Disaster is a sudden, calamitous event bringing great damage, loss, and destruction and devastation to life and property. The damage caused by disasters is immeasurable and varies with the geographical location, climate and the type of the earth surface/degree of vulnerability. This influences the mental, socio-economic, political and cultural state of the affected area. Generally, disaster has the following effects in the concerned areas:

  • It completely disrupts the normal day to day life
  • It negatively influences the emergency systems
  • Normal needs and processes like food, shelter, health, etc. are affected and deteriorate depending on the intensity and severity of the disaster.

It may also be termed as “a serious disruption of the functioning of society, causing widespread human, material or environmental losses which exceed the ability of the affected society to cope using its own resources.”

Thus, a disaster may have the following main features:-

  • Unpredictability
  • Unfamiliarity
  • Speed
  • Urgency
  • Uncertainty
  • Threat

Disasters are classified in various ways :-

  • Natural disasters and Man made disasters
  • Sudden disasters and Slow onset disasters

Disasters include tornadoes, fires, hurricanes, floods/sea surges/tsunamis, snow storms, earthquakes, landslides, severe air pollution (smog), heat waves, epidemics, building collapse, toxicological accidents (e.g. release of hazardous substances), nuclear accidents, explosions, civil disturbances, water contamination and existing or anticipated food shortages.

Effects Of Major Disasters

Disasters throughout  history have had significant impact on the numbers, health status and life style of populations.

  • Severe injuries, requiring extensive treatments
  • Increased risk of communicable diseases
  • Damage to the health facilities
  • Damage to the water systems
  • Food shortage
  • Population movements

Health problems common to all Disasters:

  • Social reactions
  • Communicable diseases
  • Population displacements
  • Climatic exposure
  • Food and nutrition
  • Water supply and sanitation
  • Mental health
  • Damage to health infrastructure

Recent Natural Disasters around the Globe

The most recent natural disasters of year 2011 are Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami of Japan and Christchurch earthquake New Zealand.

Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami

Although being the best earthquake prepared nations in the world, the most powerful earthquake of Japan (magnitude 8.8) that struck it on Friday 11th March, at 1446 local time (0546 GMT), highlighted the fact that the risks posed by such natural disasters can overthrow any human preparedness. The quake that hit about 400 km (250 miles) north-east of Tokyo, triggered a massive tsunami that swept almost everything that came in its path. The Japanese National Police Agency has confirmed 12,554 deaths,[2,869 injured,[ and 15,073 people missing across eighteen prefectures, as well as over 125,000 buildings damaged or destroyed.

Previously, Japan had experienced one of the deadliest earthquakes in the 20th century on 1 September 1923. Known as the Great Kanto earthquake, this earthquake hit the Kanto plain, destroying Tokyo and several parts of Yokohama. Nearly 1,40,000 people had died in this worst earthquake measured at 7.9 in magnitude on the Richter scale. Although the earthquake that struck Japan on 11th March is the worst in its history, we can only pray the causalities are minimum.

Christchurch earthquake

The 2011 Christchurch earthquake was a 6.3-magnitude earthquake that struck the Canterbury region in New Zealand's South Island at 12:51 pm on 22 February 2011 local time (23:51 21 February UTC),causing widespread damage and multiple fatalities. The earthquake was centered 2 kilometres (1.2 mi) west of the town of Lyttelton, and 10 kilometres (6 mi) south-east of the centre of Christchurch, New Zealand's second-most populous city. There were quite a number of 2010 natural disasters, the aftermath of which people are still facing.

Haiti Earthquake

The Haiti earthquake occurred around the 12th of January, 2010. This earthquake had a magnitude of 7.0 Mw and its epicenter was near the town of Leogane. Within the next 12 days i.e. within 24th of January, there were at least 52 aftershocks, each shock measuring around 4.5 and plus on the Richter scale. Roughly 3 million people were affected and 230,000 people had died, 1,000,000 people were homeless and the loss to property was immense. All sorts of communication was hampered.

Pakistan Floods

Another 2010 natural disaster was the flood in Pakistan. In July 2010, due to heavy monsoons in the area of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan, Sindh and Punjab, in Pakistan, nearly one fifth of the total land area in Pakistan went under water. Around 2000 people lost their lives in the flood, the country's economy was affected, infrastructure and property were also destroyed. This was a recent natural disaster in 2010.

