The term disaster is derived from the French word “Desastre” which is a combination of two words ‘des’ meaning bad and ‘aster’ meaning star. Thus, the term refers to ‘Bad or Evil star’.

The United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR) defines a disaster as, “A serious disruption of the functioning of a community or a society at any scale due to hazardous events interacting with conditions of exposure, vulnerability, and capacity, leading to one or more of the following: human, material, economic and environmental losses, and impacts”.

The effect of the disaster can be immediate and localized, but is often widespread and could last for a long period of time.

“A catastrophe, mishap, calamity or grave occurrence in any area, arising from natural or man-made causes, or by accident or negligence which results in substantial loss of life or human suffering or damage to, and destruction of property, or damage to, or degradation of environment, and is of such a nature or magnitude as to be beyond the coping capacity of the community of the affected area”.

– The Disaster Management Act, 2005 (INDIA)

A disaster is an event or series of events, which gives rise to casualties and damage or loss of properties, infrastructures, environment, essential services, or means of livelihood on such a scale that is beyond the normal capacity of the affected community to cope with.

Massive wildfire north of Los Angeles, California, U.S., December 9, 2017
(Image source:–a-year-of-disaster.html)

Disaster Damage: Total or partial damage of physical assets, and sources of livelihood that occurs after a disaster or a series of catastrophic events (usually referred to as a disaster). This is usually measured in physical units (e.g., square meters of housing, kilometers of roads, etc.)

Disaster Impact: It is the total effect, including both negative effects (e.g., economic losses) and positive effects (e.g., economic gains) of a disaster. The term includes economic, human, and environmental impacts, and may include death, injuries, disease, and other negative effects on human physical, mental and social well-being.


Disasters can be grouped into two broad categories:

  1. Natural Disasters
  2. Man-Made Disasters

Natural Disasters: Disasters which are caused because of natural phenomena (like
atmospheric, geological, or even biological origin). In other words, natural disasters are catastrophic events associated with meteorological, geological, and hydrological origins (e.g., droughts, earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, landslides, tsunamis, etc) that can cause fatalities, property damage, and social environmental disruption.

Man-Made Disasters: Disasters which are caused due to human intent, negligence, or error involving a failure of a man-made system.  Such man-made disasters are crime, arson, civil disorder, terrorism, war, biological/chemical threat, cyber-attacks, etc. In other words, man-made disasters are human-instigated disasters.

A file photo of the Union Carbide plant in Bhopal that led to the world’s worst industrial man-made disaster in modern history and loss of many lives.
(Image source:
Floodwaters from Hurricane Katrina fill the streets near downtown New Orleans on August 30, 2005 (Image source –

United Nations had declared the 1990s as a Decade of Natural Disaster Reduction. It called upon nations to formulate national disaster-mitigation programs, as well as economic, land use, and insurance policies for disaster prevention, and to integrate them fully into their national development programs. However, in August 1999, the government of India set up a High Powered Committee under the chairmanship of Mr. J. C. Pant. This was just prior to the devastating cyclone in Odisha.

The High Power Committee on Disaster Management (1999) has identified 31
various disasters are categorized into five major sub-groups.

List of various Disasters

1. Water and climate related
a) Floods and drainage management
b) Cyclones
c) Tornadoes and hurricanes
d) Hailstorm
e) Cloud burst
f) Heat wave and cold wave
g) Snow avalanches
h) Droughts
i) Sea erosion
j) Thunder and lightening
k) Tsunami
2. Geological related disastersa) Landslides and mudflows
b) Earthquakes
c) Dam failures/ Dam bursts
d) Minor fires
3. Chemical, industrial and nuclear
related disasters
a) Chemical and industrial disasters
b) Nuclear disasters
4. Accident related disastersa) Forest fires
b) Urban fires
c) Mine flooding
d) Oil spills
e) Major building collapse
f) Serial bomb blasts
g) Festival related disasters
h) Electrical disasters and fires
i) Air, road and rail accidents
j) Boat capsizing
k) Village fire
5. Biological related disastersa) Biological disasters and epidemics
b) Pest attacks
c) Cattle epidemics
d) Food poisoning
Note: After 2004, Tsunami has also been included in the list of disasters. Source: High Powered Committee Report-1999



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