AskDefine | Define catastrophes

User Contributed Dictionary



catastrophes p
  1. Plural of catastrophe

Extensive Definition

A disaster is the impact of a natural or human-made hazard that negatively affects society or environment. The root of the word disaster comes from astrology: this implies that when the stars are in a bad position a bad event will happen. The word derives from Middle French désastre, from Old Italian disastro, from the Greek pejorative prefix δυσ-, (dis-) "bad" + αστήρ (aster), "star".
In contemporary academia, disasters are seen as the consequence of inappropriately managed risk. These risks 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.
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.


Wisner et al reflect a common opinion when they argue that all disasters can be seen as being human-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. 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

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.

Human-made disasters

Disasters caused by human action, negligence, error, or involving the failure of a system are called human-made disasters. Human-made disasters 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.


The probability of avoiding a disaster is greatly improved when those potentially affected by them implement mitagative 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. Business continuity planning focus on the particular application of disaster management in the commercial domain.



  • 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

United States

catastrophes in Czech: Katastrofa
catastrophes in Danish: Katastrofe
catastrophes in German: Katastrophe
catastrophes in Spanish: Desastre
catastrophes in Esperanto: Katastrofo (akcidento)
catastrophes in French: Catastrophe
catastrophes in Korean: 재해
catastrophes in Croatian: Katastrofa
catastrophes in Indonesian: Bencana
catastrophes in Italian: Disastro
catastrophes in Latin: Calamitates humanae
catastrophes in Latvian: Katastrofa
catastrophes in Malay (macrolanguage): Bencana
catastrophes in Dutch: Ramp
catastrophes in Japanese: 災害
catastrophes in Norwegian: Katastrofe
catastrophes in Polish: Katastrofa
catastrophes in Portuguese: Desastre
catastrophes in Russian: Катастрофа
catastrophes in Sinhala: ව්‍යසන
catastrophes in Simple English: Disaster
catastrophes in Finnish: Onnettomuus
catastrophes in Swedish: Katastrof
catastrophes in Thai: ภัยธรรมชาติ
catastrophes in Turkish: Afet
catastrophes in Ukrainian: Катастрофа
catastrophes in Chinese: 灾害
Privacy Policy, About Us, Terms and Conditions, Contact Us
Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2
Material from Wikipedia, Wiktionary, Dict
Valid HTML 4.01 Strict, Valid CSS Level 2.1