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Summary Article: Disaster Relief
From Encyclopedia of Natural Hazards

Disaster assistance; Disaster response


Disaster relief refers to interventions aimed at meeting the immediate needs of the victims of a disastrous event. Disaster relief commonly refers to aid that can be used to alleviate the suffering of national or foreign disaster victims. It often includes aid or assistance in the form of humanitarian services and transportation; the provision of food, clothing, medicine, medical services, beds, and bedding; temporary shelter and housing; and making repairs to essential services such as electricity, water supplies, and phone lines.


Disaster relief, often commonly referred to as disaster response, is an intermediate phase of several phases in disaster management, which include (1) mitigation, (2) preparedness, (3) relief, or response, and, (4) recovery (the longest phase). Relief in this context comprises the range of actions that are necessary during the critical period immediately following a disaster when infrastructure has been damaged, communication lines have been destroyed, access to services such as electricity and water has been compromised, people have been injured and/or separated from their families, and victims’ homes, assets, and/or livelihoods have been lost or damaged. Disaster relief entails ensuring that people's immediate needs such as food, shelter, and medical assistance are met, first and foremost. Relief efforts also include reconnecting severed social networks through helping people locate their family, friends, and/or loved ones if they have been separated from one another. In order to meet these basic physical and social needs, disaster relief operations may involve clearing rubble from damaged infrastructure, extinguishing fires, repairing damaged electrical lines, or reducing other potential hazards that have resulted from the disaster so that vital resources and services can be delivered efficiently to affected populations.

A major challenge during the disaster relief phase is ensuring that vulnerable people are kept safe, which often requires external support because local police or security forces may have been fragmented during a disaster. Security during the relief phase is of special concern in temporary shelters. For example, following the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004, many people in Sri Lanka were housed in temples that were converted into temporary shelter for multiple families or were given tents in which to live until more permanent structures could be built in safe locations. Following Hurricane Katrina, thousands of people were temporarily housed in the Super Dome. While these locations may have provided relief from natural hazards, in both cases, the temporary housing options where men and women from different families were living in close quarters with each other presented security risks for vulnerable populations in society, particularly the elderly, women, and children. Furthermore, in the absence of police and security forces, looting, and other crimes may increase during the relief phase as people deal with anguish over their losses and are desperate to meet their basic needs. Thus, it is critical that relief efforts, especially those that place women, children, and the elderly in new housing situations are developed with a consideration of preexistent and new safety concerns that have arisen as a result of the disaster so that people's needs are met and their safety is not worsened by temporary conditions.

While the disaster “recovery” phase would ideally start as soon as immediate needs are met, the relief phase often lasts for quite a while due to funding delays or other constraints that hamper the recovery phase.


Casualties Following Natural Hazards

Civil protection and Crisis Management

Cognitive Dissonance

Coping Capacity

Critical Infrastructure


Disaster Risk Management

Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR)

Education and Training for Emergency Preparedness

Emergency Management

Emergency Shelter


Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)

Hospitals in Disaster

Human Impact of Disasters

Integrated Emergency Management System

International Strategies for Disaster Reduction

Livelihoods and Disasters

Natural Hazard

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Red Cross and Red Crescent


Risk Assessment

Jane Carter Ingram
(7) Department of Ecology, Evolution and Environmental Biology, Wildlife Conservation Society, 2300 Southern Boulevard, Bronx, NY 10460-1099, USA
© Springer Science+ Business Media B.V. 2013

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