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KEY TERMS

HAZARDS, DISASTERS &


RISK


ENVIRONMENTAL HAZARD
A natural hazard is any natural process or phenomenon that may cause loss of life, injury or other health impacts,
property damage, loss of livelihoods and services, social and economic disruption or environmental damage;
United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction, 2009

The chief features of environmental hazards are
The origin of the event is unclear, and produces known threats to human life or well being
The warning time is normally short (the events are often rapid onset)
Most of the direct losses, whether to life or property, are suffered shortly after the event
The human exposure to the hazard is largely involuntary, due to the location of people in a hazardous
area
The resulting disaster justifies an emergency response, sometimes on an international humanitarian
scale
Uncertainty about, and wide variations in loss from year to
year make risk assessment and loss reduction difficult

Human sensitivity to environmental hazards is determined by the
physical exposure of people and their assets to potentially damaging
events and by the degree of human vulnerability (or resilience) to
such damaging events. They factors are dynamic and change
through space and time.

Often we find that industrialised nations have invested heavily to reduce exposure and vulnerability by
improving environmental security e.g. although Japan is a mountainous country exposed to multiple hazards
earthquakes, tsunamis, tropical cyclones, flooding, snow storms but they have many protective measures (e.g.
protective structures and safety strategies) to curb disaster losses. Conversely, poor countries with high
exposure to risk find it difficult to fund hazard protection and to reduce exposure. The resulting high level of
vulnerability means that their disaster losses are disproportionately high when compared with the damage
inflicted on resource rich nations.
Risks from natural hazards are part of every day life for many communities, whether it is from floods, storms,
tsunami, landslides, severe weather or earthquakes. Awareness and understanding of risk and effective risk
management is therefore necessary to reduce the vulnerability of our communities.

HAZARDS, RISK & DISASTER
In order of decreasing severity of impact, environmental hazards create the following threats:
1. To people death, injury, disease, mental stress
2. To goods property damage, economic loss
3. To environment loss of flora and fauna, pollution, loss of amenity
Threats to human life are normally given the highest priority, flowed by losses to material assets. Most
disasters are characterised by a minimum level of human mortality. Fatalities and economic damages can be
assessed directly by counting deaths and monetary losses after a disaster. Impact on the environment is much
more difficult to assess.
Hazard or disaster can be ranked according to impact criteria, and the probability of a hazardous event can be
placed on a scale from zero to certainty (1). The relationship between a hazard and its probability can then be
used to determine the overall level of risk
Risk is sometimes taken as synonymous with hazard, but risk has the additional implication of the statistical
chance of experiencing a particular hazards. Hazard is best viewed as a naturally occurring, or human induced
process with the potential to create loss, i.e. a general source of future danger. Risk is the actual exposure of
something of human value to a hazard and is often measured as the product of probability and loss.

Thus we define hazards the cause, as:
A potential threat to humans and their welfare arising from a dangerous phenonmenon or
substance that may cause loss of life, injury, property damage and other community losses
or damage.

Then risk the likely consequence becomes
The combination of the probability of a hazardous event and its negative consequences.
Risk not only represents the possibility that a hazard event could occur, but also its
likelihood and consequences. There are many ways it can impact a community, from the
destruction of property and infrastructure, through to injuries and casualties, to
influencing economic activity.

The difference between hazard and risk can be illustrated by two people crossing an ocean. One in a large ship
and the other in a rowing boat. The hazard (deep water and large waves) is the same in both cases, but the risk
(probability of capsize and drowning) is much greater for the person in the rowing boat.

This analogy shows that, while the type of danger posed by earthquakes for example may be similar
throughout the world, people in the poorer, less developed countries are often more vulnerable and at greater
risk than those in more developed countries.
When large numbers of people are killed, injured or otherwise adversely affected the event is termed a disaster.
Unlike a hazard or a risk, a disaster is an actual happening, rather than a potential threat. So, we may broadly
identify disaster the actual consequence as:
A serious disruption of the functioning of a community or society involving widespread
human, material, economic or environmental losses or impacts which exceed the ability
of the affected community or society to cope using its own resources
Environmental hazards stem from natural events, but disasters are a social phenomenon which occur when a
community suffers exceptional levels of disruption and loss. Although hazardous events can occur in an
uninhabited region, risk and disaster can only exist in areas where people and their possessions are located.










RISK MANAGEMENT
Risk management is a way of preparing a community by employing measures to minimise impacts, and preparing them to
cope with impacts. This includes planning to minimise impacts, well prepared emergency plans and measures to protect
the most vulnerable people of the community.
Risk mitigation (i.e. moderating the severity of a hazard impact) is the main objective of risk management. It aims to
reduce the physical and economic impacts of an event and limit the human, material, economic and environmental costs of
an emergency or disaster. Therefore, it is necessary to have good information on the costs of natural disasters. These are
estimated with a risk analysis.
Following the risk analysis, the risks are evaluated in a risk assessment process to decide whether they are
tolerable/acceptable. Both risk analysis and assessment are normally part of an integrated risk management process and
produce crucial information that is relevant to decision makers for identifying viable options for risk reduction.
RISK ANALYSIS
Risk analyses have become almost a standard procedure in dealing with natural hazards. Understanding risk relates to the
ability to define what could happen in the future, given a range of possible alternatives to choose from.
To analyse the risk, vulnerability, exposure and coping capacity of a community, scientists use models and historic data to
learn about possible hazard scenarios. The more is known about an area, the more reliable the results: therefore surveys
of the local infrastructure and buildings, as well as monitoring the local weather conditions, are essential. For one single
type of hazard, it is often possible to apply basic science from other hazards that have similar impacts. All components of
risk including exposure and vulnerability can be analysed quantitatively, semi-quantitatively or qualitatively. Each method
has its advantages and disadvantages.
Qualitative analyses require little data and relatively few resources; however, they are often very subjective, and are not
suited for a subsequent cost-benefit analysis. Quantitative analyses need extensive input data and are very resource-
intensive, but they have the advantage that the results are comparable across different hazards, much more detailed,
standardised and objective.
The selection of the appropriate method depends on the available resources, what level of detail is required and the data
availability. It is important to understand that data input requirements, constraints and limitations influence the outputs
and hence reliability and accuracy.
RISK ASSESSMENT
The purpose of risk evaluation is to make decisions, based
on the results of the risk analysis, about which risks need
treatment and where the priorities are. The outcome of
the risk analysis is normally compared with risk criteria
that were defined earlier in the process. These criteria
define what risks are tolerable or acceptable, taking into
account the community's social, cultural, environmental
and economic situation

TASK:
1)Define the terms: hazard, disaster
and risk
2) What is meant by vulnerability?
3) In what ways can we reduce
vulnerability or risk?