[Solved] Vulnerability is an essential element for defining disaster impacts and its threat to people. How and in what ways can vulnerability to disasters be characterized? Discuss different types of vulnerability with reference to disasters. (UPSC GS-3 Mains 2019)

Vulnerability describes the characteristics and circumstances of a community, system or asset that make it susceptible to the damaging effects of a hazard. There are many aspects of vulnerability, arising from various physical, social, economic, and environmental factors.

 Examples may include:

 • poor design and construction of buildings,

 • inadequate protection of assets,

 • lack of public information and awareness,

 • limited official recognition of risks and preparedness measures, and

 • disregard for wise environmental management.

 Vulnerability varies significantly within a community and over time. This definition identifies vulnerability as a characteristic of the element of interest (community, system or asset) which is independent of its exposure.

 Different types of vulnerability with reference to disasters:

 There are 5 main types of vulnerability:

  • Physical Vulnerability may be determined by aspects such as population density levels, remoteness of a settlement, the site, design and materials used for critical infrastructure and for housing (UNISDR).
  • Example: Wooden homes are less likely to collapse in an earthquake, but are more vulnerable to fire.
  • Social Vulnerability refers to the inability of people, organizations and societies to withstand adverse impacts to hazards due to characteristics inherent in social interactions, institutions and systems of cultural values.
  • It is linked to the level of well-being of individuals, communities and society. It includes aspects related to levels of literacy and education, the existence of peace and security, access to basic human rights, systems of good governance, social equity, positive traditional values, customs and ideological beliefs and overall collective organizational systems (UNISDR).
  • In a disaster, women in general may be affected differently from men because of their social status, family responsibilities or reproductive role, but they are not necessarily vulnerable.
  • Example: When flooding occurs some citizens, such as children, elderly and differently-able, may be unable to protect themselves or evacuate if necessary.
  • Economic Vulnerability. The level of vulnerability is highly dependent upon the economic status of individuals, communities and nations the poor are usually more vulnerable to disasters because they lack the resources to build sturdy structures and put other engineering measures in place to protect themselves from being negatively impacted by disasters.

 Example: Poorer families may live in squatter settlements because they cannot afford to live in safer (more expensive) areas.

  • Environmental Vulnerability. Natural resource depletion and resource degradation are key aspects of environmental vulnerability.
  • Example: Wetlands, such as the Caroni Swamp, are sensitive to increasing salinity from sea water, and pollution from stormwater runoff containing agricultural chemicals, eroded soils, etc.
  •  Attitudinal vulnerability
  • A community which has negative attitude towards change and lacks initiative in life resultantly become more and more dependent on external support. They cannot act independently. They become victims of conflicts, hopelessness and pessimism which reduces their capacity of coping with a disaster.

Different Types of Vulnerability

 Physical Vulnerability-

 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-

 It refers to the inability of people, organisation 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 differently-abled may be unable to protect themselves on their own.

 Economic Vulnerability-

 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.

 Attitudinal Vulnerability

 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. 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.

 Environment Vulnerability–

 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.

 Characterstics of disaster vulnerability

 Magnitude of impact

 The disaster is gauged based on the impact it creates on the society and citizens. If the effects are widespread the disaster is said to be hazardous.

 Ex: Indian ocean Tsunami in 2004.

 Fatality

 Based on number of people that are assumed to perish due to the disaster, the vulnerability of society towards the disaster is calculated.

 Ex: The Chernobyl nuclear disaster was highly fatal due the high number of deaths that incurred.

Different trypes of vulnerability

 Vulnerability to infrastructural destruction

 The infrastructural vulnerability can be considered a situation in which large scale infrastructure is at risk of being destroyed due the disaster.

 Ex: Himalayan cities are vulnerable to infrasructural destruction due to earthquakes.

 Vulnerability to economic stability

 Any disaster that may occur in form of natural or man made can cause large losses to the state due to destruction of economy of the state as well as citizens.

 Ex: Sri Lanka is vulnerable to economic collapse if its tourism industry is impacted due to disasters like Tsunami.

 Vulnerability to political stability

 Disaster can have widespread impact on political situation in a country. Such period usaully is susceptible to protests that can cause political instability.

 Characterising Vulnerability to Disaster

 Scientific Method-

  • 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:

  • It helps in collecting spatial data and integrating them within the systems to manage the disaster event activities.
  • 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.
  • Promoting wood construction in the hilly areas to reduce the economic losses of the people.
  • Avoiding settlement in the fault line areas.
  • Site-Specific-
  • Every site and locality has it’s own vulnerability and is different from others.
  • Policy & Programme Method-
  • Policy and programme help 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 characterise the vulnerability to disaster.

 Preparedness

 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 categorise 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.

Conclusion:

  Disaster management is a multi-disciplinary area which includes forecasting, warning, search and rescue, relief, reconstruction and rehabilitation. It is also a multi sectoral task as it involves administrators, scientists, planners, volunteers and communities. Critical need is the co-ordination of all the activities between them.For developing countries like India disaster management is a major concern as it directly influences the economy, agriculture, food and sanitation, water, environment and health. Disasters also have social, economic and psychological dimensions. Funds must be designed and planned on risk assessment and risk exposure assessment. So, Risk reduction and sustainable development must be seen in an integrated format.

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