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Egs 3021f vulnerability to environmental change gina ziervogel gina@csag uct ac za december 2011

EGS 3021F: Vulnerability to Environmental Change

Gina Ziervogel ([email protected])

December 2011

Section 2:Vulnerability approaches

This work by Gina Ziervogel is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Conceptual lineages of vulnerability research
Conceptual lineages of vulnerability research:

  • Risk/Hazard

  • Political economy/ecology

  • Ecological resilience

    Eakinand Luers (2006)

Risk hazard

Approach to vulnerability research

Risk hazard approach
Risk/hazard approach

  • Focal Questions:

    • What are the hazards?

    • What are the impacts?

    • Where and when?

  • Key attributes:

    • Exposure (physical threat, external to system)

    • Sensitivity

……Risk/hazard approach

  • Exposure unit:

    • Places, sectors, activities

    • Landscapes, regions

  • Decision scale of audience

    • Regional

    • Global

      (Eakin and Luers, 2006)

By Gina Ziervogel

Definition of vulnerability
Definition of vulnerability

……Risk/hazard approach

The degree to which an exposure unit is susceptible to harm due to exposure to a perturbation or stress, and the ability (or lack thereof) of the exposure unit to cope, recover, or fundamentally adapt (become a new system or become extinct).

(Kasperson et al, 2001)


……Risk/hazard approach

  • Evolved from natural hazards literature

    • Hazards characterisation, risk threshold, human behaviour

    • Geographers such as

      • Gilbert White – human factors involved in disasters

        Natural Hazards: Local, National, Global (1974)

        • Burton I, White G, Kates R. 1978. Environment as Hazard. New York: Oxford Univ.

        • Cutter SL. 1996. Vulnerability to environmental hazards. Prog. Hum. Geogr. 20:529–39

……Risk/hazard approach

  • Used in IPCC (2001)

    • Sensitivity to risk + possible economic & social losses

    • Quantifications used as proxy for vulnerability

  • Late 1990s

    • Increased attention to social drivers and institutional conditions

      • Kelly PM, Adger WN. 2000. Theory and practice in assessing vulnerability to climate change and facilitating adaptation. Clim. Change 47:325–52

      • Burton I, Huq S, Lim B, PilifosovaO,Schipper EL. 2002. From impacts assessment to adaptation priorities: the shaping of adaptation policy. Clim. Policy 2:145– 159

Definition of disaster:

>10 killed

>100 affected

Source: Emergency Events Database EM-DAT

Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters CRED


Great natural catastrophes and economic losses
Great natural catastrophes and economic losses

( Munich Re 2000, in Kasperson et al, 2005: 154 )

Recent natural hazards
Recent natural hazards

  • (





4 Jan 2009

  • 54 000 people displaced

  • Damage to bridges/roads affecting 344 000

  • 145 deaths

14 April 2009


  • ‘Natural’ hazards should be seen as ‘social’ hazards

  • Need to acknowledge how political and economic forces make people more vulnerable

    (Wisner et al, 2004)

Political economy ecology
Political economy/ecology

Approach to vulnerability research

Political economy/ecology approach

  • Political ecology approaches to vulnerability emerged in response to risk-hazard assessment of climate impacts and disasters

    • Hewitt K, ed. 1983. Interpretations of Calamity. Boston, MA: Allen & Unwin

  • Characteristics:

    • Analyses of social and economic processes

    • Interacting scales of causation

    • Social differences

  • (Eakin and Luers, 2006)

    • Focal Questions:

      • How are people and places affected differently?

      • What explains differential capacities to cope and adapt?

      • What are the causes and consequences of differential susceptibility?

    • Key attributes:

      • Capacity

      • Sensitivity

      • Exposure

    • Exposure unit

      • Individuals, households, social groups

      • Communities, livelihoods

    • Decision scale of audience

      • Local

      • Regional

      • Global

    • “Vulnerability comes at the confluence of underdevelopment, social and economic marginality and the inability to garner sufficient resources to maintain the natural resource bases and cope with the climatological and ecological instabilities of semi-arid zones”

      (Ribot et al, 1996)

    • Sociopolitical

    • Cultural

    • Economic factors

      Underpinned by AmartyaSen’s concept of entitlements and capabilities

      • Sen (1981).Poverty and Famines: an Essay on Entitlement and Deprivation.

