A disaster is a serious disruption occurring over a relatively short period of time, affecting the functioning of a community or a society as it causes widespread human, material, economic or environmental loss which exceeds the ability of the affected community or society to cope using its own resources.

In contemporary academia, disasters are seen as the consequence of inappropriately managed risk. These risks are the product of a combination of both hazards and vulnerability. Hazards that strike in areas with low vulnerability will never become disasters, as in the case of uninhabited regions.

Developing countries suffer the greatest costs when a disaster hits – more than 95 percent of all deaths caused by hazards occur in developing countries, and losses due to natural hazards are 20 times greater (as a percentage of GDP) in developing countries than in industrialized countries.