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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

The disaster problem

This section will describe certain phenomena leading to disasters and emergencies: disaster trends, where they occur and who is most affected by them.

From the outset it is worth reminding ourselves that disasters and emergencies are all too often regarded as aberrant events, divorced from “normal life.” In reality, however, the opposite is true. Disasters and emergencies are fundamental reflections of normal life. They are consequences of the ways societies structure themselves, economically and socially; the ways that societies and states interact; and the ways that relationships between the decision makers are sustained. Hence a flood or an earthquake is not a disaster in and of itself.

The disaster stems from the fact that certain communities or groups are forced to settle in areas susceptible to the impact of a raging river or a volcanic eruption. It is essential to make a distinction between hazards and disasters, and to recognize that the effect of the former upon the latter is essentially a measure of the society’s vulnerability.

The following diagram illustrates this combination of opposing forces. Vulnerability is seen as the progression of three stages:

1. Underlying causes: a deep-rooted set of factors within a society that together form and maintain vulnerability.

2. Dynamic pressures: a translating process that channels the effects of a negative cause into unsafe conditions; this process may be due to a lack of basic services or provisionor it may result from a series of macro-forces

3. Unsafe conditions: the vulnerable context where people and property are exposed to the risk of disaster; the fragile physical environment is one element; other factors include an unstable economy and low income levels.

Figure 1.1 The Disaster Crunch Model

This material has been drawn from the first chapter of the forthcoming book: At Risk - Vulnerability and Disasters, by Piers Blaikie, Terry Cannon, Ian Davis and Ben Wisner (Harper Collins, London and New York).