The definition of a “Disaster”

Disaster derives from the Latin words “dis” and “astro”, meaning bad star. It refers to an ancient belief, that when the stars are in a bad position, unfortunate events are going to occur.
The term doesn’t define an event itself, but the impacts of a natural or man-made event leading to damage of living beings and their environment, eventually endangering their survival.

Natural disasters aren’t caused by human beings, but by geological transformations or climatic conditions, but still can be influenced by humankind; either by environmental impacts inciting or enforcing a natural disaster, or by settlements in dangerously exposed areas. A natural event that did not damage living beings, wouldn’t be named a disaster.
Natural disasters can be split into three specific groups:

  • Hydro-meteorological disasters such as, floods, wave surges, storms, droughts, extreme temperatures, landslides and avalanches.
  • Geophysical disasters such as, earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic and limnic eruptions.
  • Biological disasters including, epidemics and insect infestations.
  • A technical or environmental disaster that is caused by a failure of man-made appliances – nuclear or chemical accidents, or for example, the drowning of a ship.
  • Disasters of social origin manifest themselves in wars, terrorism, civil outrages, etc.


Catastrophe derives from the Greek words “kata” for “completely” and “stréphein” for “to turn”, “katastrephein” meaning “to turn around” and the Latin word “catastropha” expressing “destruction”.
It can refer to the event of a disaster as a well as to the turning point in a Greek tragedy.
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