Course manual Introduction to Disaster Management


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Unit summary


In this unit you learned how to identify and distinguish between potential vector-related species, plan appropriate strategies for controlling vector species and promote awareness on the safe use of pesticides. In addition you learnt how to recognise the challenges & constraints of environmental health management in emergencies and promote health & hygiene through implementing a sanitation programme. Furthermore you will be able to explain the importance of water sources, the minimum standards for water quality and quantity, monitor and to evaluate vector control measures, and lastly environmental health programmes in emergencies.

Self - Assessment


  1. Prepare a 10 min presentation in which you explain what is meant by vector-related species and their potential danger for bringing about natural disasters.

  2. Design a plan of strategy for controlling vector species. Clearly identify the key areas for enabling good control of vector species.

  3. List 3 key challenges & constraints of environmental health management in emergencies.

  4. How would you go about monitoring and evaluating vector control measures and environmental health programs? Make a list of the important areas you would need to consider.

  5. Put together a poster promoting either the safe use of pesticides OR promoting a sanitation programme.


The Sphere Project: Humanitarian Charter and Minimum Standards in Disaster Response (2004). Accessed on 2/02/08 at:

Unit 12

Physical and Socio-economic Impacts of Disasters


Disasters are no respecter of persons and the trail of destruction that they leave behind is a common occurrence. Their effect or impact, is usually felt across all sectors in society, at the community or individual level, which has led to push a for the more multi-sectoral approach to prepare and respond to disasters! The impact of a disaster may either be a direct or indirect one, its effect trickling into most homes and families in the community. The more obvious physical impact leads to the socioeconomic and emotional impact felt by the community. The intensity of the impact of any disaster is dependant on the preparedness level of the community or nation. Factors that increase the intensity of the effect of a disaster are poverty, environmental degradation, population growth, and lack of information and awareness about the hazards that exist in the area, and the potential risk they pose to the community at large.

In this unit we will look at the physical and social impact of disasters on society. One emerging issue that we will also touch on is that of animals in the time of disaster.

Upon completion of this unit you will be able to:


  • State the types of impacts of disasters on society.

  • Identify
    what different sectors in society are affected by disasters.

  • Describe the impacts of disasters on the different sectors of society.

  • Develop contingency plans to minimise food distribution problems in the post disaster period.

  • Assess the impacts of disaster on people’s income earning capacity and overall social welfare.

  • Compare and contrast the extent of economic impacts caused by natural and man made disasters in any region of their choice.


Physical impact

death and injury of people and damage to built environment.

Rapid Assessment

a quick assessment of a disaster site immediately after a disaster, to determine immediate needs of people in impacted area

Social impact

disruption to essential goods and services

Built environment

includes things such as buildings, infrastructure, houses etc in an area.

Types of impacts

Disasters impact heavily on the basic needs of people, and their livelihood, thus governments need to be prepared so that they can deal with the disaster promptly and effectively. Usually, immediately after a disaster has occurred, a team made up of government and non – government agencies is sent into the disaster site to carry out what is known as a Rapid Assessment exercise. The information collected from this quick initial assessment on the damage done from the hazard, is used by the leaders of the community or nation to determine whether any external assistance is needed. It is also used to determine the “what and how much relief” needs to be brought in immediately, and also what specific segments of society have been affected heavily by the hazard.

The impact intensity felt by a community from a disaster is dependent upon the vulnerability of the community before the hazard struck (e.g. proximity to hazard, any education and awareness done etc) and thus their preparedness level. In any community the most obvious impact is the physical impact. The physical impacts in turn lead to the social impacts felt by the community. These are described in further detail below.

Physical Impacts

The physical impacts of a disaster are the deaths and injuries, and the damage to property and the built environment. The built environment can be classified as infrastructure and service sectors such as electricity, water etc. The amount of deaths can lead to a reduction in the population, and thus the workforce, which will in turn have an impact on the socio economic sector of the community. It should be noted here that the amount of physical damage caused by a hazard can affect the speed at which the response to the area can occur. If roads are cut off, this means alternative means need to be looked at to bring relief in to the disaster zone.

