Social Consequences of Natural Disasters

Updated April 17, 2017

The social consequences of natural disasters can be far larger than the immediate physical effects of the disaster. Primary damage is the destruction of buildings and roads, and it is the most obvious form of consequence from natural disasters. Secondary, or social, consequences stem from the primary. The impact of natural disasters is strongly linked with social factors; for example, 90 per cent of deaths from natural disasters occur in the developing world.


In addition to the obvious devastating effect of leaving people homeless, destruction of housing can have other major long-term impacts on a society. In the developing world, a house often doubles as a business location, so business cannot be conducted if the structure is gone. Furthermore, a major means of social mobility in the developing world is through the renting of properties. A major destruction of housing removes this and can return sections of society to a lower level of poverty. These play major roles in the long-term social impact of natural disasters from an economic perspective.


Health issues have short- and long-term consequences. In most countries of the developing world, the health care infrastructures are already poor, so they simply cannot cope with the strain on resources that natural disasters create. According to a Disease Control Priorities Project report, "Damage to hospitals, health facilities, and water and sewage systems has the biggest impact on health." A major long-term consequence comes from the inability of hospitals to function as diagnostic units because of equipment damage. Although large amounts of money and aid are often made available to disaster-affected countries, a lack of coordination between organisations renders this somewhat ineffective, particularly given that the local infrastructure is severely weakened. The DCPP recommends that rather than spending money on field hospitals following a disaster, money should instead be donated to improving the security and stability of the existing hospitals for a more long-term solution.


Education is one of the biggest losers in a natural disaster. The importance of a school or college to a community is often evidenced by the fact that a school hall often acts as a relief station, even in the poorest countries. Even this causes social consequences and damage to school facilities. Furthermore, according to the European Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, "Loss of income to teachers" and "Day care and other educational services disrupted" are two major impacts on the wider economy in the medium to long term. Moreover, the long-term damage of a lack of access to education cannot be underestimated, as it prevents children from receiving adequate training.


Transportation has a major impact on the economy of a region. Since natural disasters affect proportionally more in urban environments, a reduction in transportation modes can be hugely important in preventing an economy from recovering. Furthermore, a reduced transport capacity also hinders relief efforts, whether from aid agencies or national guards attempting to restore order. Transportation, therefore, has social consequences in terms of the immediate and indirect impacts of a natural disaster.

Political Instability

Political instability can last for years after a natural disaster. As highlighted by Dersen Peksun in a 2009 conference paper, a cyclical relationship exists between political instability and natural disasters, in that a natural disaster may cause political instability, which in turn prevents adequate aid resources from getting through, which therefore maximises the impact of the disaster. In the developing world, where responses to natural disasters are limited by poor infrastructure, governments are often blamed for slow action. Political instability can lead to the breakdown of law, which again severely inhibits the recovery of the local economy, in terms of domestic trade and external investment.

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About the Author

Emile Heskey has been a professional writer since 2008, when he began writing for "The Journal" student newspaper. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in modern history and politics from Oxford University, as well as a Master of Science in Islamic and Middle Eastern studies from Edinburgh University.