International Response to
A natural disaster is the consequence of a natural hazard (e.g. volcanic eruption,
earthquake, or landslide) which affects human activities. Human vulnerability,
exacerbated by the lack of planning or appropriate emergency management, leads
to financial, environmental or human losses. 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.
Natural Disasters and Hazards
A natural hazard is a threat of an event that will have a negative effect on people or
the environment. Many natural hazards are related, e.g. earthquakes can result in
tsunamis, drought can lead directly to famine and disease. A concrete example of
the division between hazard and disaster is that the 1906 San Francisco earthquake
was a disaster, whereas earthquakes are a hazard. Hazards are consequently relating
to a future occurrence and disasters to past or current occurrences.
List of natural disasters
1. Land movement disasters: Avalanches, Earthquakes, Lahars, Landslides and Mudflows, Volcanic
2. Water disasters : Floods, Limnic eruptions, Tsunamis
3. Weather disasters: Blizzards, Droughts, Hailstorms, Heat waves, Cyclonic storms
5. Health and disease: Epidemic: Famine
6. Space: Impact events, Solar flare
Top Ten deadliest natural disasters
Rank Event Location Date Death Toll (Estimate)
1. 1931 China floods China 1931 2,000,000-4,000,000*
2. 1887 Yellow River flood China 1887, September–October 900,000–2,000,000
3. 1556 Shaanxi earthquake Shaanxi Province, China 1556, January 23 830,000+
4. 1970 Bhola cyclone Bangladesh 1970, November 13 500,000
5. 1839 India Cyclone India 1839, November 25 ≥ 300,000
6. 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake/tsunami Indian Ocean 2004, December 26 283,100
7. 1526 Antioch earthquake Turkey 1526, May 20 250,000
8. 1976 Tangshan earthquake Tangshan, Hebei, China 1976, July 28 242,000
9. 1920 Haiyuan earthquake Haiyuan, Ningxia-Gansu, China 1920, December 16 240,000
10. 1975 Banqiao Dam failure Henan, China 1975, August 231,000
For more specific death tolls go to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_deadliest_natural_disasters, List excludes diseases and
famines, which would otherwise occupy the entire list
Emergency management (or disaster management) is the discipline of dealing with
and avoiding risks. It is a discipline that involves preparing for disaster before it
occurs, disaster response (e.g. emergency evacuation, quarantine, mass
decontamination, etc.), as well as supporting, and rebuilding society after natural or
human-made disasters have occurred. In general, any Emergency management is
the continuous process by which all individuals, groups, and communities manage
hazards in an effort to avoid or ameliorate the impact of disasters resulting from the
hazards. Actions taken depend in part on perceptions of risk of those exposed.
Effective emergency management relies on thorough integration of emergency
plans at all levels of government and non-government involvement. Activities at
each level (individual, group, community) affect the other levels. It is common to
place the responsibility for governmental emergency management with the
institutions for civil defense or within the conventional structure of the emergency
services. In the private sector, emergency management is sometimes referred to as
business continuity planning.
Response to natural disasters
Mitigation efforts attempt to prevent hazards from developing into disasters
altogether, or to reduce the effects of disasters when they occur. The mitigation
phase differs from the other phases because it focuses on long-term measures for
reducing or eliminating risk. In the preparedness phase, emergency managers
develop plans of action for when the disaster strikes. The response phase includes
the mobilization of the necessary emergency services and first responders in the
disaster area. This is likely to include a first wave of core emergency services, such
as firefighters, police and ambulance crews. They may be supported by a number of
secondary emergency services, such as specialist rescue teams. The aim of the
recovery phase is to restore the affected area to its previous state. It differs from the
response phase in its focus; recovery efforts are concerned with issues and
decisions that must be made after immediate needs are addressed. Recovery efforts
are primarily concerned with actions that involve rebuilding destroyed property, re-
employment, and the repair of other essential infrastructure.
The United Nations and response to natural disasters
Within the United Nations system responsibility for emergency response rests with
the Resident Coordinator within the affected country. However, in practice
international response will be coordinated, if requested by the affected country’s
government, by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN-
OCHA), by deploying a UN Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC)
The United Nations World Conference on Disaster Reduction
World Conference on Disaster Reduction is a United Nations conference bringing
together government officials, non-governmental experts and other specialists from
around the world to discuss the growing trend of people affected by natural
A WCDR conference was held in Kobe, Japan January 18–January 22, 2005. This
conference took on particular poignancy coming almost 10 years to the day after
the Great Hanshin earthquake in Kobe and less than a month after the 2004 Indian
Ocean earthquake and resulting tsunami. Japan's long history of severe natural
disasters, prominence in international humanitarian aid and development and
scientific achievements monitoring dangerous natural phenomena also made it a
suitable conference venue.
The Conference adopted plans to put in place an International Early Warning
Programme (IEWP), which was first proposed at the Second International
Conference on Early Warning in 2003 in Bonn, Germany. For more detailed information see
The International Strategy for Disaster Reduction
The ISDR aims at building disaster resilient communities by promoting increased
awareness of the importance of disaster reduction as an integral component of
sustainable development, with the goal of reducing human, social, economic and
environmental losses due to natural hazards and related technological and
Recognising that natural hazards can threaten any one of us, the ISDR builds on
partnerships and takes a global approach to disaster reduction, seeking to involve
every individual and every community towards the goals of reducing the loss of
lives, the socio-economic setbacks and the environmental damages caused by
natural hazards. In order to achieve these goals, the ISDR promotes four objectives
as tools towards reaching disaster reduction for all:
2. Increase public awareness to understand risk, vulnerability and disaster reduction
The more people, regional organizations, governments, non-governmental
organizations, United Nations entities, representatives of civil society and others
know about risk, vulnerability and how to manage the impacts of natural hazards,
the more disaster reduction measures will be implemented in all sectors of society.
Prevention begins with information.
3. Obtain commitment from public authorities to implement disaster reduction
policies and actions
The more decision-makers at all levels commit themselves to disaster reduction
policies and actions, the sooner communities vulnerable to natural disasters will
benefit from applied disaster reduction policies and actions. This requires, in part, a
grassroots approach whereby communities at risk are fully informed and participate
in risk management initiatives.
4. Stimulate interdisciplinary and intersectoral partnerships, including the
expansion of risk reduction networks
The more entities active in disaster reduction share information on their research
and practices, the more useful the global body of knowledge and experience will
progress. By sharing a common purpose and through collaborative efforts we can
ensure a world that is more resilient to the impact of natural hazards.
5. Improve scientific knowledge about disaster reduction
The more we know about the causes and consequences of natural hazards and
related technological and environmental disasters on societies, the more we are able
to be better prepared to reduce risks. Bringing the scientific community and policy
makers together allows them to contribute to and complement each other's work.
The ISDR combines the strengths of many key players through the Inter-Agency
Task Force on Disaster Reduction (IATF/DR) and the Inter-Agency Secretariat of
the ISDR (UN/ISDR). The IATF/DR is the principal body for the development of
disaster reduction policy. It is headed by the UN Under-Secretary General for
Humanitarian Affairs and consists of 25 UN, international, regional and civil
society organizations. It meets twice a year in Geneva, Switzerland. Working
Groups reporting to the IATF/DR bring together specialists and organisations to
discuss issues of common and global relevance to disaster reduction such as climate
variability, early warning, vulnerability and risk analysis, wildland fires and
The UN/ISDR is the focal point in the UN System to promote links and synergies
between, and the coordination of, disaster reduction activities in the socio-
economic, humanitarian and development fields, as well as to support policy
integration. It serves as an international information clearinghouse on disaster
reduction, developing awareness campaigns and producing articles, journals, and
publications and promotional materials related to disaster reduction. The UN/ISDR
headquarters is based at the Palais des Nations in Geneva. It conducts outreach
programmes through its regional units in Costa Rica and Kenya. For more information on the
ISDR go to http://www.unisdr.org/
United Nations Development Programme - Crisis Prevention and Recovery
Natural Disaster Risk Reduction
The 21st Century has already been marked by escalating economic losses and
human devastation caused by natural disasters. In 2006 alone, 426 disasters
occurred in 108 countries, affecting 143 million people and causing USD 34.6
billion in economic losses. Disasters exact an enormous toll not only on lives, but
also on livelihoods, homes, basic social services and community infrastructure.
Moreover, the destruction typically has a disproportionate impact on the poorest
and most vulnerable populations including women, children, youth and the elderly.
Disaster risks need to be effectively managed as an integral part of development.
This entails understanding and identifying the risk factors that cause disasters such
as the exposure and vulnerabilities of society to natural hazards. High-risk countries
need the capacity to put in place effective measures to reduce these risks, such as
early warning systems, building codes or disaster sensitive local development
plans. The rush for growth can trigger haphazard urban development that increases
the risk of large-scale fatalities during an earthquake. Trends such as increasing
human settlement and investment in high-risk coastal areas are placing greater
numbers of people and economic assets in danger of being affected by cyclones,
storm surges and flooding, especially given the prospect of climate change.