  1. Infrastructure

Infrastructure includes the basic facilities, services and installations required for the functioning of a community or a society. Since these facilities, services and installations are spread throughout the community and country, they are normally impacted to some degree when disasters strike. Of the many components of a country’s infrastructure, a select few are vital to both disaster response and to overall safety and security of the effected population. These components are referred to as “critical infrastructure,”

While all infrastructures damaged or destroyed in the disaster will eventually require rebuilding or repair, critical infrastructure problems must be addressed in the short term, while the disaster response is ongoing. The repair and reconstruction of critical infrastructure requires not only specialized expertise but also equipment and parts that may not be easily obtained during the emergency period. However, without the benefit of certain infrastructure components, performing other response functions may be impossible. Examples of critical infrastructure components include:

  1. Transport system (land, sea and air)

This system is important because at the time of disasters there needs to be an evacuation route available so as to get people out of the danger zone and or bring relief in. Transport is also important when a team needs to be sent in to the disaster zone to do a Rapid Assessment exercise. Transport mediums also need to be available, so that if one transport system is cut off, another mode of transport can still be used.

  1. Gas and oil storage and transportation

Connected to transportation above, there needs to be a store of the above to enable transportation of people out of the danger zone. Evacuation may take a couple of days to a week, and so extra fuel and oil is needed for the cars, boats, or helicopters etc that will be transporting people out.

  1. Communication

This is a critical because before a disaster and in the event of a disaster communication is needed. It is needed to get information out so that the outside “world” know what is needed and can respond appropriately.

  1. Electricity, Water supply system, and Public health

Damage to critical infrastructure which provide the above basic services needed by the community can affect the lives of people in the short term. In great need immediately after any disaster are water and sanitation, as well as the health of the disaster victims. Again, this is assessed in the Rapid Assessment exercise so that it is dealt with immediately.

  1. Security

The management of past disasters was done on an ad hoc basis. As a result one of the many components overlooked was that of security, partly due to the fact that most of the resources were used for the immediate evacuation of people and saving lives! Today however security has become and important factor that has been mainstreamed into the action plans of many disaster planning offices.

Security is the condition of being safe from harm, danger or loss. Security can be either emotional or physical security.

  1. Physical Security

Physical security is any and all necessary requirements that once implemented are designed to prevent, deter, inhibit or mitigate threats that face the safety and security of persons and/or property. Safety and Security in disasters differ by the fact that safety provides for the reduction of the risk of occurrence of injury, loss or death from accidental or natural causes. Security on the other hand provides for the reduction of the risk of occurrence of injury, loss or death from the deliberate or intentional actions of man and natural causes.

Usually when disasters or an emergency situation arises, the following security issues arise:

  1. Looting of retail outlets and business houses

Disasters or emergency situations provide an ideal opportunity for people to go on a looting spree. Looting arises especially when it has not been factored into the disaster emergency response plan or action plan. If no preparedness in this area has been done, when the hazard strikes to cause a disaster, most of the resources are being used to evacuate people. This leaves business houses and retail shops left unattended and vulnerable to looting by those looking for an opportunity for “free stuff”.

Looting may also take place after the immediate hazard has struck. This will usually happen when people have been waiting for some kind of response or assistance (recovery), and authorities have not been forthcoming with the needed aid. It is here that people say “Well we do not have any more jobs because everything was destroyed in the disaster, and so we do not have any money so how can we buy food?” As a result, looting takes place because of the fear that authorities will not take care of their needs, and so people find ways to take care of themselves and their families!

  1. Security of women and children

Again if there is no preparedness, women and children are vulnerable to attacks of violence or rape by others, or even to the exposure to the primary hazard (fleeing to a danger zone) or secondary hazards; maybe because the lack of knowledge or panic. Violence or rape is more likely to arise if in the evacuation process, families have been separated from each other, and thus women and or children isolated from that security of their families. It is also more likely to arise in care centres where it is usually overcrowded.

