An environmental disaster is defined as a catastrophic event regarding the natural environment that is due to human activity . This point distinguishes environmental disasters from other disturbances such as natural disasters and intentional acts of war such as nuclear bombings. Environmental disasters show how the impact of humans’ alteration of the land has led to widespread and/or long-lasting consequences.
These disasters have included deaths of wildlife, humans and plants, or severe disruption of human life or health, possibly requiring migration .Environmental disasters historically have affected agriculture, biodiversity including wildlife, the economy and human health. The most common causes include pollution that seeps into groundwater or a body of water , emissions into the atmosphere and depletion of natural resources, industrial activity or agricultural practices.
Environmental disasters have a severely detrimental effect on ecosystems. These catastrophes are often short in duration, but have a lasting impact on the animals and plants that live in the affected habitat. Occasionally, environmental catastrophes change the physical environment so much that the damage to the ecosystem is irreversible. In other cases, environmental damage can be contained and the habitat rehabilitated.
Environmental disasters fall into two general categories. Some disasters are caused by natural climate or weather events. These include wild fires, landslides, floods, earthquakes, droughts, tornadoes, tsunamis, and volcanic eruptions. Although the causes of these natural environmental disasters do not involve human activities, in some cases the effects are worsened by the influence of people. For example, the environments that suffered the most damage during the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004 were those where urban development and construction had damaged coral reefs. In places where coral reefs were healthy, the reef acted like a buffer, deflecting the power of the giant wave.
A second category of environmental disasters includes those caused by human activities. Examples of human-induced environmental disasters include oil spills, chemical spills, and nuclear incidents. In addition, wars and terrorist activities can be disastrous to ecosystems. In many cases, environmental disasters caused by humans have longer lasting effects on the environment than catastrophes brought on by natural events. For example, the enormous oil spill that occurred when the Exxon Valdez supertanker ran aground in Prince William Sound in 1989 continues to have major environmental repercussions. Twelve years after the oil spill, significant deposits of oil, which is toxic to many species, persisted throughout the affected area. In 2002, the population size of at least eight species of fish and mammals was still severely impacted from the oil spill.
Although environmental disasters take a terrible toll on ecosystems, they can bring increased attention to threatened habitats. In some cases, the increased oversight by governmental, intergovernmental, and non-governmental agencies results in legislation, which reduces the impact of future environmental disasters. For example, the Exxon Valdez oil spill led to much stronger regulation of the oil shipping industry. Also, additional funds were allocated for cleaning up oil spills, should they occur again. In the wake of the 2004 tsunami, the United Nations began organizing an Indian Ocean Tsunami warning system to alert citizens when another gigantic wave is heading to shore.
Humans have long believed that their scientific creativity could meet the challenges of natural forces. However, as Earth’s resources continue to be eroded by the growing population and its demand for natural resources, it is ever more likely that environmental disasters will increase both in number and intensity. It delves into the effects that these catastrophes have taken on the environment and on the human communities involved.