One can reasonably argue that there is no such thing as a natural disaster despite the widespread use of the term in the media, by UN agencies, NGOs and many others.
Disasters result when a natural or man-made hazard affects a human settlement which is not appropriately resourced or organized to withstand the impact, and whose population is vulnerable because of poverty, exclusion or socially disadvantaged in some way.
A natural hazard becomes a disaster when it combines with exposure and vulnerability to cause loss of life, hurt and injury to people, along with economic loss.
If a storm peters out in the middle of the Atlantic or a flash flood courses through an empty desert, the result is not a disaster. It’s just weather.
Efforts to replace the term “natural disasters” have been underway since the end of the International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction in the ‘90s.
If such a decade were launched today, we would call it the International Decade for Disaster Risk Reduction.
Over the last twenty years thinking about how to reduce disaster losses has greatly expanded beyond a simple focus on disaster management to consideration of all the other elements that contribute to increasing the risk of loss of life, injury, damage to critical infrastructure and economic losses when disaster strikes.
Most of this risk accumulating in society is because of weak disaster risk governance which amounts to a lack of risk-informed planning and public engagement along with failure to respond to scientific evidence and clear warning signals about pending threats notably global warming and the climate emergency.
Unfortunately, there are many risks in our contemporary world, including poverty and inequality, environmental degradation, rapid and unplanned urbanization, weak building codes, population growth in hazard-exposed areas and the spread of zoonotic diseases such as COVID-19.