A Taxonomy of Disasters in International Law
This chapter explores the taxonomy of disasters and seeks to better identify the legal contours and implications of this notion. A first reference is made to the terminology issues addressed by disaster studies so as to verify to what extent such references, mainly influenced by sociological and social paradigms, could be translated into legal parameters. Subsequently the chapter focuses on the international legal dimension of the term ‘disaster’, conducting a critical assessment of the main approaches in this area as identifiable in relevant international law practice. In this context attention will be paid to current and recurring key issues in the terminology dilemma, thus permitting us to identify trends and converging elements. This analysis will also take advantage of the definitions of disaster included in the most recent and relevant documents in this area, namely the ILC Draft Articles on the protection of persons in the event of disaster and the Report of the open-ended intergovernmental expert working group on indicators and terminology relating to disaster risk reduction, elaborated to implement the Sendai Framework on Disaster Risk Reduction and finally endorsed by the UN General Assembly. Some concluding remarks will build upon this analysis in order to highlight the potential relevance of these terminology issues to the protection of individuals under human rights law. In fact the provision of the term ‘disaster’ with clear contents could be beneficial for States, international organisations and non-state actors to better clarify the specific content of obligations inherent in general human rights guarantees as applied in disaster contexts. Such a definition can indeed help identify the situations in which protection may be invoked and clarify who needs protection in such specific circumstances.