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Vulnerability and resilience


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Vulnerability and resilience

Vulnerability is a concept that involves risks that have the potential to cause some level of economic and social liability and the ability to cope with the outcomes of these events. It is the level at which part of the whole system might adversely respond to a dangerous occurrence. Most people become vulnerable when access to personal or household resources is essential in recovering from disasters or achieving a secure livelihood. Therefore, this means that the home with direct access to tools and equipment such as capital and able family members are the ones who stand a better chance of recovering quickly whenever they face a tragedy. Similarly, the most vulnerable people in the community are the ones who are at the lowest level in society, and they have no choice but to live in hazardous areas such as shanties and slums that have no proper infrastructure and basic amenities such as toilets. Generally, resilience talks about people’s ability to cope and deal with difficult situations whenever they experience them.

Research on vulnerability and resilience focuses more on different challenges and domains. Resilience research often focuses on ecosystems such as terrestrial and marine and the management of critical sectors of the natural resources like fisheries, forestry, rangelands, and agriculture. The vulnerability research links policies and practices in essential areas such as reducing disasters, food insecurity, and adaptation to climate change. Humanitarian organizations have carried out vulnerability and resilience assessments in disaster-stricken countries such as Sri Lanka. From their analysis, it is clear that natural disasters always destroy the lives and property of many Sinhalese. However, the people who experience the full impact of these disasters are the poorest in society. Floods wash away their temporary structures together with their belongings, leaving them helpless and vulnerable. Through the cooperation of humanitarian workers and researchers, the application and assessment of vulnerability can be strengthened and improved, especially in reducing the impact of disasters on the affected persons (Marks, 2018).

Several factors can contribute to resilience, such as the environmental conditions, the climate, and people’s efforts to take care of natural resources. Thus, these societal and demographic features can lead to stability. In a nutshell, the difficulties of accounting for interactions between factors and the dynamism of change in the future remain even when an agreed-on set is developed. Several approaches can be applied to provide a foundation for analysis to take place. First, we need to create a resilient society by integrating factors that lead to more resilience to disasters. Secondly, there should be in-depth scrutiny of the general dimensions such as the use of natural resources, socio-demographic conditions, people’s culture, economic factors, and the policies that a government has put in place (Miller et al., 2010). Other factors also include cultural and societal ties, which suggest how society interacts and collectively tackles change and solves problems.

Examining studied populations beyond poverty status and the aggregate number is one of the common deficiencies across resilience and vulnerability research. When the livelihoods approach is exclusively ignored in vulnerability research, there can only be an inconclusive result. Credible research would incorporate how resources are used, the household configurations, the vulnerability sources, and the role public health plays in resilience to disaster in a city.

It is a well-known fact floods do not just occur due to a one-time external incident like a heavy downfall. There is always a close relationship between the socio-environmental processes and the incident. Some of them happened a long time ago before a disaster, such as deforestation and different land use such as heavy mining activities. Therefore, when analyzing disasters such as floods, we should consider the role such events play. According to Smith (2006), vulnerability to floods can be determined by the capacity to cope and the level of exposure to such experiences; how people deal with disasters changes with time and is influenced by economic, political, and social processes. People who have a more significant say in society have a high level of access to power, have better knowledge of flooding, and have more financial muscles.  

The political economies of urbanization in some cities have made the poor urban settlements most vulnerable to disasters. For instance, the slums in Bangkok are located in suburban areas near industries where the infrastructure is poor and cannot sustain floods. Another factor that increases vulnerability in most shantytowns is low-lying unfilled lands that are more likely to experience flooding when the rains come. Research has established that most slums around the world are located in places that are below road level. For example, most slums in India and Sri Lanka are found along canal banks and railway lines. Consequently, the people who live in these slums are live in abject poverty due to lack of employment, and most of them survive by doing manual works that pay them less than a dollar every day. Unfortunately, the government, which is supposed to offer them humanitarian help, does not provide them any,  thus exposing them to more danger when they face disasters such as floods, tsunamis, and earthquakes.

Another factor that increases vulnerability to disasters is the government’s lack of planning and land use regulations. Most governments from developing and third world countries have failed to plan their cities in a way that can sustain or withstand floods. The infrastructure such as proper drainage and dams to harvest rainwater is lacking. For instance, in a city like Manila, the government established policies that governed the use of weak land and did not have proper punitive actions to actualize the policies. They contained many loopholes that land developers flouted without any consequences. As a result, there was a surge of poorly planned towns and cities.

Finally, the fragmented nature of government bodies responsible for land and water governance and their limited capacity to enforce the set laws increases the vulnerability to disasters. For example, the Thai government ministries required to oversee the urban governance lack coordination, and they operate like mini kingdoms with competing interests. Also, the bureaucratic process of approvals means that the drafting and implementation processes are done very slowly, just like it took seventeen years for Bangkok to pass its initial city plan after the first draft. In most jurisdictions, the long delays and resistance from the mighty people in the society result in a lack of planning and implementation of proper infrastructure to cope and withstand disasters such as floods.


Marks, D. (2018). The political ecology of uneven development and vulnerability to disasters. In Routledge Handbook of Urbanization in Southeast Asia (pp. 345-354). Routledge.  https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315562889-30 

Miller, F., et al. 2010. “Resilience and vulnerability: complementary or conflicting concepts?” Ecology and Society 15(3): 11. https://doi.org/10.5751/es-03378-150311 

Smith, N. (2006). There’s no such thing as a natural disaster. Understanding Katrina: perspectives from the social sciences, 11. https://doi.org/10.4324/9780203625460-7 

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