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Concept and Meaning

A disaster is a consequence of a sudden disastrous event which seriously disrupts the normal function of the society or the community to the extent that it cannot subsist without outside help.

A disaster is not just the occurrence of an event such as an earthquake, flood, conflict, health epidemic or an industrial accident; a disaster occurs if that event/process negatively impacts human populations.

 Disasters combine two elements: hazard, and the vulnerability of affected people. "A disaster occurs when a hazard exposes the vulnerability of individuals and communities in such a way that their lives are directly threatened or sufficient harm has been done to their community's economic and social structure to undermine their ability to survive.

A disaster can be defined as any tragic event stemming from events such as earthquakes, floods, catastrophic accidents, fires, or explosions. It is a phenomenon that disasters can cause damage to life, property and destroy the economic, social and cultural life of people.

Disaster is the exposure of a group of people to a hazard, leading to a serious disruption of the functioning of a society and causing  human, material, economic  environmental

losses  which exceed the ability  of the affected community or society to cope. A disaster results from a combination of hazards and vulnerability that  exceeds the capacity of

a society to reduce the potential negative consequences of risk.

Hazard is an extreme event, natural or man-made , with a destructive potential to social, economic and human assets. These may include future threats, and may be “natural”

(geological, hydro meteorological  and biological) or “man-made” (Conflict, environmental degradation and technological hazards).

Disasters are often described as a result of the combination of: the exposure to a hazard; the conditions of vulnerability that are present; and insufficient capacity or measures to reduce or cope with the potential negative consequences. Disaster impacts may include loss of life, injury, disease and other negative effects on human physical, mental and social well-being, together with damage to property, destruction of assets, loss of services, social and economic disruption and environmental degradation.

 A disaster is a calamitous, distressing, or ruinous effect of a disastrous event which seriously affects or disrupts (or threaten to disrupt) the critical functions of a community, society or system, for a period long enough to significantly harm it or cause its failure. It is beyond the capapabilty of the local community to overcome it.  The stricken community needs extraordinary efforts to cope with it, often with outside help or international aid.

It is a situation resulting from an environmental phenomenon or armed conflict that produce stress, personal injury, physical damage, and economic disruption of great magnitude.


The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines Disaster as "any occurrence that causes damage, ecological disruption, loss of human life, deterioration of health and health services, on a scale sufficient to warrant an extraordinary response from outside the affected community or area."

Types of disasters

Disasters are broadly divided into two types:

1)  Natural

2)  Man made disasters.

 Natural disasters

Natural disasters occur as the result of action of the natural forces and tend to be accepted as unfortunate, but inevitable. They include:

Ø  Famines

Ø  Droughts

Ø  Tornadoes,

Ø  Hurricanes,

Ø  Floods / Sea Surges / Tsunamis

Ø  Volcanoes

Ø  Snow storms,

Ø  Earthquakes,

Famines may be defined as a persistent failure in food supplies over a prolonged period. It is a phenomenon in which a large percentage of the populations of a region or country are so undernourished and that death by starvation becomes increasingly common. A famine weakens body resistance and leads to increases in infectious diseases, especially cholera, dysentery, malaria, and smallpox. Famine is associated with naturally-occurring crop failure due to draught and pestilence and artificially with war and genocide.

Drought is lack or insufficiency of rain for an extended period of months or years when a region notes a deficiency in its water supply. Generally, this occurs when a region receives consistently below average precipitation. It can have a substantial impact on the ecosystem and agriculture of the affected region.

A flood is an overflow of water that submerges land, producing measurable property damage or forcing evacuation of people and vital resources. Floods are caused due to heavy rainfall and the inadequate capacity of rivers to carry the high flood discharge. Floods develop slowly as rivers swell during an extended period of rain. A flood occurs when water overflows or inundates land that is normally dry. Mostly it happens when rivers or streams overflow their banks.

Cyclones are strong winds that are formed over the oceans. The term "cyclone" refers to all classes of storms with low atmospheric pressure at the centre, are formed when an organized system of revolving winds, clockwise in the Southern Hemisphere, anti-clockwise in the Northern Hemisphere, develops over tropical waters.

A hurricane is a huge storm. It is a powerful, spiraling storm that begins over a warm sea, near the equator and accompanied by fierce winds, flash floods, mudslides and huge waves.It is a low pressure, large scale weather system which derives its energy from the latent heat of condensation of water vapor over warm tropical seas.

