating with many other groups in a country. Disaster management planning is often seen as a separate activity from the main functions of governments and organizations.
Disaster management is the only way to mitigate the effects of all these hazards. Advance planning is always needed to keep the items of emergency for any disaster. Guidelines are also to be prepared in the form of booklets and circulated to the educated individuals. Awareness camps are to be organised for public. Training is yet another initiative. Training involves the duties and responsibilities, efforts to sustain, role of employees/NGOs, risks, errors, behavioural patterns, recovery techniques, communication channels, safety rules, priorities and security measures. Knowledge of water quality, sanitation, first aid, emergency medicines, electricity controls and gas usage are needed. Evacuation, reporting and alert procedures, are the other major initiatives. Proper insurance policies, alterations to existing buildings, changes in business locations and other resources are to be planned, for future disaster mitigation.