  1. Security of aid workers

There is now also the concern of the humanitarian workers who are flown into the disaster site to assist in the response of the disaster. Many humanitarian workers are foreigners to the site and so need to be aware of the hazards (human or natural) in the area and take necessary precaution. For women, there is also the security against violence or rape, especially in a war situation!

  1. Emotional security

People have different emotional needs that when faced with disaster, will act differently depending on how serious the disaster is.

Possible emotional reaction to a disaster situation is described in further detail in Unit 14. When the physical needs of security, whether it is food security, physical security etc are not met, coupled with the fear of uncertainties, this can lead to stress and trauma, thus lack of emotional security.

Note that [Second topic heading] uses Heading 3 level. Use Heading levels 4 or 5 for additional sub-headings within this topic. See user guide for more help on using styles.
Social Impacts

  1. Welfare

Welfare falls into the socioeconomic and socio-political category. On the socioeconomic front this is represented by significant losses to Gross Domestic Product of the affected country or region. The local and national economy can experience low productivity, price slump, high unemployment and inflation. Small island states are more vulnerable compared to the larger developed nations when confronted with disasters of a large magnitude.

Disaster Type


Damage (US$’000)

Hurricane (Ivan) 2004

Cayman Islands


Tsunami 2004



Flood 1998



Figure 13: Estimated monetary loss due to three disasters

Figure13 indicates monetary loss estimated at US$’000 which translates into income loss that impacts directly on welfare delivery in the post disaster period.

There are overall financial impacts on the household and individuals that adversely impact on people’s welfare for example dwellings, homes, property, and other assets can be damaged, sentimental value of assets can be lost forever which imply investment loss and reduction in the quality of life for the communities affected. For example people whose livelihoods depend on crops and livestock will face income loss that may impact on their welfare and overall wellbeing. For the business community (retailing, services, industries, wholesaling), their loss of income is represented by ‘operational vulnerability’ that is, the estimated time any business can operate without infrastructure support. For instance a business cannot operate without electric power (which is 0 hours), but it can operate for a maximum of 4 hours without phones. For time periods exceeding the above, the business ought to suspend operations indefinitely. (Lindell and Prater, 2003).

Directly related to the immediate welfare needs of the victims/survivors are their food requirements. In this respect food assembling and distribution points have to be coordinated in such a way that is effective and efficient given the prevailing circumstances.

Perhaps the welfare impacts of disasters can best be summed up by differentiating between the direct effects on property, the indirect effects brought about by the decline in factors of production, and secondary effects in the post disaster period such as economic decline manifested in balance of payments problems.

  1. Economic Impacts

Economic costs of disasters vary across space and time. Evidence suggests a strong correlation between a country’s level of development and disaster risk. On average, 22.5 people die per disaster in highly developed countries, 145 people die per disaster in countries with medium human development and 1,052 people die per disaster in countries with low levels of development (UNEP ). Sometimes the economic impacts can be difficult to calculate. The Western Indian Ocean islands experience more than ten cyclones a year between November and May: huge costs are incurred due to the destruction of income-generating activities including tourism revenues.

To illustrate the financial loss to an economy, a study by SOPAC and the USP on the impacts of cyclone Ami on Fiji’s agriculture sector estimated that 60-80% of subsistence crops were damaged at a cost of F$921,000, direct damage to commercial crops was estimated at FJ$39.2m, the sugar industry lost 150,000 tonnes in lost production, and FJ$6m was lost in damaged infrastructure and equipment.

In Bangladesh, floods during the Monsoon season destroyed crops and disrupted the non-farm economy of the country even after the flood waters receded. For instance, the average monthly working days fell in the period of the floods for farm workers. Day labourers for example were severely affected, their employment fell sharply from 19 days per month to 11 days per month, and as such, wage earnings also fell by almost 46%.

