The word ‘Disaster’ is defined as a serious disruption of the functioning of a society, causing widespread human, material, or environmental losses which exceeds the ability of the affected society to cope using its own resources. It is among the many shocks and surprises that human history has witnessed since its inception and is a product of hazards which is considered a dangerous condition or events that threaten or have the potential for causing injury to life or damage to property or the environment.
Without hazards there is no disaster. Hazards, itself on the basis of its origin, has been basically grouped in two broad headings – natural and unnatural. The first is closely related to meteorological, geological or even biological aspects, while the second is with human-cause or advancement of technology.
Natural and unnatural disaster
Vulnerability plays a key role in natural and unnatural disasters. Mainly it is a human factor, liable to be affected from a number of other considerations. In the case of natural disaster hazards, location of the hazards, exposure that includes various types of structures and lifeline systems such as water supply, communication network, transportation network etc and finally, vulnerability of the exposed structures and system are badly affected.
In a developing country like India what make any area vulnerable to the disaster are increased demographic pressures and escalated environmental degradation. Environmental factor increases the impact of any hazard and caused by deforestation, which causes erosion and clogs rivers, siltation of riverbeds etc. All disasters bring with themselves a lot of sufferings and pain to the people of the affected area.
The accelerated, and often uncontrolled growth of cities has contributed to the ecological transformation of their immediate surroundings. In addition, the lack of appropriate drainage systems and sealing increase the volume and speed of rainfall. Recent studies have highlighted that a poor understanding by decision makers of seismic related risk and tendency of some builders to use the cheapest designs and construction materials, increase the risk during catastrophic earthquakes.
As to the unnatural disaster which has a much larger spectrum includes epidemics, industrial accidents, communal violence terrorism, nuclear weapons and biological bombs etc. They cause mainly to the unhealthy social, economic and environmental conditions. Reports of outbreaks of communicable diseases are due to poverty which is one of the major factors contributing to the vulnerability.
Economic and social effects
The shock of disaster always produces unusual or extreme types of human behaviour. Normally financial impacts of a disaster are calculated on the basis of damage to homes, hospitals, schools, factories, infrastructure and crops. It does not include less quantifiable effects such as the loss of personal belongings or jobs, widening trade or government budget deficits, or the increasing scale and depth of poverty.
The degree of severity largely depends on the type of hazard, the size of the economy and its economic structure and the sectors affected by the disaster. For instance, droughts do not damage buildings or physical structures but their lengthy duration creates other problems. However, in contrast, sudden-onset disasters such as floods or earthquakes have a direct impact on infrastructure and productive facilities and resources.
The economic costs of disasters, in a broader view, can be of three types – direct, indirect and secondary. The direct costs relate to the capital cost of assets such as buildings, other physical structures, raw materials and losses of crops. The indirect costs pertain to the flow of goods and services and include lower output from factories, loss of sales income and the costs associated with having to purchase more expensive materials. The last, the secondary effects concern the short and long-term impacts of a disaster on overall economic performance and include deterioration in external trade and government budget balances, the reallocation of planned government spending and increased indebtedness.
Every natural disaster to the degree of its severity, makes damages to the economic structures of the affected areas which has a direct bearing on population of the region. With the destruction of health or education infrastructure and personnel, death, disablement or migration of key social actors, social development becomes limited, leading to an erosion of social capital. In addition to the loss of social assets, there are many examples of disaster events destroying the gains of the health, sanitation, drinking water, housing and education sectors that underpin social development.
Management and Mitigation
The disaster management and mitigation falls under global trends of causing policy makers to think in terms of risk reduction. The term ‘Management’ can be defined as the body of policy and administrative decisions and operational activities which pertain to the various stages of a disaster at all levels. Mitigation includes hazard mapping, hazard and vulnerability assessment, structural and non-structural measures. It embraces all measures taken to reduce both the effect of the hazard itself and the vulnerable conditions to it in order to reduce the scale of a future disaster.
In wider perspective disaster management can be divided into two situations pre-disaster and post-disaster. Under the purview of disaster management, there are three key stages of activity-before a disaster strikes, during the disaster and after a disaster. The first one is precautionary and involves all activities taken to reduce human and property losses caused by the hazard and ensure that these losses are minimized when the disaster strikes. They are called mitigation and preparedness activities.
In course of disaster occurrence some activities are done to ensure that the needs and provisions of victims are met and suffering is minimized. They are also called emergency response activities. The activities taken after a disaster are called response and recovery activities. In the post-disaster phase best results can be achieved by mobilising youth from affected communities themselves, and training them as psycho-social counsellors. Experiences in Orissa and Gujarat have shown that these young people, frequently from working class backgrounds, have remarkably helped people heal emotionally, to come to terms with their profound grief and loss and to gather the resolve to pick up the threads of life once again.
Only honest efforts involving institutional reforms, improved analytical and methodological capabilities, education, awareness, financial planning and political commitment will reduce the risk and vulnerability of natural disaster. In order to minimize the effects of disasters, we need to coordinate and cooperate the entire system of management and mitigation, not just from the government of the country but from the whole of the world community. Let us hope and try our best to make a world free of disasters, natural and unnatural.