What is the meaning of disaster and how it has changed over historical time?
One of the most difficult concepts to define is disaster. A several attempts have been made by social scientist through history to define this complicated concept but all of these attempts faced the problem of either it is too broad or too narrow. However, it is very important to define and identify the meaning of disaster. The reason behind its importance is to give us a clear understanding of the concept in order to easily product and prepare for its outcome. It will be the aim of this paper to define and analyse the meaning of disaster. Also, it will present several examples of several types of disaster in different period of time. Moreover, it will show how the definition of disaster changed throughout the history. Another, this essay will discuss the impact of disaster on people and the economy. Finally, it will briefly argue the social norms resulting from disaster.
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The Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters CRED, defines disaster as a “situation or event which overwhelms local capacity, necessitating a request to a national or international level for external assistance; an unforeseen and often sudden event that causes great damage, destruction and human suffering.” At the same point, another definition of disaster was defined by United Nation the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction. The organization defined the phenomenon as follows; “A disaster takes place when the following three conditions occur at the same time: When people live in hazardous places like, for example, close to an active volcano, on unstable slopes where landslides are likely to happen, or close to rivers which could flood. When a hazardous phenomenon occurs, be it natural or human-made. When the phenomenon also causes a lot of damage, especially where no preventive measures have been taken.”
Moreover, the Oxford English Dictionary defines disaster as it is “A sudden accident or a natural catastrophe that causes great damage or loss of life; also, an event or fact leading to ruin or failure.”Moreover, the German Red Cross defines disaster as an “extraordinary situation in which the everyday lives of people are suddenly interrupted and thus protection, nutrition, clothing, housing, medical and social aid or other vital necessities are requested.” All of the previous definitions agree on one fact that disaster cause shock and stress for its victims and on the other hand, disasters always associated with destroying economy, property and significant amount of lives. Thus, it is very important to understand the definition of disaster.
After presenting several definitions of the concept of disaster I will present some examples of disaster which will help us in distinguishing and knowing the concept more clearly. Further, it is very important to know the difference amongst any personal tragedy, an emergency and a real disaster. With regard to that, a fire in a house which can be caused by accident even if no one injured still it is considered to be a personal tragedy to some people when in fact it is not. As an instance, Hurricanes, earthquakes, Floods, volcano and Tornadoes are considered to be disasters which made by nature. On the other hand, the man-made disasters can be classified under Crimes, Arsons, War and Terrorism. However, since the 20th century most of the disaster that occurred was a man-made disasters even when the nature play a big role in spreading hazard and threatening people lives, still to some of us disasters which made by a man is what matter and what take all the blame.
The cause of disaster can be divided in to three types such as, man-made and nature made disasters. At the same point, in ancient times any natural disasters occur in people society they consider it as a God-made disaster or some kind of miracles. As an example, in ancient times, especially in the days of Moses, may peace be upon him, they faced years of wrath and years of cams and drought due to lack of Nile water and the inaccessibility of the sky rain than usual. Further, when Moses walked with his people towards the Gulf of Suez and followed by Pharaoh to eliminate them then God revealed to Moses thus; “Then We revealed to Musa: Strike the sea with your staff. So it had cloven asunder, and each part was like a huge mound. (63)” Meaning, the understanding of people about the concept of disaster has changed through time. In the 18th century, the technology and the high standard level of education we have now did not exist back then; also, people were more attached to church and god more than people do now.
Taking into account, the church’s role in influencing many people in terms of placing religious believes in them and linking the occurrence of disasters to God-making; also, when disaster happened to them the church believe God made it as a result of people sins. While, now a days people are more distant from God so instead they blame man or government as an alternative from blaming God. Simply, to some people it is easier to blame a man and governments than blaming nature or God. As an example, no good can come from blaming nature or God but blaming man is much easier.
After examining the causes of disaster and the several types of it, I will present several outcomes that result from this phenomenon and how these outcomes changed over the history and recent days. Disasters have a significant impact not only on people but also on the country with all of its contents. For example, natural disaster such as Hurricanes can ruin people and country property as well as the economy. Furthermore, by ruining the economy of the state that is also means the future of this country is ruined at the same time. According to WBDRM, the World Bank’s Disaster Risk Management, “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 in developing countries than in industrialized countries.” As an example, Japan and the atomic bomb that hits Hiroshima in the 6th of August 1945. This bomb was a tragedy in human lives. However, Japan lost more than the 140,000 of people that died when the bomb located in Hiroshima, Japan also had a long term effect from that incident. Plus the high number of death, the Japanese society have severely affected in a very disturbing way.
With defining disaster we have to consider and think of the social norm that comes with it. Before analysing the social norms we have to know the meaning of it. Social Norms can be defined as “the rules that a group uses for appropriate and inappropriate values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviours.” Moreover, a descriptive norm is a type of social norms and it can be “refers to people’s perceptions of what is commonly done in specific situations.” A specific situation means that when a disaster appeared in people lives what matter is their reaction to the crisis.
I personally believe that our perspective and understanding to the concept of disaster has changed through the history and that because everything has changed. Things like people attitude, education level, governments greed and Media. As an example, let us consider the events of 9/11 on the US; it was immediately attached to the work of terror and blames it on man. However, the US reaction was completely irrelevant when they invaded Iraq and that when all of the political analysis agreed that the main reason behind the US government action was the oil. Another example of that, Hitler obsession with oil and his decision to attack the Soviet Union was due to several factors. One of which was economics. There were plenty of oil fields and that is when Hitler saw the resources as sacred in order to make his empire “invulnerable”. That was one of many examples showing the man greediness and where it can lead.
What is more, proving that people attitude towards the concept of disaster have changed; after the bombing on Hiroshima in Japan, the Japanese took all of their rage and anger and used it to developed there country. And just within 7 years Japan healed and moved on and now it considers being the second country in the world with the strong economy. Simply, the history repeats its self and we have to learn the mistakes from the history and learn from them instead of repeating them.
To conclude, it is not easy to define and understand disasters and it outcomes, however, with all the attempts to define this dangerous phenomenon all of the previous definitions agreed on only shock, hazards and loses of lives can result from disaster. Further, disasters either God-made, man-made or nature-made all of them have the same outcomes in terms of losing significant amount of damage on the society and it citizens. With regard to that, people are more pessimistic than before and with more negative attitude towards crisis; as well as their reaction towards it. Japan incident is an important example, which we have to learn from it and people have to move on instead of holding grudge against each other’s and use that anger to build a better society because humans vulnerability with disaster is what considered to be an emergency.
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Quarantelli, E.L. What is a disaster: perspectives on the question. Routledge: London. (1998). P 14.
 The holy Quran. Surat: Ash-Shu’ara 26, Aya (63).
http://web.worldbank.org/WBSITE/EXTERNAL/TOPICS/EXTURBANDEVELOPMENT/EXTDISMGMT/0,,menuPK:341021~pagePK:149018~piPK:149093~theSitePK:341015,00.html. Accessed: 2nd of Dec/2009.
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 Daniel Yergin, The Prize. P 334.
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