AskDefine | Define disaster

Dictionary Definition



1 a state of extreme (usually irremediable) ruin and misfortune; "lack of funds has resulted in a catastrophe for our school system"; "his policies were a disaster" [syn: catastrophe]
2 an event resulting in great loss and misfortune; "the whole city was affected by the irremediable calamity"; "the earthquake was a disaster" [syn: calamity, catastrophe, tragedy, cataclysm]
3 an act that has disastrous consequences

User Contributed Dictionary



From Italian disastro, disaster; originally meaning "unfavourable to one's stars", from dis-, bad (compare dys-), + astro, star, celestial body, from Latin astrum, from Greek astron.



  1. An unexpected natural or man-made catastrophe of substantial extent causing significant physical damage or destruction, loss of life or sometimes permanent change to the natural environment.
  2. An unforeseen event causing great loss, upset or unpleasantness of whatever kind.
    The downpour and gales turned the wedding into a disaster.


unexpected catastrophe causing physical damage, etc.
unforeseen event causing great loss, etc.
  • Dutch: ramp
  • Finnish: onnettomuus, katastrofi
  • French: désastre
  • German: Desaster
  • Hebrew: אסון (ason)
  • Italian: disastro
  • Japanese: 災難 (さいなん, sainan)
  • Kurdish:
  • Portuguese: desastre

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

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disaster in Czech: Katastrofa
disaster in Danish: Katastrofe
disaster in German: Katastrophe
disaster in Spanish: Desastre
disaster in Esperanto: Katastrofo (akcidento)
disaster in French: Catastrophe
disaster in Korean: 재해
disaster in Croatian: Katastrofa
disaster in Indonesian: Bencana
disaster in Italian: Disastro
disaster in Latin: Calamitates humanae
disaster in Latvian: Katastrofa
disaster in Malay (macrolanguage): Bencana
disaster in Dutch: Ramp
disaster in Japanese: 災害
disaster in Norwegian: Katastrofe
disaster in Polish: Katastrofa
disaster in Portuguese: Desastre
disaster in Russian: Катастрофа
disaster in Sinhala: ව්‍යසන
disaster in Simple English: Disaster
disaster in Finnish: Onnettomuus
disaster in Swedish: Katastrof
disaster in Thai: ภัยธรรมชาติ
disaster in Turkish: Afet
disaster in Ukrainian: Катастрофа
disaster in Chinese: 灾害

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

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