Explaining Disaster: A Common Terminology



‘Disaster’ is a word we use commonly in our normal life moreover at times when the world is shook by an earthquake or a country is hit by heat waves or it is the Zika Virus epidemic.

As defined by wikipedia- ” A disaster is a serious disruption of functioning of a community or a society involving widespread human, material, economic or environmental losses and impacts, which exceeds the ability of the affected community or society to cope using its own resources.”

This word ‘Disaster’ has become a common terminology to describe any unfortunate event that in some way or the other brings about a loss in life and property of any community or in the means of livelihood so that it becomes difficult for them to live the usual life; or atleast unaided.

Disaster and Hazard

natural disaster

Although used as synonyms, Disaster is not to be taken as the word Hazard.

A situation can be hazardous if there is a loss of property or/and life due to some unfortunate cause whether it be natural or a man-made one, and the affected community gets cease of their limited resources; but this situation can only be termed a disaster if it is impossible for that community to cope with the situation without immediate support and assistance.

This now gives rise to another disaster management terminology- Vulnerability. Vulnerability may be defined in layman’s term as ‘ how likely a particular community is to get affected by a hazard.

This means if a community is more vulnerable to a hazard then the chances of that hazard turning to a disaster is more.

Types of Disasters


Further the disaster itself can be of various types or it can be classified in different ways.

A Disaster can be either natural or man-made. Natural disaster means any natural phenomenon that causes loss. It can be drought or flood or tsunami. And a man-made disaster may be a flood due to constructing a dam or a deadly virus that leaked from research laboratory. Even global warming can be regarded a disaster unless we are certain that it won’t affect the population heavily at some point of time.

A disaster can even be classified in terms of the area affected. It can either be an international issue of global warming or sea level rise; or it is a cyclone hitting parts of Orissa.

However, a better and usually accepted classification would be classifying it on the basis of its type or origin.

Type classification is usually used in day-to-day conversations. For eg., flood, draught would be water related disaster; heat waves be climate related; landslides and avalanches as mountains related and biological disaster and so on.

disaster relief

On the basis of origin, flood, hurricanes, draught, tornadoes would come under hydro-meteorological disaster. Volcanoes, Earthquakes and Tsunamis would come under geological disaster; and there exists the man-made or anthropogenic disaster which humans themselves trigger.