A serious disruption of the functioning of a community or a society at any scale due to hazardous events interacting with conditions of exposure, vulnerability and capacity, leading to one or more of the following: human, material, economic and environmental losses and impacts.

Annotations: The effect of the disaster can be immediate and localized, but is often widespread and could last for a long period of time. The effect may test or exceed the capacity of a community or society to cope using its own resources, and therefore may require assistance from external sources, which could include neighbouring jurisdictions, or those at the national or international levels.

Emergency is sometimes used interchangeably with the term disaster, as, for example, in the context of biological and technological hazards or health emergencies, which, however, can also relate to hazardous events that do not result in the serious disruption of the functioning of a community or society.

Disaster damage occurs during and immediately after the disaster. This is usually measured in physical units (e.g., square meters of housing, kilometres of roads, etc.), and describes the total or partial destruction of physical assets, the disruption of basic services and damages to sources of livelihood in the affected area.

Disaster impact is the total effect, including negative effects (e.g., economic losses) and positive effects (e.g., economic gains), of a hazardous event or a disaster. The term includes economic, human and environmental impacts, and may include death, injuries, disease and other negative effects on human physical, mental and social well-being.

For the purpose of the scope of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030 (para. 15), the following terms are also considered:

  • Small-scale disaster: a type of disaster only affecting local communities which require assistance beyond the affected community.
  • Large-scale disaster: a type of disaster affecting a society which requires national or international assistance.
  • Frequent and infrequent disasters: depend on the probability of occurrence and the return period of a given hazard and its impacts. The impact of frequent disasters could be cumulative, or become chronic for a community or a society.
  • A slow-onset disaster is defined as one that emerges gradually over time. Slow-onset disasters could be associated with, e.g., drought, desertification, sea-level rise, epidemic disease.
  • A sudden-onset disaster is one triggered by a hazardous event that emerges quickly or unexpectedly. Sudden-onset disasters could be associated with, e.g., earthquake, volcanic eruption, flash flood, chemical explosion, critical infrastructure failure, transport accident.
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