UNDP supports national counterparts to develop both a disaster risk perspective
and the human, financial, technical and legislative capacity; civil society
preparedness; and coordination systems required to effectively manage and reduce
United Nations Development Programme - Global Mainstreaming Initiative
for Disaster Risk Reduction
To complement its support to disaster risk reduction systems at the country level,
UNDP promotes efforts to integrate disaster risk reduction into national
development programmes. With support of the Canadian Government, UNDP
launched a Global Mainstreaming Initatitive in 2005 to strengthen the capacity of
governments to integrate disaster risk reduction in national development planning
and programmes. Key activities include:
Integrating disaster risk reduction into other UNDP priority areas (energy and
environment, poverty reduction and democratic governance) as well as other
central cross-cutting issues, including climate change and gender. Building
capacities to integrate disaster risk reduction at the national level through the
development of tools, such as tailored training packages and practical case studies
Promoting harmonization of disaster risk reduction approaches with key partners,
including the World Bank, the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction and the
ProVention Consortium. As part of its Global Mainstreaming Initiative, UNDP
launched a programme in 2007 to explore the complex relationship between natural
disasters and conflicts.
The conflict-disaster interface programme
Disasters and conflicts often co-exist in the same country, which can have a major
impact on the approaches required to deliver successful prevention and recovery
programmes.This was evident in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (after the
2002 volcanic eruption in Goma) and Sri Lanka (after the 2004 tsunami). In an
effort to understand better the relationship between disasters and conflicts in these
scenarios and to develop more robust approaches to programming in such contexts,
UNDP launched a groundbreaking study, which will be finalized in 2008.
In 2007, the study was conducted in nine countries across four regions: Bolivia,
Haiti, Indonesia, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Papua New Guinea, Sri Lanka, Sudan and
Zimbabwe. The initial findings include: The national and international response to
a crisis (both disasters and conflicts) in interface scenarios can have a major impact
on the scale and protracted nature of the crisis.
Clear relationships do exist between disaster and conflict. These relationships are
complex and inherently unique. They are not causal in nature but can be influenced
by a range of factors, including environmental and economic realities.
The impact of environmental factors will expand as the impact of climate change
increases. In the majority of observed cases, the combination of disaster and
conflict, along with other factors, can generate a downward spiral of increased
vulnerability and risk.
UNDP’s approach to dealing with this issue is highly context-specific, building on
each UNDP country office’s capacity and knowledge of disaster and conflict risks
and impacts. An increasing number of UNDP country offices are undertaking
innovative programme approaches to crisis prevention and recovery issues.
Although largely in the formulation or pilot stages, these have the potential to
impact positively on the relationship between disasters and conflicts. For example,
in Kenya, UNDP is supporting a pilot project focusing on the linkages between
armed violence and disaster risk reduction in pastoral communities. It is hoped that
this approach will help reduce both the risk of violent conflict and the vulnerability
to natural hazards such as floods and droughts among these communities.
Newsarticle: CBC Canada, May 13, 2008, „The world’s worst natural
An Acehnese man walks amid debris of destroyed buildings in Banda Aceh, Dec. 27, 2004. (Achmad
The following is a list of some of the worst natural calamities to strike the world since 1900. The list
is by definition arguable. Earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, cyclones, hurricanes and other
storms are all clearly natural phenomena.
But the picture is less clear for disasters like floods and famine. What some people may consider a
natural disaster, others may consider more of a political act (for instance, some of the world's
deadliest floods and famines were caused, at least in part, by policy decisions taken by hostile,
indifferent or negligent regimes).
For our purposes, we have included floods and famines as well as flu pandemics on the assumption
that disasters that are not man-made are, by definition, natural. This list is also limited to disasters
since 1900 — an arbitrary cut-off to be sure — but one made to reflect so-called "modern-day"
The death tolls from disasters in the long-distant past are, at best, rough estimates. But there can be
no doubt that our pre-1900 ancestors endured some appalling calamaties such as the bubonic plague
("The Black Death") that spread through Europe beginning in 1348 and wiped out an estimated one-
third of humanity, or about 25 million people.
Earthquakes and tsunamis
Oct. 8, 2005. At least 80,000 people were killed and three million left homeless after a quake struck
the mountaineous Kashmir district in Pakistan.
Dec. 26, 2004. A magnitude 9.0 quake struck off the coast of Sumatra, triggering tsunamis that
swept through the coastal regions of a dozen countries bordering the Indian Ocean. The death toll
has been estimated at between 225,000 and 275,000.
Dec. 26, 2003. An earthquake devastated the ancient city of Bam, in central Iran, leaving between
31,000 and 43,000 people dead.
Rosa Castillo cries in front of the remains of her house in Choluteca, in southern Honduras, Nov. 9,
1998. Neigbourhood were wiped out by the Choluteca river when the river overflowed due to heavy
rains caused by Tropical Storm Mitch. (Scott Dalton/Associated Press)
July 28, 1976. The 20th century's most devastating quake (magnitude 7.8) hit the sleeping city of
Tangshan in northeast China. The official death toll was 242,000. Unofficial estimates put the
number as high as 655,000.
Oct. 5, 1948 - More than 110,000 were killed when a 7.3 quake rolled through the area around
Ashgebat in Turkmenistan.
