Should the definition of a disaster try to capture many aspects, or should it be simple enough to be easily memorised?
“A serious disruption of the functioning of a community or a society at any scale due to hazardous events interacting with conditions of exposure, vulnerability and capacity, leading to one or more of the following: human, material, economic and environmental losses and impacts.” 
The intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), in Annex II to the IPCC AR6 (2022) suite of reports, quote this same definition of a disaster, which was updated from a previous 2018 definition, which was stated as:
"severe alterations in the normal functioning of a community or a society due to hazardous physical events interacting with vulnerable social conditions, leading to widespread adverse human, material, economic, or environmental effects that require immediate emergency response to satisfy critical human needs and that may require external support for recovery." 
Whilst we appreciate the UNDRR definition, our approach to the definition of a disaster is to keep it simple. We define it as follows:
A major situation requiring outside support for coping.
The essence of our definition is this – something happens, we cannot deal with it, and we need help.
We believe this definition works at all levels, from that of individuals through to the international stage. It relates to the work of United Nations, scientists, emergency services, the public and dictionaries in many languages. We do not mention ‘hazardous events’ in our definition since not all disasters are ‘events’ – some involve long processes of creeping environmental changes including drought and climate change, resulting from decisions that have long-term implications. It avoids the connotation of ‘accident’ and ‘chance’, since we can avoid disasters if people with power and resources (in various spheres) choose to act to do so.
Our eight words to define ‘disaster’ work across many versions of English, relating to synonyms for ‘disaster’ in English, such as emergency, crisis, catastrophe, calamity, and cataclysm. We believe it translates appropriately in many other languages and cultures.
 IPCC (2018)
Have you ever directly experienced, and suffered from, a disaster? What qualifies as a disaster? Governments declare "disaster situations", but is that the only way of qualifying them?
Ilan Kelman, Professor of Disasters and Health at University College London and part of our Disasters Avoided team, has a video series, The Science of Disasters, in which he explains what constitutes a disaster, why they happen and how we can better prepare for them. Click on the image or this link to access the series...
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