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Understanding natural disasters

15 November 2018, Emergencies

Natural disasters appear to be increasing in frequency and severity. 

According to the Red Cross, 2 billion people have been impacted by natural disasters over the past decade. A natural disaster scene often plays out on the news in a familiar way. A flood, hurricane, earthquake or tsunami is followed by the destruction of buildings, homes and human devastation often involving the loss of life. Stepping back from the heartbreak and emotional side of such events, a natural disaster is a major weather event resulting from natural processes of the Earth. Such examples include floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, tsunamis, and other less common geological movements. 


Image: Jonathan Hyams/Save the Children

When a natural disaster strikes and Save the Children are able to send a response team to the area, we provide people in the affected community with life-saving essentials, such as food, clean water, healthcare and shelter. We also establish child friendly spaces and temporary learning centres to ensure that children whose lives have been so dramatically impacted by disaster receive as little disruption as possible to their education in a safe and protected space.


Image: Manjunath Kiran/AFP/Getty Images

Often it can be difficult to prevent a powerful natural disaster from doing its damage, but with careful planning and the right skills, work can be done in advance to minimise the destruction. Save the Children works extensively with climate-vulnerable communities in the Asia Pacific region to help withstand the impacts of climate change and disaster.

Read more on our climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction work.

Types of natural disasters

Different weather and geological events can lead to many different types of natural disasters. Here are four of the most common groupings:
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Flooding

Flooding is a temporary overflow of water onto land that is normally dry. Floods may result from excessive rain, snow, coastal storms, storm surges, or overflows of dams and other water systems.

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Wind storms

There are many types of severe wind storms such as cyclones, hurricanes and typhoons depending on where you are located on the globe. Generally all of these conditions will result in high winds, heavy rain and flooding and high tidal waves or storm surges.

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Earthquakes and Landslides

Earthquakes are caused when underground rocks suddenly breaks along a fault line causing the seismic waves that make the ground shake. They're unpredictable, can strike with enough force to bring buildings down and can lead to other events such as a tsunami.

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Drought

A drought is when there is not enough water to feed the population (or the agriculture it depends upon). Sometimes this is due to less rain than usual, at other times a condition called evapotranspiration occurs, when the soil dries out faster than it's replenished by rain.

Help among the chaos

Help among the chaos

Puri*, 9 was preparing to perform her evening prayers when suddenly she felt the ground shaking. Once she realised it was an earthquake, it was too late. The pillars of the house fell on her head and she can't remember anything that happened after that.
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Where there is smoke

Where there is smoke

Where do you start when you know you are literally building a new life from scratch? When Kadovar Island in PNG erupted earlier this year, the lives of its inhabitants changed forever overnight.
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Safe in the monsoon

Safe in the monsoon

The rains have arrived. In the refugee camps of Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, hundreds of Rohingya shelters have been inundated with floodwater or hit by landslides over the past month.
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Hurricane Irma

Hurricane Irma

Storms often leave a lasting impact of young minds. Relief efforts should prioritise children, because their emotional wellbeing. But, at the same time, nobody should underestimate the grit of children in such settings.
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Climate change may not be the direct cause of cyclones, floods or droughts, however it does exacerbate them. The link between the environment and humanitarian emergencies is strong and increasing. In an emergency we provide life-saving essentials – food, clean water, healthcare and shelter – and services such as education and protection support for children.

*Names changed to protect identity

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