Another example is the great Hanshin earthquake in Japan in 1995 that caused $US 100 billion dollars damage which was equivalent to 2.1% of Japan’s GDP. Extensive damage to buildings, transportation facilities and utilities (gas, sewage, power) makes up 80% of this cost. Recovery and reconstruction activities may start immediately after the event beginning with the most damaged sectors, whilst services sectors such as manufacturing may take up to twelve months or more for full recovery.

It is understood by everyone that a community is referred to as the people who live in it. Out of the varieties of impacts, economic impacts are one of the major areas that need attention from the moment of any disaster.

Just like food and shelter, education also needs to be included in the list of areas that contribute to the economic impacts. Due to the loss of household belongings and perhaps the parents, there will be a loss of the family income. In these situations most people tend to ignore the importance of education for all ages. This also happens as a result of evacuating from the home land to different regions.

However, to get education, either the students need to be admitted to other schools, or should be provided with housing to come back. Whatever the conditions, education should not be interrupted as it is central to creating a new level of public awareness and preparedness. Attending school also keeps children away from parental issues back at home. Similarly, they will get opportunities to share their own situation with friends and elders at school which brings more liveliness for them. In addition to this, parents will find that their children are safe, and they too will have time to attend other activities. Hence, this is possible only if the community gets prepared to use the resources available in the community beforehand.

Evacuation planning by using the available resources is a critical component of safety, including for people with disabilities. This is applicable for all buildings, including those that are new and fully accessible. Evacuation planning should include a need of assessment to determine who may need what in responding to an emergency and evacuating a facility. Also, this will inculcate the understanding of best use of the resources in the situation. In most places, during natural disasters and terrorism, in the development of preparedness plans school buildings will be the target of evacuation. In evacuation drills like fire in school buildings, the nearby parks and sports fields are allocated. In preparedness it is also very important for every member of the community to be familiar with the contact numbers during an emergency. This may include the numbers of Fire Station, Police Station etc. In this way the community will be aware of the use of the available resources rather than depending on the special resources provided during an emergency.

Just like losing the household, death of children and adults also means the loss of future labour force, thus loss of future productivity. Hence, the regional economy and labour force is required to be maintained. This means for the recovery a labour force is needed to rebuild the infrastructure to replace places like houses, schools, utilities, etc. Whereas in severe disasters; there will be a higher unemployment rate than employment as the schools, factories offices are completely destroyed. This results in people having to attend to more than one job.

Animals in Disasters


In this course you have learnt much about the tragic impacts of disasters on human life; but the often-forgotten victims are the animals that share the planet’s wild places, our farms and our homes. They are entitled to physical and emotional safety just like their owners – in fact they have millions of years more experience at surviving disasters than we have. And those that did not survive – the dinosaurs – can still warn us of the dangers of unpreparedness!

In spite of the evident negative consequences of disasters on animals in modern times, public and government concern in the wake of a disaster continues to be largely focused on its impact on humans. Reports in the daily press too are often restricted to whimsical accounts about the miraculous escapes of an occasional animal.

The more serious effects on animals arise from their extreme vulnerability. Animals are often confined by their human masters to a field, pen or cage – they can’t get away from a flood or fire unless we help them. At the other extreme, some animals normally kept in captivity are themselves a hazard if they suddenly find themselves roaming free in an unfamiliar situation. Another example that could constitute an economic disaster is an outbreak of an exotic disease in economically valuable livestock; it is estimated that an outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease in New Zealand could cost the country far more than an earthquake or tsunami, although not in loss of human life.

The relationship between animals and humans varies hugely across the globe, and is very dependent on cultural and religious factors. In developed countries, pet animals are very important to their owners. This is less so in developing countries, where human life may be dependent on production animals such as sheep and goats, or reliant on animals like horses for transport. As well, some religions affect our relationship with animals – in India, the wellbeing of the cow is vital to the Hindu population, while handling of dogs and pigs during a disaster would not be possible for a Muslim.

