Originally published on
by Subhankar Bhattacharjee at Nature Talkies
Do you ever wonder why the news channels are always flashing news about a natural disaster raging in some or the other part of the world? The Emergency Events Database (EM-DAT) states that the occurrence of natural disasters has hiked three-fold merely in the last four decades.
When the world is standing amidst a climate crisis and facing multiple threats from nature, we really need to ponder what all this rage is about and how we can fix our ways for a healthier and safer planet.
What is a natural disaster?
The Oxford Dictionary explains a natural disaster as a natural phenomenon that causes great loss of life and property. Phenomena like floods, earthquakes, and hurricanes are natural; the overflowing of a river and flooding the shores is natural, but if there’s a human settlement that is disturbed by this flood, it’s a natural disaster.
According to the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR), natural disasters are simply a result of a lack of planning and prevention in a natural phenomenon. In other words, it’s not nature but human interference and mismanagement that causes a natural disaster.
How do human activities result in a natural disaster?
While large-scale deforestation results in increased carbon levels in the atmosphere and decreased resources for forest-dependent communities, it contributes to an increased number of small-scale natural disasters. Since tall and robust trees bind the soil together, cutting them results in washing off the forest soil — a phenomenon called soil erosion.
When there’s heavy rainfall, the soil of the forest is able to absorb excess water, preventing soil, and in the very same manner, it can prevent dry land or droughts. The number of people suffering from food crises due to natural disasters has tripled over the last three decades.
Just like deforestation, agriculture also destroys the topsoil of a land area, decreasing its possibility to absorb rainwater. This excess water is then rushed down to the rivers, and consequently, the river system becomes overloaded, again causing floods, cyclones, and tsunamis.
- Urban Development
In the very same manner, increased urban development makes that geographical area more prone to natural disasters. Town and city surfaces are covered with cement and asphalt, which is not able to absorb any rainwater, burdening the nearby river system.
- Building Dams
Hydroelectric power production is impossible without dam construction. Levees and dams used to hold river water again make that area prone to damaging floods as there is a possibility of the levee or dam wall breaking and spreading water in the surroundings. Building dams also makes the place vulnerable to earthquakes due to the large mass of water, putting immense pressure behind the dam.
- Natural Wetland Destruction
Destruction of natural wetlands is another major root cause behind floods. When swamps are ditched and natural obstacles for water are destroyed, water finds new ways that tend to be close to human settlements, resulting in a massive loss of life and property.
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