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A disaster (from Middle French désastre, from Old Italian disastro, from the Greek pejorative prefix dis- bad + aster star) is the impact of a natural or man-made hazard that negatively affects society or environment. The word disaster's root is from astrology: this implies that when the stars are in a bad position a bad event will happen.[1]

In contemporary academia, disasters are seen as the consequence of inappropriately managed risk. These risk are the product of hazards and vulnerability. Hazards that strike in areas with low vulnerability are not considered a disaster, as is the case in uninhabited regions.[2]

Developing countries suffer the greatest costs when a disaster hits - more than 95 percent of all deaths caused by disasters occur in developing countries; and losses due to natural disasters are 20 times greater (as a percentage of GDP) in developing countries than in industrialized countries.[3] The World Bank has developed an Interactive, internet-based mapping system of natural disaster hotspots showing exposure to and risk from natural disasters such as floods, droughts, earthquakes, cyclones and landslides for every country in the world as well as for regions within countries.[4]


Wisner et al reflect a common opinion when they argue that all disasters can be seen as being man-made, their reasoning being that human actions before the strike of the hazard can prevent it developing into a disaster. All disasters are hence the result of human failure to introduce appropriate disaster management measures. [5] Hazards are routinely divided into natural or human-made, although complex disasters, where there is no single root cause, are more common in developing countries. A specific disaster may spawn a secondary disaster that increases the impact. A classic example is an earthquake that causes a tsunami, resulting in coastal flooding.

Natural disasters

Main article: Natural disaster

A natural disaster is the consequence when a natural hazard (e.g. volcanic eruption or earthquake) affects humans. Human vulnerability, caused by the lack of appropriate emergency management, leads to financial, environmental, or human impact. The resulting loss depends on the capacity of the population to support or resist the disaster: their resilience. This understanding is concentrated in the formulation: "disasters occur when hazards meet vulnerability". A natural hazard will hence never result in a natural disaster in areas without vulnerability, e.g., strong earthquakes in uninhabited areas. The term natural has consequently been disputed because the events simply are not hazards or disasters without human involvement.

Man-made disasters

Main article: Man-made hazards

Disasters having an element of human interests, negligence, error, or involving the failure of a system are called man-made disasters. Man-made disaster are in turn categorized as technological or sociological. Technological disasters are the results of failure of technology, such as engineering failures, transport disasters or environmental disasters. Sociological disaster have a strong human motive, such as criminal acts, stampedes, riots and war. Similar to the case with natural disasters, man-made disasters are caused by man-made hazards.

Disaster management

Main article: Emergency management

The probability of avoiding a disaster is greatly improved when those potentially affected by them implement mitigative action and develop emergency preparedness plans. The science of disaster management deals with this issue. Although the term disaster is subjective, it is often used in the developed world to refer to situations where local emergency management resources are inadequate to counteract the negative effects of the event[2]. Business continuity planning focus on the particular application of disaster management in the commercial domain.

Risks of hypothetical future disasters


Main article: Risks to civilization, humans and planet Earth

  • Meteorite impact
  • Ice Age
  • Megatsunami
  • Famine
  • Megathrust earthquake
  • Desertification
  • Overconsumption

See also


  1. Word Detective
  2. 2.0 2.1 Quarantelli E.L. (1998). Where We Have Been and Where We Might Go. In: Quarantelli E.L. (ed). What Is A Disaster? London: Routledge. pp146-159
  3. World Bank
  4. Geohotspots
  5. B. Wisner, P. Blaikie, T. Cannon, and I. Davis (2004). At Risk - Natural hazards, people's vulnerability and disasters. Wiltshire: Routledge, ISBN 0-415-25216-4


  • Barton A.H. (1969). Communities in Disaster. A Sociological Analysis of Collective Stress Situations. SI: Ward Lock
  • Catastrophe and Culture: The Anthropology of Disaster. Susanna M. Hoffman and Anthony Oliver-Smith, Eds.. Santa Fe NM: School of American Research Press, 2002
  • G. Bankoff, G. Frerks, D. Hilhorst (eds.) (2003). Mapping Vulnerability: Disasters, Development and People. ISBN 1-85383-964-7.
  • D. Alexander (2002). Principles of Emergency planning and Management. Harpended: Terra publishing. ISBN 1-903544-10-6.

External links

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