An earthquake is a sudden motion or trembling of the ground crust caused by the collision of tectonic plates resulting in the abrupt displacement of rock masses. Earthquakes result from the movement of one rock mass past another in response to tectonic forces underneath the earth’s surface.

Volcanoes result when magma rises, pushes through a weakness in the Earth’s crust, and spills out onto the surface, devastating anything in its path. The superheated rock is not the only danger, however. Far below the earth’s surface, volcanic gasses are dissolved in the magma. As the magma rises, it begins to cool down, and gas bubbles begin to form. This makes the magma less dense than the surroundings, causing it to rise faster.

A third threat is a pyroclastic flow. This high speed ejection of hot gasses and debris can travel in excess of 80 kilometers per hour and usually averages between 200 and 700 degrees Celsius. Not only does the pyroclastic flow travel too fast to be outran, but it will incinerate everything in its path. pyroclastic

Man made disasters

Ø  explosions,

Ø  fires,

Ø  release of toxic chemicals or radioactive materials(industrial accidents),

Ø  dam failures

Ø  nuclear reactor accidents

Ø  wars

Disaster risk/threats

The potential disaster losses, in lives, health status, livelihoods, assets and services, which could occur to a particular community or a society over some specified future time period. Traditional disaster threats:

Most of the old disaster threats still exist like earthquakes, cyclones, volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, wildfires, floods, landslides, and drought so do the man-made ones like fire, explosions and other major accidents which cause heavy human casualties, economic and social losses. These same traditional threats have increased as increase in population has force people to settle in disaster prone areas which increase the impact of disasters.

Modern disaster threats:

These consist of manmade events like hijacking, terrorism, civil unrest, terrorism and conflict with conventional arms as well as chemical, biological, nuclear, or radiological weapons. Increased social violence has drastically affected many nations and communities.


A dangerous phenomenon, substance, human activity or condition that may cause loss of life, injury or other health impacts, property damage, loss of livelihoods and services, social and economic disruption, or environmental damage.

Hazards are conditions that have the potential to harm to a community or environment

Geological Hazards

Geological process or phenomenon that may cause loss of life, injury or other health impacts, property damage, loss of livelihoods and services, social and economic disruption, or environmental damage.

These disasters include landmass related disasters like earthquakes, mudslides, volcanoes etc,

Water and climatic Hazards (Hydro meteorological hazards)

These include storms, cyclones, floods etc

Chemical Hazards

By their nature, the manufacture, storage, and transport of chemicals are accidents waiting to happen. Chemicals can be corrosive, toxic, and they may react, often explosively. The impacts of chemical accidents can be deadly, for both human beings and the environment.

Industrial/ Technological hazards

A hazard originating from technological or industrial conditions, including accidents, dangerous procedures, infrastructure failures or specific human activities, that may cause loss of life, injury, illness or other health impacts, property damage, loss of livelihoods and services, social and economic disruption, or environmental damage.

These include industrial pollution, nuclear radiation, toxic wastes, dam failures, transport accidents, factory explosions, fires, and chemical spills.

Biological hazards, also known as biohazards, refer to biological substances that pose a threat to the health of living organisms, primarily that of humans. This can include medical waste or samples of a microorganism, virus or toxin (from a biological source) that can affect human health. It can also include substances harmful to animals. Examples: anthrax, smallpox, plague, tularemia, brucellosis and botulinism toxin, bird flu.



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Definition and concept.

Disaster management includes sum total of all activities, programmes and measures which can be taken up before, during and after a disaster with the purpose of avoiding, reducing the impact or recovering from its losses.

According to Kelly (1996),"Disaster management" can be defined as the range of activities designed to maintain control over disaster and emergency situations and to provide a framework for helping those who are at risk to avoid or recover from the impact of the disaster.

Disaster management means managing resources and various responsibilities to deal with all humanitarian aspects of emergencies. This may include preparedness before disaster, response and recovery i.e. rebuilding and supporting society. The purpose of this is to lessen the impact of disasters.

 ‘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.

The various aspects of disaster management:

Ø  Disaster Prevention

Ø  Disaster preparedness

Ø  Disaster response

Ø  Disaster mitigation

Ø  Rehabilitation

Ø  Reconstruction

The aims of disaster management are to:

Reduce (avoid, if possible) the potential losses from hazards;

 Assure prompt and appropriate assistance to victims when necessary;

 Achieve rapid and durable recovery.

