Disaster, Hazard and Vulnerability, the Meaning
What makes a disaster? Are hazards disasters, too? How do we define vulnerability?
A state of extreme (usually irremediable) ruin and misfortune is a disaster. It is also an event resulting in great loss and misfortune. It is an act that has disastrous consequences. But people say that hazard plus vulnerability make a disaster. Classification of disasters is in fact a classification of hazards. There are events, agents, which have the potentiality of doing harm, that is, hazards. Hazard is a source of danger. It is an unknown and unpredictable phenomenon that causes an event to result one way rather than another. For example, it is an obstacle on a golf course.
Even if these hazards materialize one has not a disaster if the community is not vulnerable; that is, if it has the capacity to respond or adjust. Hazards have the potential to cause disasters. Hazards cause disasters only when they meet with vulnerable people: when affecting (a) human life, (b) property, and (c) human activities. What is the main vulnerability? It is poverty. Population growth is a major factor of vulnerability.
One can combine any vulnerability factor, add a hazard and understand that a disaster is created. For example, poverty + landslide = a disaster for poor people whose house is destroyed and who have no means to build it again. The poorer one is, the more one is predisposed to suffer damage when an event occurs. But the more one spends on development, the less people die because of disasters. On the other hand, if countries give more money for warfare and neglect development, when disasters strike these countries cannot respond; if countries invest in disaster prevention, they will cope better when an emergency happens and their susceptibility will be higher.
It is often said that people are susceptible to natural hazards and disasters. Susceptibility is the fact of being exposed. We must know the difference between susceptibility and vulnerability. You can be susceptible but not vulnerable. For example, a landslide threatens a house but the owners can build a wall to protect and divert the landslide.
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