Calamitous, distressing, or ruinous effects of a disastrous event (such as drought, flood, fire, hurricane, war) of such scale that they disrupt (or threaten to disrupt) critical functions of an organization, society or system, for a period long enough to significantly harm it or cause its failure. It is the consequences of a disastrous event and the inability of its victims to cope with them that constitute a disaster, not the event itself. Although there is no universally accepted definition of a disaster, the following observation by the US disaster relief specialist Frederick C. Cuny (1944-1995) comes close, "A situation resulting from an environmental phenomenon or armed conflict that produced stress, personal injury, physical damage, and economic disruption of great magnitude." The definition adopted by the World Health Organization (WHO) terms a disaster as "The result of a vast ecological breakdown in the relations between man and his environment, a serious and sudden (or slow, as in drought) disruption on such a scale that the stricken community needs extraordinary efforts to cope with it, often with outside help or international aid." The US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) describes it as "An occurrence of a natural catastrophe, technological accident, or human caused event that has resulted in severe property damage, deaths, and/or multiple injuries." Dr. Kathleen J. Tierney (Director, Disaster Research Center, University of Delaware) puts the matter in a different perspective: "Many people trying to do quickly what they do not ordinarily do, in an environment with which they are not familiar."

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