Importance and relevance of disaster management in the present environmental scenario

Over the past 20 years disasters have affected 4.4 billion people, caused $2 trillion of damage and killed 1.3 million people. These losses have outstripped the total value of official development assistance in the same period. Natural disasters disproportionately affect people living in developing countries and the most vulnerable communities within those countries. Over 95 per cent of people killed by natural disasters are from developing countries (Extreme Weather and Natural Disasters, 2012).

In developing countries, the incidence of natural disasters, the impact of climate changes and the management of the natural environment strongly influence the rate of development progress

In the decade 1990-2000, an average of about 4344 people lost their lives and about 30 million people were affected by disasters every year. The loss in terms of private, community and public assets has been astronomical.

At the global level, there has been considerable concern over natural disasters. Even as s scientific and material progress is made, the loss of lives and property due to disasters has not decision. In fact, the human toll and economic losses have mounted.

It was in this background that the Nations General Assembly, in 1989, declared the decade 1990-2000 as the International Natural Disaster Reduction with the objective to reduce loss of lives and property and restrict economic damage through concerted international action, especially in developing countries.

India has been traditionally vulnerable to natural disasters on account of its unique geo-climatic condi­tions. Floods, droughts, cyclones, earthquakes and landslides have been recurrent phenomena.

About 60% of the landmass is prone to earthquakes of various intensities; over 40 million hectares is prone to floods; about 8% of the total area is prone to cyclones and 68% of the area is susceptible to drought.

Over the past couple of years, the Government of India has brought about a paradigm shift in approach to disaster management. The new approach proceeds from the conviction that develop cannot be sustainable unless disaster mitigation is built into the development process.

Another stone of the approach is that mitigation has to be multi-disciplinary spanning across all sectors. The new policy also emanates from the belief that investments in mitigation are much cost effective than expenditure on relief and rehabilitation.

Disaster management occupies an important place in this country's policy framework as it is poor and the under-privileged who are worst affected on account of calamities/disasters.

The steps being taken by the Government emanate from the approach outlined above. The app: has been translated into a National Disaster Framework [a roadmap] covering institutional mechanic; disaster prevention strategy, early warning system, disaster mitigation, preparedness and response human resource development.

The expected inputs, areas of intervention and agencies to be in at the National, State and district levels have been identified and listed in the roadmap. This road has been shared with all the State Governments and Union Territory Administrations.

Ministries Departments of Government of India, and the State Governments/UT Administrations have been to develop their respective roadmaps taking the national roadmap as a broad guideline. There is, therefore: now a common strategy underpinning the action being taken by the entire participating organisation' stakeholders.

The approach is being put into effect through:

(a) Institutional changes

(b) Enunciation of policy

(c) Legal and techno-legal framework

(d) Mainstreaming Mitigation into Development process

(e) Funding mechanism

(f) Specific schemes addressing mitigation

(g) Preparedness measures

(h) Community participation and capacity building

In India, the role of emergency management falls to National Disaster Management of India, a government agency subordinate to the Ministry of Home Affairs. In recent years, there has been a shift in emphasis, from response and recovery to strategic risk management and reduction, and from a government-centered approach to decentralized community participation.

Funding mechanisms

Bilateral-Aid i.e. foreign and local, national funding is being used to deal with disasters especially the post disaster phase

Community based disaster management:

The role of community participation in disaster management is very important. When the community becomes a part of the decision making system it ensures the ownership and accountability. It is very important for the medical staff and doctors to know the local language for treating the disaster victims. The local people have to be trained to manage the disasters. One of the most effective mechanisms for a country to prepare for a disaster is by conducting education and public awareness programmes at the local community level, educating, preparing and supporting local populations and communities in their everyday efforts to reduce risks and prepare their own local response mechanisms to address disaster emergency situations.

Community based approach in disaster management is a process of educating and empowering the population through sharing knowledge and information about the various types of disasters and their potential risks as widely as possible so that people act appropriately when a disaster happens. Members of a community are the immediate victims of adverse effects of a disaster. They have the best knowledge about their local surrounding in terms of the most disaster-prone areas, the demography of their community and their social and traditional organisation. Community leaders can create Community Based Action Plans specific to their needs. This action plan incorporates the hazard map, mock exercises and other important methods, skills and information needed in preparation for a disaster.