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Natural disasters: Taking precautions, providing emergency aid

In recent years, the frequency of natural disasters has increased significantly. Many economically weak countries in Africa, South America and Asia are especially prone to destructive natural events which threaten the lives of many people.

Unforeseeable disasters such as floods or earthquakes have devastating consequences: Thousands often lose their homes and all their belongings.

Many communities and institutions in at-risk regions are not sufficiently prepared for natural disasters. This is why we support the people on the ground to take precautionary and protective measures against future natural disasters.

We sensitize the population to the impending dangers and in this way, and by providing rapid emergency aid after an event, help to reduce damage and suffering in the event of a disaster. In order to be able to implement our aid projects, we urgently need your donations. We use them where assistance is most urgently needed.

What is a natural disaster?

An earthquake in Indonesia triggered a devastating tsunami in 2018. Photo: YAKKUM

As soon as a violent natural event has destructive and far-reaching effects on the earth's surface, people and other living beings, we speak of a natural disaster. In contrast, one speaks of an environmental disaster when the disaster was caused by humans themselves.

A natural event in itself is not a disaster, especially if the event occurs away from populated areas.

For example, an icefall or an avalanche in uninhabited areas does not pose an immediate threat to humans. However, since such powerful events are difficult to control and can quickly become a danger due to their high energy, they are nevertheless serious forces of nature.

Natural disasters are so devastating because they usually occur unpredictably and the consequences are unpredictable.

Some natural events can be detected earlier than others. As a rule, it is very difficult to take precautions for such emergency situations.

While there are early warning systems that detect specific natural events such as earthquakes, they mostly kick in just before the disaster. This short  period of time is only sufficient to issue warnings and initiate initial protective measures.

In recent years the frequency of yearly natural disasters has increased significantly: According to Munich Re the number of annual natural disasters has more than doubled in the last 40 years. Since 2012 there have been more than 700 natural disasters worldwide in almost every year. Natural disasters are mainly caused by the advance of climate change and natural processes that humans cannot influence. Human intervention in nature also contributes to an increase in the risk of natural disasters.

The most frequent natural disasters

There are several types of natural disasters that have different effects on people and the environment.

The most common natural disasters are floods, storms, earthquakes and droughts. The number of floods, in particular, has increased significantly in recent years, as water levels are rising rapidly due to climate change, human intervention in natural watercourses and heavy precipitation.

In addition, forest fires, volcanic eruptions, landslides and extreme temperatures also count as natural disasters, even though they occur much more rarely.

According to the CRED (Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters) the following natural disasters occur most frequently:

  • Floods (most frequent natural disaster overall) Storms
  • Earthquakes
  • Extreme temperatures Landslides
  • Droughts
  • Forest fires
  • Volcanic eruptions
     

While destructive natural events are rare in many countries, others are particularly vulnerable to disasters and extreme weather events.  Countries in high-risk regions of Africa, South America and Asia are particularly at risk of disasters such as floods, droughts, earthquakes and tsunamis. For example, long periods of drought are a major threat to the population, particularly in Africa, while hurricanes and earthquakes are becoming more frequent in Central America and Asia.

Water shortage due to droughts

Long periods of drought are a disaster for the population of the affected countries: Important sources of drinking water dry up, animals die and many people lose all means of livelihood. Water shortages and food shortages cause famines, with particularly grievous consequences for children.

 

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Devastating consequences and magnitude of natural disasters

If international aid is requested after a natural disaster, we help directly on site. Photo: Jana Asenbrennerova/Malteser International

The impact of a disaster depends mainly on the nature, intensity and origin of the natural event.

In most cases, natural disasters cause massive damage and result in injuries and deaths.

The consequences are devastating for the people: Floods or earthquakes destroy fields and livestock, water sources, houses or entire villages, causing many people to lose their livelihoods. Periods of drought and extreme temperatures rob the victims of their food resources and lead to water shortages and famine.

The worst disaster in the last few decades was the tsunami in the Indian Ocean in 2004. The earthquake, the resulting tsunami and several aftershocks claimed a total of around 230,000 lives. Over 100,000 were injured and more than 1.7 million coastal residents lost their homes.

Not all countries are in a position to care for people after such events, to repair the damage on their own and to better prepare for future disasters. If international aid is requested after a natural disaster, we help directly on site to support the people and assist them in reconstruction.

Protection through disaster preparedness: Preparing for emergencies

In many countries, especially in economically weaker states, there is a lack of precautionary and protective measures in the event of a natural disaster. Disaster preparedness is particularly important to prepare people for dangerous natural events and thus limit damage and suffering.

We use targeted measures to help people on the ground to identify the risks and develop appropriate emergency plans. We pay particular attention to particularly vulnerable groups, such as the elderly or people with disabilities, for whom we offer specially designed training courses.

In addition to these training courses, disaster prevention includes construction measures and programmes to strengthen the local community.  We sensitize the population about potential disasters so that rapid action can be taken in the event of an emergency.

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