Hazards associated with animals

The same spectrum of hazards that you have already learnt about will, of course, affect animals; but there are some hazard factors concerning animals which we will discuss here. For example, animals may themselves create hazards for people, making an already bad situation worse. Animals that are used to confinement, suddenly finding themselves free in unfamiliar surroundings, can be terrified and dangerous – even animals which we usually regard as harmless can knock children over or cause vehicle accidents.

A zoonosis (plural zoonoses) is a disease of animals which is transmissible to humans. Zoonotic diseases can be increased during disasters because the normal protective measures are absent. A common example in developing countries is rabies, spread by dog bites – and a frightened dog is more likely to bite anyone in its surroundings.
Animal carcasses are a very common source of water contamination after disasters, and a viable plan to minimise animal deaths during a disaster will greatly reduce human infections during the recovery period.

Some disasters occur in remote areas and may not directly affect the human population greatly. A forest fire on an inaccessible mountain-side may not be very serious to the local community; but it may destroy the habitat of a rare species, or drive out large numbers of poisonous snakes into nearby villages.

The ownership of animals can increase the vulnerability of their human owners to disaster. Research has shown (Heath, 1999) that, in the United States, people with no children, but with one or more pets, are less likely to obey an evacuation order. In the developing world, this may apply to livestock owners – recently, during the severe flooding in Bangladesh, farmers refused to abandon their goats and cows by boarding rescue boats (World Society for the Protection of Animals, 2007). Occasionally, the media will highlight cases of animals helping to save humans in disaster situations: the recent New Zealand case of a woman farmer clinging to one of her dairy cows during a flash flood, dogs alerting owners to imminent earthquakes and the like. The most remarkable cases are associated with properly trained and expertly handled Search and Rescue dogs, with units at the ready in most areas of the world. They can be particularly valuable where people are trapped under collapsed buildings; the dogs can differentiate the living person from those already deceased, enabling frantic efforts to be prioritised.

Planning for disaster management in relation to animals

Very few countries currently (2007) have a disaster plan for animals. The United States Federal Government has decreed that all states must include companion (pet) animals and “service” animals (e.g. guide dogs) in their overall EDM plans, but the only examples available online were that of New Mexico and California (see references) which are brief but adequate. The Humane Society of the United States has an excellent guide to drawing up such plans on their website, suggesting the following steps:

  1. Nominate a lead agency – often a government ministry such as the Ministry of Agriculture.

  2. Make sure that all relevant bodies are included in planning, especially the local EOS and veterinarians’ organisation, and that clear communication channels are established and that roles and responsibilities are defined.

  3. The community and its context should be evaluated in order to identify likely natural and man-made hazards and human resources available.

  4. The animal population in the community (companion animals, production animals, captive animals and wildlife) must be assessed for numbers, species, likely condition, farms and containment facilities, and estimated wildlife populations, as well as animal-related resources such as feed stocks, shelters, water supplies, and veterinary supplies.

  5. Operational activities throughout the disaster cycle must be identified and allocated, with timelines if appropriate.

Factors to consider in a possible EDM plan for animals

  1. Mitigation

Location of farmed animals, and housed animals in zoos and laboratories, will need to be planned to avoid areas of increased hazard from flooding, tsunami, bushfires and other predictable disasters. Many older zoos are in built-up areas, and for these and other reasons it makes sense for their relocation to rural sites to occur as soon as possible.

Choice of species, breed and farming practices can help to alleviate some potential problems. Exotic breeds may not be readily adaptable to local extremes such as cold snaps, or drought. In farming, a choice of species or farming methods for maximum economic return may contribute to erosion, pollution of waterways, or global warming e.g. by methane production. Insurance of production animals should be considered where possible.

Vaccinations: Domestic pets and farm animals should be vaccinated against the most common infectious animal diseases in the region, and stocks kept of additional vaccines for diseases more commonly seen in emergencies – for example, Leptospirosis, a zoonotic disease, is more prevalent in flood situations, and some pneumonias and enteric (gut) infections increase dramatically during the stress of confinement and disruption to feeding schedules.

