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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 3. Linking disasters and development 1
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentIntroduction
View the documentDisruption of development by disasters
View the documentHow development may cause disasters
View the documentDevelopment opportunities afforded by disasters

How development may cause disasters

The side effects of well-meaning development efforts sometimes have disastrous consequences. Development projects implemented without taking into account existing environmental hazards may increase vulnerability to natural disasters. For example, projects designed to increase employment opportunities, and thus income, usually attract additional population growth. Low-income people may then have to seek housing in areas previously avoided, on hillsides or in floodplains. The costs of relief assistance after a landslide or flood can easily outweigh the benefits to the economy of more jobs. Similarly, development projects may lead to negative political consequences that increase the vulnerability to civil conflict.

Some types of development projects commence without fully assessing their impact on the environment. This can occur even in programmes resulting from a disaster, such as reconstruction projects that increase demand for wood to fortify houses. The resulting deforestation can then bring increased vulnerability to mudslides and possibly long-term environmental changes.

Development projects may even consciously force a choice between reducing disaster vulnerability and economic vulnerability. A project’s design may require a trade-off between the two and force a decision between the lesser of two evils.

Q. Can you describe how development can contribute to vulnerability based on the following examples of negative consequences?


Watershed erosion ____________________________________________
Deforestation _________________________________________________
Loss of biological diversity _____________________________________
Lack of soil and land management _______________________________
Air and water pollution _________________________________________
Inadequate urban sanitation and waste disposal ___________________

Marine and coastal zone development ____________________________

See next table for examples of answers to this question.

Table 3.1 Examples of development leading to disasters or increased vulnerability

From Disasters and Development: A Study in Institution Building, Intertect, January, 1991.


Development activity



Construction of chemical plant generating employment

Deaths due to inadvertent release of chemicals, increased health problems, hazardous or toxic waste accidents

Agriculture, forestry and fisheries

Introduction of new species to control pests

Uncontrolled expansion of new species into environment, bringing crop failure

Irrigation schemes

Flooding where canals counter natural water flow

Increase in pesticide or fertiliser use to augment crop yields

Contamination of potable water supplies

Natural resources

Construction of hydroelectric dam

Displacement, salinization

Drilling of water wells in marginal areas

Desertification due to population clustering around wells

Transportation, communications Education

Road building in rain forests

Landslides, deforestation

School construction on earthquake fault line

Deaths/injuries due to structural failure

Development issues, policy and planning

Centralisation of planning process

Famine due to lack of organisation of local governments

Concentration of tourist facilities on vulnerable coastlines, unstable hills

Exposure of large populations to risk of death/injury/loss in storm surge, high wind storms, tsunami, landslides