        Links to Bohle et al.’s (1994) ‘space’ of vulnerability


    - Exposure to hazards

    - Impact

    - Capacities

    Vulnerability space
    Vulnerability space

    (Bohleet al, 1994)

    Case study
    Case study

    • Political economy/ecology


    Differential outcomes in crop yields during drought

    can’t be explained by rainfall

    • Land tenure

    • Historical biases in access to resources

      • Colonial political economy, imposed by Spanish, allowed landholders to manipulate price of staples  poor suffered

      • Poor lack credit, fertilizer etc.

      • New techniques for agricultural intensification replace traditional hazard prevention strategies

        (Liverman, 1994)

    Case study1
    Case study


    Hurricane impact and response
    Hurricane impact and response

    • Hazards associated with hurricanes:

      • High winds

      • Tornadoes

      • Heavy rainfall

      • Rain-induced flooding

    • Response:

      • Evacuation

      • Sheltering

    • Social and racial stratification in

      America has impacted on response

      (Cutter and Smith, 2009)

    Increasing costs of natural disasters world wide
    Increasing costs of natural disasters world wide


    Historical response
    Historical response

    • 1926 – Mississippi river

      • White power barons demanded that levee downstream be destroyed to alleviate flooding potential

      • Dynamited banks and destroyed homes and businesses of poor African Americans to save wealthy city

    • 2005 – Hurricane Katrina

      • Preparation and response – differential treatment following class and racial divides

      • Lessons learnt?

        (Cutter and Smith, 2009)

    2008 hurricane gustav southern louisiana
    2008: Hurricane Gustav, southern Louisiana

    • Evacuated 1.9 million people

      • 53 deaths

      • 2 evacuations: 1 for those with car and 1 for those without

        • Those with cars returned 3 days after event

    • Those without cars

      • Designed to be race and class neutral

      • Mainly poor and minority groups

      • Transported on state buses

        • not told where they were going or how long it would take

      • Insufficient facilities (sleeping, ablution)

      • Sex offenders told to ‘fend for themselves’

      • Returned more than 5 days later

        (Cutter and Smith, 2009)

    2008 hurricane ike galveston texas
    2008: Hurricane Ike, Galveston Texas

    Major Hurricanes not frequent along this coast

    • 125 lives lost

    • mainly white middle income residents

    • 1 million evacuated, 100 000 didn’t

    • although category 2 hurricane, category 4 storm surge with strong winds

      (Cutter and Smith, 2009)

    Ecological resilience
    Ecological resilience

    Approach to vulnerability research

    Ecological resilience1
    Ecological resilience

    • Focal questions

      • Why and how do systems change?

      • What is the capacity to respond to change?

      • What are the underlying processes that control the ability to cope or adapt?

    By Gina Ziervogel

    Ecological resilience2
    Ecological resilience

    • Exposure unit

      • Coupled human-environment systems

      • Ecosystems

    • Decision scale

      • Landscapes

      • Ecoregions

      • Multiple scales

    Ecological resilience

    • Resilience is “the capacity of a system to undergo disturbance and maintain its functions and controls” (Carpenter et al, 2001: 766)

    • Key attributes

      • Amount of change the system can undergo

      • Threshold identification

      • Degree of self-organisation

      • Degree to build capacity to learn and adapt

      • Factors than enable disturbance to be absorbed

        (Carpenter et al, 2001)

    • Resilience for whom or what?

    • Cannot assume social and ecological resilience move in the same direction

      • Food production increases and ecological diversity decreases

        (Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, )


    Ecological resilience

    • Contrasts to earlier views of system existing near equilibrium

    • Engineering resilience – return to predisturbed state after disturbance

    • Systems exhibit non- and multi-equilibrium dynamics

    Historical cont
    Historical cont..

    • Human activity one of many driving forces

    • Timmerman (1981)

      • Vulnerability, resilience and the collapse of society

      • Linked resilience theory to social sciences

      • Vulnerability of society to hazard result of rigidity

    • Adaptive co-management of human-managed resource systems

      • Enable dynamic learning

      • Enhance flows of knowledge across scales

    Additional case study material
    Additional case study material

    Integrating resilience, political ecology and risk/hazard

    Cross cutting case study social ecological resilience to coastal disasters
    Cross-cutting case study: Social-ecological resilience to coastal disasters

    Resilient SES have diverse mechanisms for living with and learning from change and uncertainty

    Instead of attempting to control changes the concept of resilience aims at “sustaining and enhancing the capacity of SESs to adapt to uncertainty and surprise.”

