Updated July 19, 2022
Vulnerability is defined as the extent to which a community, place, structure or organization are in exposure to the threat. There are many different factors that determine vulnerability. A degree of vulnerability determines the impact of the disaster. So, the disaster event activities occur when the vulnerabilities and hazards meet.
Hazards can also be called ‘Trigger Events’. When one hazard meets with a vulnerable community a disaster is likely to occur. For instance, the poverty will have people build houses with weaker materials and in more dangerous areas.
The True Nature of Vulnerability
Vulnerability describes the characteristics and circumstances of a community, system or asset that make it susceptible to the damaging effects of a hazard. Here, susceptibility is the fact of being exposed. One can be susceptible but not vulnerable, e.g. a landslide is threatening a house but the owners have built a wall to protect it.
The holistic approach to risk and vulnerability assessment insists that the methodology of vulnerability should consider multi-disciplinary and inclusive indicators. Therefore, the vulnerability can be assessed through the various factors like (a) Exposure and physical susceptibility, (b) Social and economic fragilities, (c) Lack of resilience or ability to cope and recovering etc.
Resilience is the capacity to adapt and recover. E.g. the owners of the house threatened by the landslide have a second house in town. One might be susceptible but when the resilience is high, one is not vulnerable. Therefore, capacity and vulnerability are opposite facets of the same coin. The more capacity one has, the less vulnerable one is, and vice versa.
Characterization of Disaster Vulnerability
This method is used to determine the various indicators to mitigate or reduce the disaster event activities. It is done through the considerations of various theories, research, and methodologies that help in understanding the impact of the vulnerability in a particular area.
Geographical Information Systems (GIS) and CEM
GIS is a powerful tool that should be used in every phase of Comprehensive Emergency Management (CEM) as it can dramatically improve the efficiency of CEM activities. Comprehensive Emergency Management (CEM) is an emergency management cycle for disaster event activities. CEM is a system of applying science and technology to manage and deal with disasters that can exert an enormous amount of damage. It demonstrates four phases in terms of pre and post-disaster event activities; Response, Recovery, Mitigation and Preparedness. It is a multi-dimensional method that covers all four phases throughout the temporal and spatial dimension of the disaster events.
General roles of GIS in emergency management are:
(a) It helps in collecting spatial data and integrating them within the systems to manage the disaster event activities.
(b) GIS helps in dynamic monitoring and interoperability on human and physical processes
(c) applying the concept of GI, uncertainty, scale, and spatial analysis into the system, a beneficial gain of decision support systems (DSS)
So, scientific data/information can be used to estimate the impact/damage of a place or structure in case of disaster. The disaster event activities can be reduced by acting accordingly.
Like (a) Avoiding settlement in the vicinity of prone areas or putting alarm measure to get the warning of disaster in advance.
(b) Promoting wood construction in the hilly areas to reduce the economic losses of the people.
(c) Avoiding settlement in the fault line areas.
Every site and locality has it’s own vulnerability and is different from others.
Policy & Programme Method
Policy & Programme is an Efficient Way of Characterizing Disaster Vulnerability. It helps in addressing the challenges related to adaptation capacity, rehabilitation & long-term reintegration of the affected community. It is a spatial method which demarcates prone zone, put in pre and post hazard methodology to tackle against the vulnerability to disaster.
Capacity building, an alternative arrangement for settlement, Readiness of disaster and coordinating among various dependent in the wake of a disaster (Health, Home and other institution) will characterize the vulnerability to disaster.
Preparedness is a continuous cycle of organizing, training, equipping, exercising, evaluation, and improvement activities that ensure effective coordination and the enhancement of capabilities to prevent, protect against and mitigate against the disaster events. It helps to categorize the vulnerability to disaster.
Preparedness increases the capacity of society to withstand disaster event activities with the necessary steps such as by resilient building, SOP’s in place, Evacuation procedures etc. So, in the preparedness phase, the Emergency Management Department (EMD) develops plans of action to manage and counter risks of disaster. Even, it takes requiring action to build the necessary capabilities needed to implement such plans.
Different Types of Vulnerability in Disaster Management
Here are the various possible types of Vulnerability and scrolling along will give you the complete picture of corresponding measures to cope up with.
It is determined by various aspects such as population density levels, the remoteness of a settlement, the site, design and materials used for critical infrastructure and for housing. The physical vulnerability also depends upon the geographic proximity to the source and origin of disasters.
For example, if an area lies near the coastlines, fault lines, unstable hills etc. then the area will be more vulnerable to disasters as compared to an area that is far away from the origin of the disaster. Physical vulnerability creates hindrance in the access of various services like water resources, means of communications, hospitals, roads, bridges etc.
The material used in for the construction of infrastructure also determines the degree of vulnerability. For example, wooden homes are less vulnerable to an earthquake but are more vulnerable to fire.
Social Vulnerability refers to the inability of people, organization and societies to withstand adverse impacts on hazards. It occurs due to characteristics of social interactions, institutions and systems of cultural values. It is linked to the level of well-being of individuals, communities and society.
A socially vulnerable community has weak family structures, lack of leadership and unequal participation for decision making, weak or no community organizations etc. which pose the degree of vulnerability. Other social factors such as culture, tradition, religion, local norms and values, the economic standard also play a vital role in determining the social vulnerability of a community.
Social vulnerability to the natural phenomenon is greatest among the poorest in developing countries owing to lack of information and resources with which to take appropriate measures. Children, women and the elderly are more vulnerable within this group.
For example, during a disaster, women may be affected differently from men because of their social status. When flooding occurs some citizen, such as children, elderly and the differently abled may be unable to protect themselves on their own.
Economic vulnerability of a community can be assessed by determining how varied its sources of income are, the ease of access and control over means of production (e.g. farmland, livestock, irrigation, capital etc.). It means the level of a vulnerability is dependent upon the economic status of individuals and communities.
Poor are usually more vulnerable to disasters because they lack the resources to build disaster-resilient structures and put other engineering measures in place to protect themselves from the negative impacts of disasters. For example, poorer families living in squatter settlements are more prone to earthquakes.
An attitude of society in the time of disaster matter also. A community which has a negative attitude towards change and lacks initiative in life are highly vulnerable to the hazard or risk. They are more and more dependent on external support. They cannot act independently.
More so, they do not have a resilient resource and they do not possess the concept of collectivism. For it, they could never form a unity in society. Thus, they become victims of conflicts, hopelessness and pessimism which reduces their capacity of coping with a disaster.
Natural resource depletion and degradation are the key aspects of environmental vulnerability. For example, coral reefs are more vulnerable to any changes in the salinity and temperatures of oceans.