Natural Disaster

  1. definition
  2. examples and/or illustrations
  3. other useful sources
  4. bibliography


“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).”

-International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. “Types of Disasters: Natural hazards.” http://www.ifrc.org/en/what-we-do/disaster-management/about-disasters/definition-of-hazard/. [Accessed 20 September 2013].

 “Disaster: A serious disruption of the functioning of a community or a society involving widespread human, material, economic or environmental losses and impacts, which exceeds the ability of the affected community or society to cope using its own resources…Disasters are often described as a result of the combination of: the exposure to a hazard; the conditions of vulnerability that are present; and insufficient capacity or measures to reduce or cope with the potential negative consequences. Disaster impacts may include loss of life, injury, disease and other negative effects on human physical, mental and social well-being, together with damage to property, destruction of assets, loss of services, social and economic disruption and environmental degradation.”

-The United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction. 2007. “Terminology: Disaster.” http://www.unisdr.org/we/inform/terminology. [Accessed 20 September 2013]. 

“Natural Hazard: Natural process or phenomenon 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…Natural hazards are a sub-set of all hazards. The term is used to describe actual hazard events as well as the latent hazard conditions that may give rise to future events. Natural hazard events can be characterized by their magnitude or intensity, speed of onset, duration, and area of extent. For example, earthquakes have short durations and usually affect a relatively small region, whereas droughts are slow to develop and fade away and often affect large regions. In some cases hazards may be coupled, as in the flood caused by a hurricane or the tsunami that is created by an earthquake.”

-The United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction. 2007. “Terminology: Natural Hazard.” http://www.unisdr.org/we/inform/terminology. [Accessed 20 September 2013].  


Examples and/or Illustrations

“Displaced populations leave their homes in groups, usually due to a sudden impact, such as an earthquake or a flood, threat or conflict. There is usually an intention to return home. Migration and displacement are interlinked, but must be distinguished. Displaced populations – either across borders such as refugee influxes, or within a country because of disasters or armed conflict – usually need relief operations combined with efforts aiming at collective and lasting solutions. Migration on the other hand usually involves more individual social assistance, legal protection and personal support.”

-International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. “Complex/manmade hazards: displaced populations.” http://www.ifrc.org/en/what-we-do/disaster-management/about-disasters/definition-of-hazard/displaced-populations/. [Accessed 20 September 2013].

“In 2012, an estimated 32.4 million people in 82 countries were newly displaced by disasters associated with natural hazard events. Over five years from 2008 to 2012, around 144 million people were forced from their homes in 125 countries. Around three-quarters of these countries were affected by multiple disaster-induced displacement events over the period. Repeated displacement sets back recovery and development gains, undermines resilience and compounds vulnerability to further disaster…The risk of displacement is expected to rise in line with related and interconnected global trends that increase the risk of disaster. These include population growth, rapid urbanisation and the exposure of vulnerable communities, homes and livelihoods to hazards. Due to improved life-saving measures, mortality rates associated with major weather-related hazards are falling, yet increasing numbers of disaster survivors will still be displaced from their homes. In the longer term, human-made climate change is expected to increase the frequency and severity of weather-related hazards including floods and storms, which account for a high proportion of disaster-induced displacement each year. The level of displacement risk will be greatly influenced by how well countries and communities are able to strengthen disaster prevention, preparedness and response and adapt to new realities…It is widely agreed that the vast majority of people displaced by disasters are internally displaced. A smaller number are displaced across borders but this has not been quantified globally.”

-Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre. 2013. Global Estimates 2012: People Displaced by Disaster. http://www.internal-displacement.org/publications/global-estimates-2012. [Accessed 20 September 2013].

“There is growing concern that climate change and in particular changes in frequency, intensity and location of weather events like floods, storms and droughts may have impacts on human mobility that will cause societal strains in many countries and perhaps at a global level. Human mobility is a primary mechanism to cope with extreme weather events, and migration a possible strategy for adaptation to changing climatic patterns…displaced persons and migrants often encounter situations of need, vulnerability, and distress.”

-International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. 2009. “Climate Change and Human Mobility: A Humanitarian Point of View.” The Hague: Red Cross and Red Crescent Climate Change Centre.

“In recent times, a growing number of organizations and commentators have employed the

notion of ‘environmental refugees’ or ‘climate refugees,’ a concept used to refer to people who are obliged to leave their usual place of residence as a result of long-term climate change or sudden natural disasters. UNHCR has serious reservations with respect to the terminology and notion of environmental refugees or climate refugees. These terms have no basis in international refugee law.”

-UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Climate Change, Natural Disasters and Human Displacement: A UNHCR Perspective, 14 August 2009, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4a8e4f8b2.html [accessed 21 September 2013]


Other Useful Sources

EM-DAT. The International Disaster Database. http://www.emdat.be/.

Forced Migration Online. “Climate Change.”  http://www.forcedmigration.org/research-resources/thematic/climate-change-and-displacement.

Forced Migration Review. October 2008. Volume 31. http://www.fmreview.org/climatechange.htm.

Inter-Agency Standing Committee. 2011. IASC Operational Guidelines on the Protection of Persons in Situations of Natural Disasters. Washington DC: The Brookings-Bern Project on Internal Displacement.

International Organization for Migration. “Climate Change and Migration.” http://www.iom.int/cms/climateandmigration.

United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction. http://www.unisdr.org/.

UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, 22 July 1998, E/CN.4/1998/53/Add.2, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3c3da07f7.html [accessed 21 September 2013].



Bates, Diane C. 2002. “Environmental Refugees? Classifying Human Migrations Caused by Environmental Change.” Population and Environment 23(5): 465-477).

Bramante, James F. and Durairaju Kumaran Raju. 2013. “Predicting the distribution of informal camps established by the displaced after a catastrophic disaster, Port-au-Prince, Haiti.” Applied Geography 40(6): 30-39.

Fisher, Sarah. 2010. “Violence Against Women and Natural Disasters: Findings from Post-Tsunami Sri Lanka.” Violence Against Women 16(8): 902-918.

Geest, Kees van der. 2011. “North-South Migration in Ghana: What Role for the Environment?” International Migration 49(1): 69-94.

Hilhorst, Dorothea and Bram Jansen. 2012. “Constructing Rights and Wrongs in Humanitarian Action: Contributions from a Sociology of Praxis.” Sociology 46(5): 891-905.

Inter-Agency Standing Committee, IASC Operational Guidelines on the Protection of Persons in Natural Disasters, The Brookings – Bern Project on Internal Displacement, January 2011.

http://www.unhcr.org/cgi-bin/texis/vtx/home/opendocPDFViewer.html?docid=50f94d4e9&query=Natural%20Disasters (Accessed 21 September 21, 2013)

Kolmannskog, Vikram and Lisetta Trebbi. 2010. “Climate change, natural disasters and displacement: a multi-track approach to filling the protection gaps.” International Review of the Red Cross 92(879): 713-730.

Tribe, Rachel. 2007. “Health Pluralism: A More Appropriate Alternative to Western Models of Therapy in the Context of the Civil Conflict and Natural Disaster in Sri Lanka?” Journal of Refugee Studies 20(1): 21-36.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Climate Change, Natural Disasters and Human Displacement: A UNHCR Perspective, 14 August 2009, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4a8e4f8b2.html [accessed 21 September 2013].

Westhoff, Wayne W et al. 2008. “Reproductive Health Education and Services Needs of Internally Displaced Persons and Refugees Following Disaster.” American Journal of Health Education 39(2): 95-103.