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Flood Conference – ICLR, May 6-8, 2008, Toronto, Canada Assessment of Social Vulnerability at Sub-national Scale Dr.-Ing. Jörn Birkmann & Alexander Fekete. " Advancing Knowledge for Human Security and Development“ United Nations University Institute for Environment and Human Security

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Advancing knowledge for human security and development

Flood Conference – ICLR, May 6-8, 2008, Toronto, Canada

Assessment of Social Vulnerability at Sub-national Scale

Dr.-Ing. Jörn Birkmann & Alexander Fekete

"Advancing Knowledge for Human Security and Development“

United Nations UniversityInstitute for Environment and Human Security


Dr.-Ing. Birkmann UNU-EHSbirkmann@ehs.unu.edu


  • Motivation

  • Vulnerability – Different Schools of Thought

  • Conceptual Framework

  • Assessment Process for the Sub-National Level

  • Data Limitations

  • Scale Issues

  • Conclusions

Dr.-Ing. Birkmann UNU-EHSbirkmann@ehs.unu.edu

Understanding of vulnerability
Understanding of Vulnerability

Fundamental Equation of Risk Analysis

consequences due to flooding


risk =

probability of failure

of coastal defences



Dr.-Ing. Birkmann UNU-EHSbirkmann@ehs.unu.edu

Source: Stephan Mai 2006

Expected damage
Expected Damage

total economic value


Source: Stephan Mai 2006

Dr.-Ing. Birkmann UNU-EHSbirkmann@ehs.unu.edu

Social vulnerability
Social Vulnerability

  • Tsunami 2004: Gender imbalance

  • Katrina 2005: Institutional failure; but also ethnical

  • Banat flood 2005: Cultural acquaintance; - duration

Sri Lanka

New Orleans - Superdome



Dr.-Ing. Birkmann UNU-EHSbirkmann@ehs.unu.edu

Vulnerability definitions
Vulnerability Definitions

“... a human condition or process resulting from physical, social, economic, and environmental factors which determine the likelihood and scale of damage from the impact of a given hazard“ (UNDP, 2004)

“... the likelihood of injury, death, loss, disruption of livelihood or other harm in an extreme event, and/or unusual difficulties in recovering from such effects“ (Wisner, 2002)

Dr.-Ing. Birkmann UNU-EHSbirkmann@ehs.unu.edu

Social vulnerability in germany
Social Vulnerability in Germany

  • Are some social groups more vulnerable ?

    Baseline social problems in Germany:

  • Unemployment

  • Migration; ethnic integration; racism

  • Ageing of the population; pension security

  • Relative poverty gap

Dr.-Ing. Birkmann UNU-EHSbirkmann@ehs.unu.edu

Project disflood


  • Data availability for the whole research area

  • End-user:- Administrative units

  • Target definition- Comparability- Completeness

  • Identify social and ecological vulnerability

  • Interlink vulnerability to hazard

  • Provide overview for 3 river-areas

  • GIS Integration

Dr.-Ing. Birkmann UNU-EHSbirkmann@ehs.unu.edu

The bbc framework
The BBC-Framework

Source: Bogardi/Birkmann (2004) and Cardona (1999/2001)

Dr.-Ing. Birkmann UNU-EHSbirkmann@ehs.unu.edu

Social vulnerability index criteria
Social Vulnerability Index -Criteria

Exposure Potential

  • People

  • Settlement area


  • Unemployment, welfare dependence

  • Ethnic and economic conditions

  • Age, dependency, gender


  • Income and building type

  • Education and medical supply

  • Physical vitality

Dr.-Ing. Birkmann UNU-EHSbirkmann@ehs.unu.edu

Social vulnerability index
Social Vulnerability Index

  • Input: 34 variables of Federal statistical data 2006

  • Method: Factor analysis, with varimax rotation

  • Result: 4 Composite factors that indicate vulnerability

  • Income

  • Population density

  • Physical fragility, age

  • Lack of medical care

Dr.-Ing. Birkmann UNU-EHSbirkmann@ehs.unu.edu

General social vulnerability index
General Social Vulnerability Index

Which social groups are more vulnerable?

  • 34 demographic variablese.g. age, education, income

  • Map shows general vulnerability

  • Comparable studies on county level in USA, UK, Spain, Germany

Dr.-Ing. Birkmann UNU-EHSbirkmann@ehs.unu.edu

Data: Federal statistical office 2007, BKG 2007

Ecological vulnerability
Ecological Vulnerability

Aggregation to county scale enables integration

DISFLOOD - Marion Damm

Dr.-Ing. Birkmann UNU-EHSbirkmann@ehs.unu.edu

Hazard specific vulnerability
Hazard-Specific Vulnerability

  • Flood experience

  • Critical infrastructure

  • Early warning systems

Scale implications:

Availability only for certain areas

Dr.-Ing. Birkmann UNU-EHSbirkmann@ehs.unu.edu

Exposure degree

  • Percentage of flooded settlement area per county

Data: CORINE 2000, HQ extreme IKSR 2001

Dr.-Ing. Birkmann UNU-EHSbirkmann@ehs.unu.edu

Integration hazards vulnerability
Integration: Hazards & Vulnerability

Risk = f(hazards; vulnerabilities)

Vulnerability = exposure, sensitivity,

capacities = the internal predisposition

Dr.-Ing. Birkmann UNU-EHSbirkmann@ehs.unu.edu

Outlook disaster risk index
Outlook - Disaster Risk Index

  • Combines social and ecological vulnerability

  • Combines hazard and vulnerability parameters

  • Data is normalised,

  • equal weighting,

  • ranks after standard deviations

Dr.-Ing. Birkmann UNU-EHSbirkmann@ehs.unu.edu

Scale implications


Constraints level: e.g. economic and political dynamics of the country

Level of focus: Vulnerability Phenomenon

Reductionist components: Validation by household questionnaire

Lit.: Gibson et al. 2000, O‘Neill 1988

Scale Implications

  • Multiple-scale problems

Dr.-Ing. Birkmann UNU-EHSbirkmann@ehs.unu.edu

Scale of the hazard
Scale of the Hazard

City of Cologne

Scale implication:

Extreme event data more suitable for sub-national scale


Blue line: HQ100

Blue area: HQ extreme

Symbols: Infrastructure

Outlook: more detailed study on local level – BBK study (Birkmann)

Dr.-Ing. Birkmann UNU-EHSbirkmann@ehs.unu.edu

Fekete 2007

Www ehs unu edu


birkmann@ehs.unu.edu & fekete@ehs.unu.edu

Dr.-Ing. Birkmann UNU-EHSbirkmann@ehs.unu.edu