The underlying factors contributing to vulnerability
Why are people and communities vulnerable to hazards?
Vulnerability is often described in terms of an individual’s characteristics (gender, age, income, level of education). However, we must also identify the conditions that result in vulnerability (Birkmann 2013).
A view of the progression of vulnerability that has stood the test of time is the Pressure and Release Model developed by Blaikie et al. This tracks the chain of causality from Root Causes (such as limited access to power and resources) through Dynamic Pressures (lack of training, skills, markets and macro-forces such as population increase, urbanisation, deforestation) to Unsafe conditions (failing ecosystems, dangerous locations, low incomes, endemic disease, lack of preparedness).
The pressures can build to increase vulnerability to hazard events, resulting in greater potential for disaster for those at risk.
While communities may not have much control over the hazards, risk can be reduced by taking measures to release the pressures causing vulnerability along the chain of causality.
In emergency relief and longer-term development work, it is important to be aware of how, inadvertently, it is possible to contribute to individual and community vulnerability.
For example, imported food aid can result in lower market prices for local farmers. The employment of large external contractors for reconstruction work may undercut local contractors desperate for work to aid recovery. Drainage around water collection points can create breeding sites for mosquitoes.
An assessment and analysis not only of characteristics (the manifestations of vulnerability) but also the underlying conditions is essential if we are to avoid poorly-designed schemes that may lead to additional threats and increased vulnerability. A more proactive approach is to design and implement measures to actively reduce risk through recognising and tackling the causes of vulnerability in partnership with the communities concerned.
Can you give an example of where an intervention (whether development, risk reduction or emergency response) has in fact exacerbated the risk for the community? Can you determine why or how the exacerbation of community risk occurred?
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