The prevalence and magnitude of these natural disasters have clearly had serious consequences for many societies, national economies, and the global environment. Natural disasters have increased noticeably in frequency and severity all over the world. The exponential increase in economic losses associated with natural hazards in the developing countries poses a major obstacle to development. Thus, the devastation caused by natural disasters and the economic uncertainties they create have had an adverse effect on the ability of developing countries to compete in the global economy.

Disaster and Bangladesh Situation

Bangladesh is most vulnerable to several natural disasters and every year natural calamities upset people's lives in some part of the country. The major disasters concerned here are the occurrences of flood, cyclone and storm surge, flash flood, drought, tornado, riverbank erosion, and landslide. These extreme natural events are termed disasters when they adversely affect the whole environment, including human beings, their shelters, or the resources essential for their livelihood. Since Bangladesh is a disaster prone country, it is subject to colossal damages to life and property almost every year. The different types of disasters and their major impacts are:

Loss of agricultural production, disruption of communication and livelihood system, injury, damage and destruction of immobile infrastructure, disruption to essential services, national economic loss, evacuation, and loss of human lives and biodiversity, displacement and sufferings of human population and biodiversity.

Climatic change poses a significant risk to Bangladesh, affecting many sectors. This includes water resources, agriculture and food security, the eco-system and biodiversity, human health and the coastal zones. Agriculture is the dominant sector of the economy, involving 80 per cent of the total population and contributing to 25 per cent of the gross domestic product. Disasters like floods and cyclones cause substantial damage to standing crops, causing food insecurity and unemployment. As a result, the standard of living is affected by the extensive damage to livelihoods.

Each year in Bangladesh about 26,000 km2, (around 18%) of the country is flooded, so far killing over 5000 people and destroying 7 million homes. During severe floods the affected area may exceed 75% of the country, as was seen in 1998. This volume is 95% of the total annual inflow. By comparison only about 187,000 million m3, of streamflow is generated by rainfall inside the country during the same period. The floods have caused devastation in Bangladesh throughout history, especially during the years 1966, 1987, 1998 and 1988. The 2007 South Asian floods also affected a large portion of Bangladesh.

Most Recent Disasters in Bangladesh

Cyclone in 2009

On May 25, Tropical Cyclone Aila made landfall in Bangladesh with winds speeds of more than 100 km per hour.  Associated tidal surges and flooding resulted in the deaths of 131 individuals and affected more than 3 million people in Barisal and Chittagong divisions, according to the Government of Bangladesh’s (GoB) Disaster Management Bureau (DMB).  GoB authorities evacuated more than 500,000 people to shelters in the affected coastal area before the cyclone made landfall.  According to the DMB, the cyclone affected 14 districts, including the most affected districts of Bagerhat, Barguna, Barisal, Bhola, Khulna, Pirojpur, Patuakhali, and Satkhira in Barisal Division.  The DMB reports that the cyclone damaged or destroyed more than 520,886 houses and 400,689 acres of agricultural crops in affected areas, in addition to resulting in significant infrastructure damage and livestock loss.

On May 28, U.S. Ambassador James F. Moriarty declared a disaster in response to the damage caused by Tropical Cyclone Aila.  In response, USAID/OFDA is provided $100,000 through USAID/Bangladesh to CARE and World Vision for emergency assistance to affected populations.

Food Crisis, 2008

Every 40 to 50 years, bamboo indigenous to the Chittagong Hill Tracts in southeastern Bangladesh flowers simultaneously. Rodents consume the bamboo flowers and fruits, leading the rat population to multiply at many times the normal rate. The rats completely consume the bamboo in affected areas, then destroy crops and food stockpiles. According to the U.N. Development Program, the rodent infestation affected approximately 128,000 people in 572 villages, while destroying 80 to 100 percent of crops in affected areas. On April 12, the GOB requested donor assistance.

On April 24, U.S. Ambassador James F. Moriarty issued a disaster declaration due to the effects of food insecurity resulting from the rodent infestation. In response, USAID/OFDA provided $100,000 through USAID/Bangladesh to CARE for the local purchase and distribution of seeds to affected populations in the Chittagong Hill Tracts.

Cyclone ‘Sidr’ in 2007

On November 15, Tropical Cyclone Sidr made landfall in southern Bangladesh with winds of 155 miles per hour. The cyclone has resulted in approximately 3,500 deaths, according to media reports. The Government of Bangladesh’s (GOB) Disaster Management Information Center reported 2,625 officially confirmed deaths as of 1800 hours local time on November 19. The GOB evacuated approximately 3.2 million people from along the coastlines of 15 districts before the cyclone made landfall. Precise damage assessments were delayed due to damaged communication and transportation infrastructure.

Courtesy: USAID

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