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Natural Disasters

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Natural disasters are a consequence of natural hazards. A natural hazard is considered a disaster when it has exceeded a given threshold, meaning it has caused significant damage to society or a community, and they can no longer cope using their own resources. Significant damage includes disruptions to human, material or environmental aspects such as loss of life, injuries, and damage to infrastructure.

What are some examples of natural disasters?

Examples of natural disasters include earthquakes, volcanic activity, extreme heat, floods, wildfires, tsunamis and hurricanes.

What are some of the major natural disasters?

Some recent major natural disasters are:

  • Haiti earthquake (2010)

  • Hurricane Katrina (2005)

  • Sichuan earthquake (2008)

  • Gorkha earthquake (2015)

  • Mount Merapi eruption (2010)

  • Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami (2011)

These disasters had significant social, economic and environmental consequences as large areas were affected, and many died. For instance, approximately 3 million people were affected by the Haiti earthquake in 2010. You will learn more about the reasons for the different levels of impact below and in the article impacts of hazards.

What is the threshold for natural hazards turning into natural disasters?

An example of the criteria for the threshold of hazard turning into a disaster is:

  • Ten or more deaths

  • One hundred or more people affected

  • One million dollars in economic losses

How do natural hazards become natural disasters?

Vulnerability, resilience, and risk factors explain when natural hazards become natural disasters.

Vulnerability is the characteristic of the society or community that influences its susceptibility to hazards.

Resilience is how much the society or community can cope with the hazard, recover and remain functioning. They have the tools to reduce the probability of a disaster.

Risk is the probability of a hazard occurring and causing damaging consequences (such as injuries, loss of lives, impact on health, assets and services).

Hazard risk equation

The hazard risk is calculated using the equation:

Natural Disasters The Hazard Risk Equation StudySmarterThe Hazard Risk Equation

This means that the type, frequency and magnitude of the hazard proportionally influence the level of risk. For instance, the risk level of a magnitude 9 earthquake will be larger than the risk level of a magnitude 7 earthquake.

As the vulnerability increases, so does the risk. The factors that influence a community’s vulnerability include its population total, density, structure, distance from the hazard, poverty, politics, infrastructure, and education.

Manageability includes implementing emergency evacuation, rescue and relief plans, preparing people to help each other, and infrastructure designed for resistance against hazards. It is influenced by money, access to aid, the country’s international relationships, debt, and the population structure.

The relationship between development and natural disasters

The difference in characteristics between developed and developing countries determines their level of resilience to natural disasters.

Developing countries tend to have high populations, high birth rates, low resources, low access to technology, smaller economies, and unsafe environments. This makes it more difficult to cope with possible natural hazards. In addition, people in developing countries tend to rely on insecure resources for their income.

Developed countries often have lower populations, low birth rates, higher access to technology, bigger economies, and safer environments.

Disasters can further hinder development by damaging livelihoods, production, infrastructure, and the numbers of the working population. They also destroy environments.

Resilience is increased through the following aspects:

  • Economic - job opportunities for everyone to improve wealth, and quality of life
  • Social - improvement in health, education and housing
  • Environmental - designing the environment to reduce the risk of disaster, sustainable resource management and access to safe water
  • Political - human rights, political freedom, preventing the exclusion of groups and fairly distributing resources before and after natural hazards.

Age and natural disaster

The age structure of a population can have a significant impact on their resilience. Children and the elderly are less likely to cope with the consequences of hazards and disasters. They are more likely to suffer from injury, loss of life and chronic health problems.

Elderly people are more vulnerable because of their diminishing physical health, age discrimination and poverty. Approximately 56% of the lives lost in the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami in 2011 in Japan were people aged 65 and above.

Where do natural disasters happen?

The Philippines, Japan and Bangladesh are the countries most prone to natural disasters. They have the highest risk of earthquakes, storms, floods, volcanoes and tsunamis. One of the main reasons is their proximity to destructive plate boundaries. Additionally, the risk of natural disasters is increased by the socio-economic situations in the Philippines and Bangladesh and the low elevation of land in Bangladesh.

The following image shows the distribution of natural disaster risks in the world.

Global natural disaster risk Image: SEDACMaps, CC BY 2.0

According to the map, other countries with a very high risk of natural disasters include Chad, Niger and Cameroon, the Pacific island countries, Caribbean countries and Chile. Many of these areas lie near tectonic boundaries.

How often do natural disasters occur?

The frequency of natural disasters has changed over time. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, natural disasters happen three times more often than they did in the 1970-80s. Currently, about 6800 natural disasters happen every year.

Natural Disasters - Key takeaways

  • A natural disaster is when a natural hazard has exceeded a given threshold meaning it has caused significant damage to society or a community, and they can no longer cope using their own resources.

  • An example of the criteria for the threshold of hazard turning into a disaster is ten or more deaths, one hundred or more people affected and one million dollars in economic losses.

  • Vulnerability is a characteristic of the society or community that influences its susceptibility to hazards.

  • Resilience is how much the society or community is able to cope with the hazard, recover and remain functioning.

  • Risk is the probability of a hazard occurring with damaging consequences

  • The hazard risk is calculated using the equation: Risk = Hazard Vulnerability/Manageability

  • Developing countries tend to have lower resilience because of high populations, high birth rates, low resources, low access to technology, a smaller economy and unsafe environments.

  • Children and the elderly are less likely to be able to cope with the consequences of hazards and disasters.

  • The Philippines, Japan and Bangladesh are the countries most prone to natural disasters.

Images

Global disaster map: https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=85090449

Natural Disasters

A natural disaster is when a natural hazard has exceeded a given threshold meaning it has caused significant damage to society or a community. They can no longer cope using their own resources. This includes disruption to human, material or environmental aspects, such as loss of life, injuries, and damage to infrastructure.

The Philippines, Japan, and Bangladesh are the countries most prone to natural disasters. Other countries with a very high risk of natural disasters include Chad, Niger and Cameroon, the Pacific island countries, Caribbean countries, and Chile.

About 6800 natural disasters happen every year.

Natural disasters are caused by physical geography but human geography can make them worse.

Final Natural Disasters Quiz

Question

What are natural disasters?


Show answer

Answer

A natural disaster is when a natural hazard has exceeded a given threshold meaning it has caused significant damage to society or a community and they can no longer cope using their own resources. This includes disruptions to human, material or environmental aspects, such as loss of life, injuries and damage to infrastructure.

Show question

Question

What are some examples of natural disasters?


Show answer

Answer

Examples of natural disasters include earthquakes, volcanic activity, extreme heat, floods, wildfires, tsunamis and hurricanes.

Show question

Question

What are some of the major natural disasters?


Show answer

Answer

Some of the major recent natural disasters are the Haiti earthquake in 2010, Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the Sichuan earthquake in 2008, the Gorkha earthquake in 2015, the Mount Merapi eruption of 2010 and the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami in 2011.

Show question

Question

What is the threshold for natural hazards turning into natural disasters?


Show answer

Answer

An example of the criteria for the threshold of hazard turning into a disaster is:

  • Ten or more deaths

  • One hundred or more people affected

  • One million dollars in economic losses

Show question

Question

What is the definition of vulnerability?


Show answer

Answer

Vulnerability is the characteristic of the society or community that influences its susceptibility to hazards.

Show question

Question

What is the meaning of resilience?


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Answer

Resilience is how much the society or community is able to cope with the hazard, recover and remain functioning. It means that they have the tools to reduce the probability of the occurrence of a disaster.

Show question

Question

What is the definition of risk?


Show answer

Answer

The definition of risk is the probability of a hazard occurring and causing damaging consequences (such as injuries, loss of lives, impact on health, assets and services).

Show question

Question

What is the hazard risk equation?


Show answer

Answer

The hazard risk equation is: Risk = Hazard Vulnerability/Manageability

Show question

Question

How would you explain the relationship between development and natural disasters?


Show answer

Answer

The difference in characteristics between developed and developing countries determine their level of resilience to natural disasters. 


Developing countries tend to have:

  • high populations

  • high birth rates

  • low resources

  • low access to technology

  • smaller economies

  • unsafe environments


This makes it more difficult to cope with possible natural hazards. People in developing countries tend to rely on insecure resources for their income. Disasters can further hinder development by damaging livelihoods, production, infrastructure, reducing the working population and destroying environments. 

Show question

Question

How can resilience be increased through economic aspects?


Show answer

Answer

Resilience can be increased through economic aspects by increasing job opportunities for everyone to improve wealth and quality of life.

Show question

Question

How can resilience be increased through social aspects?


Show answer

Answer

Resilience can be increased through social aspects by improving health, education and housing.

Show question

Question

How can resilience be increased through environmental aspects?


Show answer

Answer

Resilience can be increased through environmental aspects by designing environments to reduce the risk of disaster, sustainable resource management and access to safe water.

Show question

Question

How can resilience be increased through political aspects?


Show answer

Answer

Resilience can be increased through political aspects by improving human rights and political freedom, preventing the exclusion of groups, and fairly distributing resources before and after natural hazards.

Show question

Question

How does the age of a population influence the resilience of a country?


Show answer

Answer

The age structure of a population can have a significant impact on resilience. Children and the elderly are less likely to cope with the consequences of hazards and disasters. They are more likely to suffer from injury, loss of life and chronic health problems.

Show question

Question

Where do natural disasters happen?


Show answer

Answer

The Philippines, Japan and Bangladesh are the countries most prone to natural disasters. Other countries with very high risks of natural disasters include Chad, Niger and Cameroon, the Pacific island countries, Caribbean countries and Chile.

Show question

Question

How often do natural disasters occur?


Show answer

Answer

About 6800 natural disasters occur every year.

Show question

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