Identification of animals, especially in relation to ownership, is very important. In a small community, owners may be able to recognise individual animals, but usually a system involving numbered ear tags, registration tags, or similar will be necessary.

Wildlife under threat: The general mitigation principles for global warming are important to us all, but many wildlife populations are particularly at risk from habitat destruction. It could be argued that human “business as usual” is a disaster for wildlife – but, even if we do not agree with that view, planning can mitigate or exacerbate the effects on wildlife. Here is an example from The Times Online of November 7, 2007:

Sir David Attenborough has joined environmentalists in condemning a $250 million plan by Tata, the Indian conglomerate, to build a soda ash plant on a lake in eastern Africa that is home to a million endangered Lesser Flamingos.

The naturalist and broadcaster said the development, due to be considered by Tanzania’s environment minister today, would be “an ecological disaster” and would deliver a “huge blow” to the $2bn-a-year tourism industry in the region.

  1. Preparedness

Education, not only of the general public, but of other EDM organisations, is vitally important to mitigate the effects of a disaster on animals. At one level this will include informing householders of their responsibilities towards pets, and farmers to their livestock. School visits to raise the students’ awareness of how they can be involved will be helpful.

Educational materials would need to include practical steps that animal owners must consider and for which they need to prepare themselves and their animals. Assisting institutions like zoos with their own EDM plans, and provision of formal training programmes for volunteers would be the next step.

Evacuation plans. Small pet animals will require carry cages or boxes lined with layers of newspaper. There should be one per animal, and they need to be sufficiently sturdy to contain the animal for several days, rather than made of thin cardboard. Dogs will need to be restrained with a collar and lead. Horses should have a halter or head-collar already on, or available quickly. Sheep and goats in small numbers may be led by ropes, but larger numbers of farm animals will need to be moved in the farmer’s usual manner. He or she will need to plan where the animals should be moved to, whether high ground in the case of a flood, or bare ground away from trees in the case of fire. Delivery of emergency food, or complete relocation, should be considered – the animals are best confined close to a road if possible. The availability of horse trailers or trucks may need to be planned. Zoos and other facilities may need help to prepare their own evacuation plans. Wildlife can be very unpredictable during disasters, and planning may need to consider protection for the human population.

Emergency kits for pet animals and horses could include vaccination certificates, medications, and a photograph to assist in identification if the owner becomes separated from the animal.

Livestock feed supplies will need to be stockpiled in a location that will be protected from likely natural disasters.

  1. Response

People can be a hazard to animals in disasters. Human safety is paramount during disaster and emergency situations, but sometimes decisions can be taken which are not favourable to animals due to lack of knowledge or training – for example, abandonment, seizing, confinement in unsuitable conditions, or even unnecessary destruction.

Communication is vital, using all human resources with animal-related skills identified during the planning process. In particular, the deployment of trained veterinary, paraveterinary and animal control staff where they are most needed is the controller’s priority. Volunteers should only be used to the limits of their knowledge, and the responsibility of the general public is to alert trained staff of animals in need.

Veterinary response, whether at organised centres or individually, is to co-ordinate activities of less trained staff, such as animal handling, triage, first aid, euthanasia, disposal of carcasses, and advice on risk to humans. Record-keeping is a vital task that lesser trained staff can help with, to facilitate returning animals to their owners.

  1. Recovery

Economic loss due to reduced animal products may have a huge impact on human recovery after a disaster, both as direct loss of human food supplies and as a loss in income. There may also be a loss in animal food supplies which can result in reduced production for prolonged periods.

Re-unification with owners is particularly important for pet animals, and, understandably, often takes a back seat to the re-unification of people. However, the recovery of traumatised people can often be greatly assisted by re-unification with their pets – this is especially so for children.

Rehabilitation of animals may be an issue after traumatic experiences, and may require behaviour management techniques which can be supplied by specialists.

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