    (Adger et al, 2005)

    (Adger et al, 2005)

    Tsunami impact and response
    Tsunami impact and response of :

    • Ecological resilience

      • Close to epicentre: Mangroves, dunes etc made no difference to impact

      • Sri Lanka: smaller waves dissipated by mangroves

    • Strong local governance

      • Less impact in west Sumatra and Thai island

      • Inherited knowledge of tsunamis, early warning

    • Where ecosystems were undermined, harder to recover

      • Loss of traditional income sources

    (Adger et al, 2005)

    Resilience response
    Resilience response of :

    • Regenerating physical and ecological structures doesn’t solve problem

      • Strengthen long-term employment

      • Manage natural resilience of reefs

        • water quality  coral reefs

      • Need to address multiple scales

    • Reducing perverse incentives that

      • Destroy natural capital

      • Exacerbate vulnerability

    (Adger et al, 2005)

    Review of :

    • Vulnerability definitions and concepts

    • Vulnerability frameworks

    • Conceptual approaches

    Review of vulnerability approaches choose from risk hazard political economy ecological resilience
    Review of vulnerability approaches of :Choose from Risk/Hazard; Political economy; Ecological resilience

    References of :

    Adger, N.W., Hughes, T.P., Folke, C., Carpenter, S. R. and Rockstöm, J. 2005. Social-Ecological Resilience to Coastal Disasters. Science, 309 (5737): 1036-1039

    Bohle, H. G., Downing, T. E. and Watts, M. J. 1994.Climate change and social vulnerability: Toward a sociology and geography of food insecurity. Global Environmental Change, 4(1): 37-48

    Carpenter SR, Walker BH, Anderies JM, Abel N. 2001. From metaphor to measurement: Resilience of what to what? Ecosystems 4:765–81

    Chopra, K., Leemans, R., Kumar, P., and Simons, H. 2005. Ecosystems and Human Well-being: Policy responses, Volume 3. Findings of the Responses of Working Group of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. Washington, Covelo, London: Island Press. (accessed at

    Cutter, S. and Smith, M. 2009. Fleeing from the hurricane’s wrath: Evacuation and the two Americas. Environment: Science and Policy for Sustainable Development, 51 (2): 26-36

    Eakin, H. and Luers, A. L. 2006. Assessing the Vulnerability of Social-Environmental Systems. Annual Review of Environment and Resources, 31: 365-394

    Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change (IPCC), 2001. McCarthy, J.J., Canziani, O.F., Leary, N.A., Dokken, D.J. and White, K.S (eds). Contribution of Working Group II to the Third Assessment Report, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, USA: Cambridge University Press.  (accessed at

    Kaplan, M., Renaud, F. G. and Luchters, G. 2009. Vulnerability assessment and protective effects of coastal vegetation during the 2004 Tsunami in Sri Lanka. Natural Hazards and Earth System Sciences, 9: 1479-1494

    Kasperson, R. E., Kasperson, J. X., and Dow, K. 2001. Vulnerability, equity, and global environmental change, in J. X. Kasperson and R. E. Kasperson (eds.), Global Environmental Risk, London: Earthscan.

    References continued
    References continued of :

    Liverman, D.M. 1994. Vulnerability to Global Environmental Change. Chapter 26, p. 326-342 in S. Cutter, (ed), Environmental Risks and Hazards. Prentice Hall: Saddle River, NJ. (Reprint of 1990 report published by Clark University)

    Munich Re 2000: Topics 2000: Natural Catastrophes—the Current Position. Munich, Germany. (Available online at in Kasperson, R.E., E. Archer, D. Caceres, K. Dow, T. Downing, T. Elmqvist, C. Folke, G. Han, K. Iyengar, C. Vogel, K. Wilson and G. Ziervogel, 2005. Vulnerable Peoples and Places.

    RibotJC, Najam A, and Watson G. 1996. Climate variation, vulnerability and sustainable development in the semiarid tropics. In Ribot, J.C., Magalhaes, A.R. and Panagides, S.S. (eds), Climate Variability, Climate Change and Social Vulnerability in the Semi-arid Tropics, pp. 13–51. Cambridge, UK:University Cambridge Press

    Scoones, I. 1998. Sustainable rural livelihoods: a framework for analysis. IDS working paper, 72. Brighton: IDS.

    Timmerman P. 1981. Vulnerability, resilience and the collapse of society. Rep. 1, Inst. Environ. Stud., Toronto, Canada

    Wisner, B., Blaikie, P., Cannon, T., Davis, I., 2004. At Risk: Natural Hazards, People’s Vulnerability, and Disasters. New York: Routledge

    All web links were checked in November 2011