Ruins from the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, remembered as one of the worst natural disasters in United States history
A disaster is a natural or man-made (or technological) hazard resulting in an event of substantial extent causing significant physical damage or destruction, loss of life, or drastic change to the environment. A disaster can be ostensively defined as any tragic event stemming from events such as earthquakes, floods, catastrophic accidents, fires, or explosions. It is a phenomenon that disasters can cause damage to life, property and destroy the economic, social and cultural life of people.
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.
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A classic example is an earthquake that causes a tsunami, resulting in coastal flooding.
A natural disaster is a consequence when a natural hazard affects humans and/or the built environment. Human vulnerability, and 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.
Various phenomena like earthquakes, landslides, volcanic eruptions, floods and cyclones are all natural hazards that kill thousands of people and destroy billions of dollars of habitat and property each year. However, natural hazards can strike in unpopulated areas and never develop into disasters. However, the rapid growth of the world's population and its increased concentration often in hazardous environments has escalated both the frequency and severity of natural disasters. With the tropical climate and unstable land forms, coupled with deforestation, unplanned growth proliferation, non-engineered constructions which make the disaster-prone areas more vulnerable, tardy communication, poor or no budgetary allocation for disaster prevention, developing countries suffer more or less chronically by natural disasters. Asia tops the list of casualties due to natural disasters.
Man-made disasters are the consequence of technological or human hazards. Examples include stampedes, fires, transport accidents, industrial accidents, oil spills and nuclear explosions/radiation. War and deliberate attacks may also be put in this category. As with natural hazards, man-made hazards are events that have not happened, for instance terrorism. Man-made disasters are examples of specific cases where man-made hazards have become reality in an event.
Airplane crashes and terrorist attacks are examples of man-made disasters: they cause pollution, kill people, and damage property. This example is the September 11 attacks in 2001 at the World Trade Center in New York.