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How to keep disaster at bay

12 Jul 2021

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What is a disaster?

As a record heatwave grips Western Canada and the West coast of the United States, local authorities are providing cooling centres and free cold drinks to senior citizens and people vulnerable to excessive heat.

These are ways to help avert or reduce the chances of a disaster. But this heatwave is not a disaster. It is a hazard.

People often mistakenly refer to a hazard as a disaster.

A hazard is a process, phenomenon or human activity that may cause death, injury or other health impacts, property damage, social and economic disruption, or environmental degradation. The above-mentioned heatwave is a prime example.

A disaster occurs when there is a serious disruption in the way we function as a community or a society because of how a hazardous event, such as a flood, heatwave, drought or earthquake, impacts us. “Impact” is the key word here.

We saw it last year when a record 30 named storms hit Central America, devastating homes and families. And floods in East Africa through to the Sahel affected millions of people, forcing many to flee their homes.

How hazards affect us depends on a combination of three things: exposure, vulnerability and capacity.

Read on Exposure