A disaster means a catastrophe that can be either natural or caused by humans, that can affect negatively life or industries. Disasters often lead to permanent changes in human societies, ecosystems and the environment. Actually the fast development of the humankind has been largely due to huge natural disasters that have wiped out millions of humans and left alive only the ones that have been able to adapt to new conditions.
A disaster is an event that has terrible consequences. They can reveal the vulnerability of the delicate balance that is needed to survive and prosper on planet Earth. One of the most well known disasters caused by man, Chernobyl nuclear disaster, caused the whole town of Pripyat to be abandoned after one of the nuclear plants exploded. The radiation that was released in that accident was about 500 times greater than the atomic bomb called Little Boy that was dropped on Hiroshima.
Today, disasters appear all over the media and they fascinate many people. In the past, disasters were a major source for myths and legends. Unlike accidents, disasters have resulted in new kind of thinking on ways to implement to avoid or to mitigate the effects of natural disasters. New principles of precaution and prevention are created all the time, affecting also legal constraints.
Disasters and international humanitarian law
According to the Geneva Conventions, Additional Protocol 1 (1977), destruction of civilian infrastructures such as dams, dikes and nuclear power plants is prohibited and constitutes a war crime if it is likely to cause severe losses to the civilian population are severe damage to civilian property. The status of the International Criminal Court adds the serious and lasting damage to the natural environment.
The principle of proportionality does not tolerate such attacks if the concrete and direct military advantage is well above disadvantages to civilian populations and the environment.
Nowadays one of the most controversial topics regarding disasters are the melting of the ice sheet due to global warming, loss of biodiversity with the disappearance of thousands of species of plants and animals, and the hole in the ozone layer.
A definition of a disaster by Interpol
Interpol uses the following definition of a disaster:
A disaster is an unexpected event, in which large numbers of people get killed or injured. The events that can lead to disasters are diverse in nature. They can be road traffic accidents, natural disasters, technological accidents, terrorist attacks and military events. Disasters can be distinguished by their openness/closedness. An open disaster is a major incident in which a group of unknown persons were killed, over which there are no previous records or affiliations. At these events, it is difficult to obtain data on the number of victims. A closed disaster means an incident in which one fixed group of people gets killed (for example a plane crash). Mixed forms are also possible, for example when a plane crash occurs in a residential area.
Global Disaster Information Network
Global Disaster Information Network resembled the IDIN project that was a project developed in cooperation with the FEMA Preparedness, Exercises & Training Directorate in 1999, building upon the foundation established by the U.S. State Department for a Global Disaster Information Network, GDIN, in the early 90′s.
In 1999, a global communication network was developed that included leaders in approximately 200 United Nations member countries, corporate, inter-governmental, non governmental, community action, interfaith organizations and media.
At the moment, it seems that the focus has shifted from Global Disaster Information Network to other ways of managing and preventing disasters, but for curiosity, the conclusions of the GDIN meeting of 1998 can be found here. Although the abbreviation is the same, this website is not affiliated in any way with the original Global Disaster Information Network.
Information about different kind of natural disasters: