Impact of extensive disasters (GSDRC Helpdesk Research Report 1016)

This report examines literature which captures the impact of extensive disasters on vulnerable communities



Please identify literature which captures the impact of extensive disasters on vulnerable communities (and if possible makes comparisons with the impact of intensive disasters). Please provide a summary of the literature and annotated bibliography.

Key findings

Extensive risk is defined by UNISDR as ‘The widespread risk associated with the exposure of dispersed populations to repeated or persistent hazard conditions of low or moderate intensity, often of a highly localized nature, which can lead to debilitating cumulative disaster impacts’.

Examples of types of extensive disasters are given in the literature as floods, landslides, storms, fires and so on – these are often weather-related. This report collates available literature discussing the impacts of extensive risk and extensive disasters, in the form of a summary and annotated bibliography.

Although there is a small evidence base, the literature is quite consistent in describing that the major difference in impacts of extensive and intensive disasters is that the former produces loss of economic assets and livelihoods (such as crops, infrastructure, housing) and high levels of loss of public services, which indirectly affects livelihoods. while the latter has much higher rates of mortality and direct economic loss.

A secondary impact from extensive risk is damage to health and wellbeing. It is regularly cited that floods can cause disease outbreaks and/or loss of safe drinking water. Infrastructure damage and physical hazards also heighten the risk of injury.

Certain populations are more vulnerable to these impacts than others. Children are particularly noted as suffering disproportionately, as they may comprehensively lose household income, food and water, and access to education and health facilities as a result of extensive disasters. Other vulnerable groups are the same as in many situations: women, older people, and minority groups.

The literature is very strong on observing that there is a strong link between poverty and vulnerability – the poorest always experience the most negative impacts of disasters, as they tend to live in areas without good infrastructure and services, do not often have insurance, and lack political voice to claim reconstruction support.


Browne, E. Impact of extensive disasters (GSDRC Helpdesk Research Report 1016). Governance and Social Development Resource Centre, University of Birmingham, Birmingham, UK (2013) 10 pp.

Impact of extensive disasters (GSDRC Helpdesk Research Report 1016)

Published 1 January 2013