Learn more about Disasters

A disaster is a sudden, calamitous event that seriously disrupts the functioning of a community or society and causes human, material, and economic or environmental losses that exceed the community’s or society’s ability to cope using its own resources – IFRC. Though often caused by nature, disasters can have human origins. A disaster occurs when a hazard impacts on vulnerable people. The combination of hazards, vulnerability and inability to reduce the potential negative consequences of risk results in disaster.



A hazard is a threatening event, or probability of occurrence of a potentially damaging phenomenon. – EM-DAT  Natural hazards are naturally occurring physical phenomena caused either by rapid or slow onset events which can be geophysical (earthquakes, landslides, tsunamis and volcanic activity), hydrological (avalanches and floods), climatological (extreme temperatures, drought and wildfires), meteorological (cyclones and storms/wave surges) or biological (disease epidemics and insect/animal plagues). – IFRC


Vulnerability in this context can be defined as the diminished capacity of an individual or group to anticipate, cope with, resist and recover from the impact of a natural or man-made hazard. The concept is relative and dynamic. Vulnerability is most often associated with poverty, but it can also arise when people are isolated, insecure and defenceless in the face of risk, shock or stress.  – IFRC  People or communities can find themselves totally overwhelmed in the event of a disasters. This makes them vulnerable.

Types of Disasters

Environmental Degradation

Environmental degradation refers to Deforestation, Pollution, land degradation, desertification, ozone depletion and climate change.

Man-made/ Induced Hazards

These include Stampedes, Riots, Bomb threats, Terrorism, Mass hysteria, Structural collapse or failure of infrastructure, Food poisoning, Displacement of populations / forced migration, scarcity of essential services or supplies, fires and landmines.

Technological / Anthropogenic Hazards

Technological / Anthropogenic Hazards refer to danger originating from technological or industrial accidents, dangerous procedures, infrastructure failures or certain human activities, which may cause the loss of life or injury, property damage, social and economic disruption or environmental degradation.

– Hazardous substances and their resultant chemical spills, gas leaks and poisoning
– Toxic waste
– Radiation or nuclear fall out
– Fires and explosions
– Water, soil and air contamination

Hydrometeorological Hazards

Process or phenomenon of atmospheric, hydrological or oceanographic nature that may cause loss of life, injury or other health impacts, property damage, loss of livelihoods and services, social and economic disruption, or environmental damage. (Source – Prevention Web)

Comment: Hydrometeorological hazards include tropical cyclones (also known as typhoons and hurricanes), thunderstorms, lightning, frost, mist, freak weather, tropical depressions, hailstorms, tornados, blizzards, heavy snowfall, avalanches, coastal storm surges, floods including flash floods, drought, heatwaves and cold spells.  A good example is Cyclone Idai. Hydrometeorological conditions also can be a factor in other hazards such as landslides, wildland fires, locust plagues, epidemics, and in the transport and dispersal of toxic substances and volcanic eruption material.

Geophysical Hazards

These include earthquakes, landslides, meteorites, mudslides, rockfalls, subsistence, surface collapse and more. The pictures below are of the Domboshava Landslide. The term landslide is used in its broad sense to include downward and outward movement of slope forming materials (natural rock and soil). It is caused by heavy rain, soil erosion and earth tremors and may also happen in areas under heavy snow.

Biological Hazards

Biological hazards include : epidemics, pandemics, zoonotics, army worms, pest infestations etc. An epidemic is the unusual increase in the number of cases of an infectious disease which already exists in a certain region or population. It can also refer to the appearance of a significant number of cases of an infectious disease in a region or population that is usually free from that disease. Epidemics may be the consequence of disasters of another kind, such as tropical storms, floods, earthquakes, droughts, etc. Epidemics may also attack animals, causing local economic disasters – IFRC. Common epidemics globally include Avian Flu, Cholera, Dengue fever, Ebola and Marburg, Malaria, Measles, Meningococcal Meningitis, Yellow fever, HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis. A pandemic is an epidemic that’s spread over multiple countries or continents. An example would be the Coronavirus Covid-19.