Cover Image
close this bookVulnerability and Risk Assessment - 2nd Edition (Department of Humanitarian Affairs/United Nations Disaster Relief Office - Disaster Management Training Programme - United Nations Development Programme , 1994, 70 p.)
close this folderPart 1 - Understanding risk
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentNothing in life is safe...
View the documentDefinition of risk
View the documentRisk assessment and evaluation
View the documentHow risky is it? The measurement of risk.
View the documentRisk and priorities: comparative risk
View the documentPerception of risk
View the documentAcceptable levels of risks
View the documentManagement of community risk
View the documentRisks of natural and technological hazards
View the documentSUMMARY

Nothing in life is safe...

When crossing the road there is a risk of being injured by a car. At home there is an everyday risk of accident or fire. We take actions to minimize risk. When we cross the road, we carry out rituals of looking out for vehicles. When we leave home we turn off heat sources and electrical appliances to minimize the risk of fires. Low levels of risk we accept. High levels of risk we try to do something about.

The risk of natural disasters is something we all face. For some of us that risk is higher than others. Where we live, what we live in, and what we do determines our risk. How important the risk of natural disasters is compared with other risks in our lives will determine whether we do anything about it and how much we do. Awareness of the risk by the public in general and perception of how it compares to other risks will determine society's attitudes about reducing it. Understanding risks and their causes is important in dealing with disasters. Our knowledge of what makes a person or a community more vulnerable than another determines the steps we can take to reduce their risk.

Society takes collective action to protect itself against risks and has been successful in doing so. Reducing the risk of disease has been one of the greatest social achievements of the last century and a half. Average life expectancy for someone born in Europe in 1841 was 35 years. Now in most high income countries it is over 70 years, and over 50 years even in the 40 poorest countries.1 Most of this is due to the virtual disappearance over this time of mortality due to infectious disease. Societies appear to become generally safer and less tolerant of risks as they become more technologically advanced. And yet some technological advances bring with them increased risks: the automobile has cost many lives. Energy supplies and industries introduce new hazards, and so on. The benefits of new technologies appear to outweigh the risks they bring and we as a society seem to tolerate different risks for different reasons. The demand for increased safety in the home and safety in the workplace continue. As the risks diminish from common events like disease, the risks posed by extraordinary events, like natural hazards assume a greater significance. The level of safety that is being pursued is not specific. How safe is safe enough? What risk are we really facing from disasters and how does it compare with other, more familiar risks?

In many cases it is far more cost-effective to prevent disasters from occurring beforehand than to recover from them afterwards. In developing countries, the United Nations Development Program is promoting the goal of sustainable development, and it is argued that disaster awareness considerations should be incorporated into all development programming and planning, both to protect the development process and to reduce the risk of wasting scarce development resources. The UNDP and DHA also have a growing involvement in projects specifically orientated towards disaster mitigation. These projects are prompted by growing awareness of the risks faced and increasing realization that some level of protection is possible. How can the risks be assessed? And how can decisions be made on the appropriate level of protection?

This module deals with risk as a concept and examines risk from natural hazards in the context of other risks. It discusses risk assessment techniques and their use in defining mitigation strategies. Fundamental to reducing risk is the assessment of vulnerability. How much we know about vulnerability and methods of assessing vulnerability are discussed in the following sections.