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close this bookAn Overview of Disaster Management (Department of Humanitarian Affairs/United Nations Disaster Relief Office - United Nations Development Programme , 1992, 136 p.)
close this folderChapter 8. Vulnerability and risk assessment 1
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentRisk management
View the documentRisk probability
View the documentAcceptable levels of risk
View the documentAssessing risk and vulnerability
View the documentHow is risk determined?
View the documentVulnerability evaluation
View the documentReducing vulnerability for displaced persons

Vulnerability evaluation

Vulnerability is the propensity of things to be damaged by a hazard. People’s lives and health are at risk directly from the destructive effects of the hazard. Their incomes and livelihood are at risk because of the destruction of the buildings, crops, livestock or equipment which these depend on. Each type of hazard puts a somewhat different set of elements at risk. Most of disaster mitigation work is focused on reducing vulnerability, and in order to act to reduce vulnerability, development planners need an understanding of which elements are most at risk from the principal hazards which have been identified.

Vulnerability assessment is the process of estimating the vulnerability to potential disaster hazards of specified elements at risk. For general socio-economic purposes it involves consideration of all significant elements in society, including physical, social and economic considerations, and the extent to which essential services will be able to continue functioning.

As we have noted in Chapter 1 the root causes of vulnerability to disasters in developing countries are poverty and inequitable development. Rapid population growth, urban or mass migration, inequitable patterns of land ownership, lack of education, and subsistence agriculture on marginal lands lead to vulnerable conditions such as unsafe siting of buildings and settlements, unsafe homes, deforestation, malnutrition, unemployment, underemployment, and illiteracy.

It is the interface between these vulnerable conditions and natural hazards such as an earthquake, tropical storm, drought, and heavy rains, that results in a disaster or protracted emergency. (See Fig. 1.1)

Vulnerability derived from poverty can best be addressed by long-term development projects targeted at the underlying reasons that large population groups remain poor, while at the same time introducing measure to mitigate disaster effects.

Vulnerability may also be a result of factors more easily solved by specific risk reduction measures. These factors include inappropriate building codes and materials, and a lack of public awareness. However, many of these measures depend on the extent of a society’s development. For example, it is unrealistic to expect building codes to be enforced where governments do not have staff and resources to carry out inspections. Likewise, public awareness depends, to some extent, on the community’s educational level and the availability of communication facilities, which are frequently deficient in developing countries.

Vulnerability and risk assessment is the link between development project implementation and disaster mitigation. In UNDP, for example, a proposed project should be examined against the vulnerability and risk of the project location. If the location or the nature of the project design are inherently vulnerable to disasters, then the location should be reconsidered or disaster mitigation/risk reduction measures must be taken. (See Chapter 13 for additional discussion on how this may be achieved.)