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close this bookAn Overview of Disaster Management (Department of Humanitarian Affairs/United Nations Disaster Relief Office - United Nations Development Programme , 1992, 136 p.)
close this folderChapter 1. Introduction to disasters
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View the documentThe disaster problem
Open this folder and view contentsCausal factors of disasters


Q. How do you define “hazard” and “disaster”?

A. ____________________________________________________________


Before going any further we should establish a common understanding of the terms hazard and disaster.

Definition of hazard

A hazard is a rare or extreme event in the natural or human-made environment that adversely affects human life, property or activity to the extent of causing a disaster.

Definition of disaster

A disaster is a serious disruption of the functioning of a society, causing widespread human, material, or environmental losses which exceed the ability of affected society to copy using only its own resources. Disasters are often classified according to their speed of onset (sudden or slow), or according to their cause (natural or man-made).

Definition of natural phenomena

This part of the module will focus on the above two terms but we need to examine them in relation to another term: natural phenomena. Natural phenomena are extreme climatological, hydrological, or geological processes that do not pose any threat to persons or property. A massive earthquake in an unpopulated area, for example, is a natural phenomena, not a hazard. So is the annual flood along the Nile, an essential element to the well being of its neighboring inhabitants.

Definition of emergency

Another term closely related to disaster and used throughout this module is emergency. A disaster might be regarded as a particular type (or sub-set) of an emergency. “Disaster” suggests an intense time period and level of urgency. Whereas a disaster is bound by a specific period in which lives and essential property are immediately at risk, an emergency can encompass a more general period in which

there is a clear and marked deterioration in the coping abilities of a group or community, or

coping abilities are only sustained by unusual initiatives by the group or community or by external intervention.