Managing natural disasters

R B Singh and Ajay Kumar

Natural disasters have impacted people ever since they first walked the Earth. Natural disasters have influenced, shaped, and modified human behaviour, changing the way people live and respond to the environment. The frequency of natural disasters is increasing due to rapid environmental changes caused by both man-made and natural factors. The United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR) (2004) defines a disaster thus:
“A disaster is a sudden, calamitous event that causes serious disruption of the functioning of a community or a society causing widespread human, material, economic and/or environmental losses which exceed the ability of the affected community or society to cope using its own level of resources.”

At the global level, there is considerable concern over natural disasters. Countries like Japan are very vulnerable to natural disasters. India has been traditionally vulnerable to natural disasters on account of its unique geo-climatic conditions. About 60 per cent of the landmass is prone to earthquakes of various intensities; over 40 million hectares is prone to floods; about 8 per cent of the total area is prone to cyclones and 68 per cent is susceptible to drought (Ministry of Home Affairs, 2005).

According to an estimate by the World Bank direct losses from natural disasters are up to 2 per cent of India’s GDP (Kumar, 2012) (Table 1 and 2). In this context there is an urgent need to recognize natural disasters in a comprehensive manner and take effective steps for their prevention, mitigation, and management.

The authors work in the Department of Geography, Delhi School of Economics, University of Delhi, Delhi. They can be reached at and

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