May 22, 1927. A magnitude 7.9 quake near Xining, China, killed 200,000
Sept. 1, 1923. A third of Tokyo and most of Yokohama were levelled when a magnitude 8.3
earthquake shook Japan. About 143,000 were killed as fires ravaged much of Tokyo.
Dec. 16, 1920. China was also the site for the world's third-deadliest quake of the 20th century. An
estimated 200,000 died when a magnitude 8.6 temblor hit Gansu, triggering massive landslides.
Dec. 28, 1908. Southern Italy was ravaged by a 7.2 magnitude quake that triggered a tsunami that
hit the Messina-Reggio-Calabria area, killing 123,000.
July 15, 1991. Mt. Pinatubo on Luzon Island in the Philippines erupted, blanketing 750 square
kilometres with volcanic ash. More than 800 died.
Nov. 13-14, 1985. At least 25,000 are killed near Armero, Colombia, when the Nevado del Ruiz
volcano erupted, triggering mudslides.
May 8, 1902. Mt. Pelee erupted on the Caribbean island of Martinique, destroying the capital city of
St. Pierre. Up to 40,000 were killed. The day before, a volcano had killed 1,600 people on the
nearby island of St. Vincent and five months later Mt. Santa Maria erupted in Guatemala, killing
(Two of the most famous eruptions took place before 1900. In 1883, two-thirds of the Indonesian
island of Krakatoa was destroyed when a volcano erupted. A resulting series of tsunamis killed more
than 36,000. In 79 CE, Mt. Vesuvius erupted in southern Italy, destroying the ancient Roman city of
Pompeii and two other communities. Thousands died.)
Hurricanes, cyclones and floods
May 3, 2008. Cyclone Nargis, swept along by winds that exceeded 190 kmh and waves six metres
high struck the Burmese peninsula and may have left as many as 100,000 dead, according to U.S.
Oct. 26-Nov. 4, 1998. Hurricane Mitch was the deadliest hurricane to hit the Americas. It killed
11,000 in Honduras and Nicaragua and left 2.5 million homeless.
Aug. 5, 1975. At least 85,000 were killed along the Yangtze River in China when more than 60
dams failed following a series of storms, causing widespread flooding and famine. This disaster was
kept secret by the Chinese government for 20 years.
August 1971. An estimated 100,000 died when heavy rains led to severe flooding around Hanoi in
what was then North Vietnam.
Nov. 13, 1970. The Bhola cyclone in the Ganges delta killed an estimated 500,000 in Bangladesh.
Some put the complete death toll as high as one million.
June, 1938. Nationalist Chinese soldiers, under the direction of Chiang Kai-Shek, blew up dikes
around the Yellow River to stop Japanese troops from advancing. More than half a million people
died in the resulting flood.
May-August 1931. Massive flooding of China's Yellow and Yangtze rivers led to almost four
million deaths from drowning, disease and starvation. The flooding of the Yangtze also killed an
estimated 100,000 in 1911 and 140,000 in 1935.
Pandemics and famines
1900 to present. Malaria is one of the leading causes of death in the developing world even though it
is curable and largely preventable. According to the World Health Organization, malaria causes
severe illness in 500 million people each year and kills more than a million annually.
1984-1985. Famine killed at least one million in Ethiopia as severe drought led to desperate food
1980 to present. Toll from AIDS worldwide since 1980 is estimated at 25 million, with 40 million
others infected with HIV.
1968. The Hong Kong flu became the third flu pandemic of the 20th century.
1965-67. Three years of drought in India resulted in an estimated 1.5 million deaths from starvation
and disease. Severe Indian droughts also killed millions in 1900 and 1942.
1959-1961. The "Great Leap Famine" cost an estimated 20 to 40 million lives in China as the
policies of Mao Zedong resulted in massive social and economic upheaval. China was also hit by
large famines in 1907, 1928-1930, 1936 and 1941-1942.
1957-1958. The Asian flu swept around the world, killing an estimated two million and making it
the second biggest flu pandemic of the century.
1932-1933. Failures in Soviet central planning and Stalin's decision to withhold food from the
Ukraine led to huge loss of life. At least five million Ukrainians were among the seven million
victims of that famine.
1921. A Soviet famine in 1921 began with a drought that caused massive crop failures. The initial
death toll was greatly magnified when Lenin refused to acknowledge the famine and sent no aid.
The Soviets later estimated that 5.1 million died.
1918-1919. An epidemic of "Spanish Flu" spread around the world. At least 20 million died,
although some estimates put the final toll at 50 million. It's estimated that between 20 per cent and
40 per cent of the entire world's population became sick.
Donor Proposal on Disaster Risk Reduction and Recovery:
Videos on Natural disaster prevention:
Humanitarian Response to Natural Disasters: