Public or private aid to people in economic need because of natural disasters, wars, economic upheaval, chronic unemployment, or other conditions that prevent self-sufficiency. A distinction may be drawn between relief targeting upheavals and natural disasters and relief of chronic social conditions, now usually referred to as welfare. In 17th-century China the government maintained ever-normal granaries for use in the event of famine. Through the 19th century, disaster relief in Europe consisted largely of emergency grants of food, clothing, and medical care through hastily organized local committees. In the 20th century, disaster relief became one of the chief activities of the International Red Cross and other international agencies. Assistance to the needy from public funds has traditionally been strictly limited; in England, the Poor Law Reform Act of 1834 required people able to work to enter a workhouse in order to receive public assistance. The U.S. government responded to the Great Depression with the New Deal, which emphasized work relief programs such as the Works Progress Administration. In the later 20th century, the work requirement was abandoned in most countries, and the needy received direct cash payments, though in the U.S. the movement for welfare reform resulted in the passage in 1996 of “workfare” laws cutting off relief for most able-bodied welfare recipients who failed to find a job or perform community service.
Learn more about relief with a free trial on Britannica.com.
Administrative body (1943–47) for an extensive social-welfare program for war-ravaged nations. It distributed relief supplies and services, including shelter, food, and medicine, and helped with agricultural and economic rehabilitation. Its functions were later taken over by the International Refugee Organization, the World Health Organization, and UNICEF.
Learn more about United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration with a free trial on Britannica.com.
In contemporary academia, disasters are seen as the consequence of inappropriately managed risk. These risks are the product of hazards and vulnerability. Hazards that strike in areas with low vulnerability are not considered a disaster, as is the case in uninhabited regions.
Developing countries suffer the greatest costs when a disaster hits – more than 95 percent of all deaths caused by disasters occur in developing countries, and losses due to natural disasters are 20 times greater (as a percentage of GDP) in developing countries than in industrialized countries.