What Are the Negative Effects of Natural Disasters?

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Natural disasters – such as hurricanes, cyclones, earthquakes, mudslides, floods, wildfires, volcanic eruptions and weather events like extreme droughts and monsoons – are likely increasing in frequency due to climate change. These events bring with them a host of issues, including humanitarian, public health, environmental and infrastructural problems.

TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)

TL;DR: Natural disasters cause additional problems that last after the disaster is done, including problems with infrastructure, the environment, public health and humanitarian issues.

Humanitarian Crises

Climate change and accompanying natural disasters have created a large migrant population, called climate refugees or environmental migrants. These people can be been forced out of their homes by an abrupt natural disaster, like a tsunami, or a slower-moving natural disaster, like a relentless drought. In any case, the area where they formerly lived is no longer habitable for one reason or another, or the standard of living has dropped so drastically that the uncertain future of migration looks more promising.

It is predicted that by the end of the century there will be 2 billion climate refugees and environmental migrants. Out of a projected population of 11 billion by 2100, that is almost 1/5 of the people on earth. Most of these people will have lived along the coastlines.

Public Health Issues

Health issues are one of the most pressing problems after any natural disaster. It is often the case that facilities for water and toilet hygiene are damaged or inoperable: meaning that the safe disposal of human waste quickly becomes a public health hazard. Further, without running water, hand washing and food hygiene rapidly deteriorate.

During and after events like hurricanes and floods, standing water can be a breeding ground for pathogenic bacteria and disease vectors like mosquitoes. In cases where transportation capabilities and infrastructure are damaged, survivors of natural disasters can be cut off from life-saving medications for both acute and chronic conditions, and be isolated from rescue and emergency healthcare services.

After a natural disaster event, survivors can experience mental health consequences, including post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.

Environmental Problems

In March 2011, a tsunami following the 9.0-magnitude Tōhoku earthquake in Japan caused what came to be known as the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, where radioactive material was released in Japan and into the Pacific Ocean. This was the largest nuclear disaster since Chernobyl, and it caused a cascade of issues in the ecosystem and surrounding waters, spreading radioactive material through far-ranging ocean currents.

Natural disasters, from tsunamis to wildfires, can cause wide-ranging and long-term consequences for ecosystems: releasing pollution and waste, or simply demolishing habitats.

Infrastructural Damage

One of the most immediate and economically devastating concerns with natural disasters is the damage to both public and private infrastructure. These events can cause billions of dollars in damages, and not all governments are equipped to fund the process of post-disaster cleanup and rebuilding.

Further, many private homeowners do not have property insurance, and certain natural disasters fall outside of the scope of insurance coverage; this means that in the wake of a disaster, people can end up losing all of their assets with no opportunity for restitution.

Natural disasters can have long-term negative consequences beyond the immediate loss of life and demolition of infrastructure. Often, an area impacted by a natural disaster will show scars of the event for years to come.


About the Author

Lynsey is a science writer, specializing in agriculture, horticulture and sustainability topics. She has an undergraduate degree in Anthropology and is working on a Master's in Science Communication.

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