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Unnatural Disasters: Rethinking the Distinction between Natural and Man-Made Catastrophe
Monthly Developments Magazine (2013)
  • Michael D. Cooper,, Esq., The Ploughshare Group, LLC

The distinction between “natural” and “man-made” disaster has grown increasingly difficult to defend. Our current conception conflates extreme natural events with the notion of disaster—an exclusively human construct. We define our cultural perception of “natural” disaster through three “man-made” constructs. First, our values alone characterize the scope and scale of loss. Second, our volition exacerbates otherwise benign natural hazards, exposes us to otherwise avoidable hazards, and, through technology, generates new and otherwise non-existent hazards. Finally, when natural hazards do unleash their destructive powers, pre-existing socio-economic inequalities manifest as vulnerabilities that ultimately determine both absolute and relative social outcomes and impacts. In the face of climate change, we need a new paradigm that accounts for the role that our values, volition, and vulnerabilities play in the ever more complex disaster algorithm. The demand for a re-conceptualization of disaster is urgent; the threat is now greater and the stakes now higher.

  • disaster,
  • natural disaster,
  • natural hazard,
  • catastrophe,
  • emergency response,
  • humanitarian assistance,
  • humanitarian aid,
  • humanitarian relief,
  • climate change
Publication Date
September, 2013
Publisher Statement
Originally published by InterAction in MONTHLY DEVELOPMENTS MAGAZINE, Vol. 31 No. 9, Sep. 2013.
Citation Information
Michael D. Cooper. "Unnatural Disasters: Rethinking the Distinction between Natural and Man-Made Catastrophe" Monthly Developments Magazine 31.9 (2013): 11-13. Available at: