Natural disaster

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A natural disaster is a naturally occurring change in the surface of the earth or in the atmosphere , which has a devastating effect on living beings and in particular on humans and their way of life. Even if humans are not the cause of natural disasters, they can indirectly contribute to the effects of natural disasters or exacerbate them, for example through global warming , types of land use that favor disasters or settlement of particularly endangered areas such as low-lying coastal sections. Measures to avert natural disasters are taken within the framework of disaster control .

Concept of natural disaster

Natural disasters 1900–2000 (United Nations Environment Program / GRID-Arendal)
Natural disasters 1970–1989 (Blaikie / Cannon / Davis / Wisner 1995)

A spectacular natural event (for example a glacier collapse on Greenland ) is not enough for a natural disaster; In the narrower sense, a natural event can only become a catastrophe if it affects people and their way of life and modern, cultural habits. If, on the other hand, people are the cause of the disaster in nature, one speaks of an environmental disaster . Also epidemics ( epidemics ) and vermin plagues normally you do not count under the term, but rather other pest outbreaks , which primarily affect the economic life, and only as a consequence on health.

The period in which the changes take place ranges from seconds ( earthquakes ) to decades ( droughts , climatic fluctuations). The extent of the impact on humans underlies the term disaster . This can be ascertained as the number of disaster victims , as economic damage, but also as insurance damage .

Art. 2 (2) of Regulation (EC) No. 2012/2002 on the establishment of the European Union's Solidarity Fund defines the following as a "major disaster" or "exceptional catastrophe mainly of a natural nature" :

"A catastrophe that causes damage in at least one of the states affected, which is estimated at over 3 billion euros [...] or more than 0.6 percent of its GDP ."

The following are also listed:

A natural event in a region "which affects most of the population and has severe and lasting effects on the living conditions and the economic stability of the region."

This EU category includes around a dozen events in Europe over the past 100 years, of which the 2003 heat wave with 70,000 fatalities and the 2002 Elbe flood with damage amounting to around 18 billion euros are the most devastating. Worldwide, there are hundreds of such events during this period; the Kobe earthquake in 1995 and Hurricane Katrina in 2005 with economic damage of up to 100 billion US dollars are considered to be the most expensive disasters in history . It is hard to say what the most casualty natural disaster in history is; the droughts in India from 1965 to 1967 with around 1.5 million deaths, and the floods in India in 1955 with 45 million homeless - about early events there are seldom data on the number of victims, and hardly any monetary estimates, which are due to the uncertainties of the Do not have the assessment basis determined.

Factors of natural disasters

The consideration, analysis and assessment of natural disasters always depends on various factors. The most important factors are:

  • Global population increase ( exponential development). Example: in 1804 there were one billion people on earth, in 2012 there were already over 7 billion.
  • An overall rise in the standard of living in almost every country in the world leads to growing stocks of assets that are affected in the event of a disaster. This applies in particular to the case of insurance losses and distorts the assessment of events based on the sum of losses in favor of industrialized countries. On the other hand, consequential damage such as famine and epidemics decrease sharply as the standard of living rises.
  • Concentration of population and values ​​in metropolitan areas : the emergence of numerous megacities also in endangered regions (for example Tokyo : 35 million inhabitants).
  • Settlement and industrialization of highly exposed regions, especially on coasts , in river plains , tourism in danger zones , for example in Florida .
  • Susceptibility of modern societies and technologies, construction technology, devices, networks; Problems with suppliers too.
  • Worldwide changes in environmental conditions, climate change , water scarcity, loss of biodiversity .

Classification of various natural disasters

The following list is based on non-human (non-anthropogenic) causes. Many of these causes can, however, also be directly traced back to humans ( dikes and deforestation in the event of floods, overgrazing in the event of drought).

Endogenous / tectonic causes:

Gravitational causes:

Climatic causes:

Other causes:

Disaster statistics

In 2005, the World Bank published maps in its report Natural Disaster Hotspots: A Global Risk Analysis showing the distribution of risks on world maps. Several of them can be seen on the Columbia University website . According to the World Bank report published in 2016, an average of 17 million people were affected by natural disasters between 2005 and 2014; in the decade 1976 to 1985 there were 60 million people. At the same time, the costs incurred increased tenfold from 14 to more than 140 billion US dollars per year. Due to man-made global warming and the sharp increase in the world population and population density in many regions of the world, significantly more people will be affected by natural disasters in the future than before. If protective measures (i.e. climate protection and adaptation to global warming ) were not taken, around 1.3 billion people could be threatened by natural disasters by 2050 and the costs by then amount to 158 trillion US dollars. This is about double the current world national product . Damage costs in the most affected coastal cities could rise from $ 6 billion in 2010 to $ 1 trillion in 2070.

Larger insurance groups usually keep geographically organized risk statistics, which they use as a basis for calculating insurance premiums . The EM-DAT OFDA / CRED International Disasters Database of the World Health Organization has been documenting global disasters since 1888. Accordingly, a total of 9195 major catastrophes occurred between 1900, 2000 and 2003, each with at least 10 deaths. Of these, weather catastrophes had the highest proportion with 57 percent, no 20 percent were of geological origin (volcanic eruptions, earthquakes), as were the tsunamis, which are included in the geological category; the rest were biological disasters (epidemics and plagues ).


In List on Sylt there is an "Adventure Center Forces of Nature".

See also


  • Internationale Forschungsgesellschaft Interpraevent (Ed.): Alpine natural disasters - avalanches, mudslides, rockfalls, floods. Leopold Stocker, Graz 2009 ( online )
  • Nicolai Hannig: Calculated dangers. Natural disasters and preparedness since 1800 . Wallstein, Göttingen 2019.
  • Gerrit Jasper Schenk (Ed.): Disasters. From the fall of Pompeii to climate change. Thorbecke, Ostfildern 2009.
  • Trevor Day: Fascination with the forces of nature. An impressive journey around the world. Dorling Kindersley Verlag, Munich 2002, ISBN 3-8310-0268-1 .
  • Michael Matheus , Gabriella Piccinni, Giuliano Pinto, Gian Maria Varanini (eds.): Le calamità ambientali nel tardo medioevo europeo: realtà, percezioni, reazioni, Atti del XII convegno del Centro di Studi sulla civiltà del tardo medioevo maggio, S. Miniato 31 - 2 giugno 2008. (Collana di Studi e Ricerche 12), Florence 2010.
  • Lee Davis: The Great Lexicon of Natural Disasters. Verlag für Collectors, Graz 2003, ISBN 978-3-85365-199-5 .

Web links

Wiktionary: Natural disaster  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
 Wikinews: Natural Disasters  - In The News

Individual evidence

  1. Regulation (EC) No. 2012/2002 (PDF) of the Council of 11 November 2002 on the establishment of the European Union Solidarity Fund.
  2. Solidarity Fund of the European Union ( Memento of the original from April 21, 2009 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. , SCADplus. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  3. Natural Disaster Hotspots on
  4. ^ Larry Elliott: Climate change puts 1.3bn people and $ 158tn at risk, says World Bank. In: The Guardian , May 16, 2016. From, accessed January 28, 2019.