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SOURCE No. 4/2006: Vulnerability by Juan Carlos Villagrán de Léon
UNU-EHS is happy to present the new issue of our publications series SOURCE. SOURCE No. 4 with the title “Vulnerability: A Conceptual and Methodological Review” deals with the complex problematic of vulnerability assessment today and has been written by one of our staff members, the Academic Officer Dr. Juan Carlos Villagrán de León. The publication offers a review of different ideas, concepts and methods developed in the recent years of research to capture vulnerability at different scales, as well as of proceedings and possibilities in the field of vulnerability assessment.
Dr. Villagrán is specialized in Risk Reduction and Early Warning and has been active in the past in projects in Sri Lanka and Indonesia.
To download the electronic version of the SOURCE 4/2006 issue, please click
Foreword written by the UNU-EHS Director Janos J. Bogardi
During the last three decades the world has faced an unprecedented increase of the frequency and magnitude of extreme environmental hazard events. The frequency of some geogene events like earthquakes and volcano emptions while random in occurrence remained fairly constant, while events related to the hydrometeorological cycle seem to increase in both frequency and magnitude. Even more troubling are the statistics regarding the associated economic losses.While the frequency seems to be between being doubled or tripled, the economic losses have undergone a six fold increase over the last 30 years.
Without even exploring other dimensions of the hazards – losses nexus it is obvious that next to the observable shift in frequency and magnitude of hazard events, something else is contributing to the over proportional growth of losses.
More wealth brought in to stand in harm’s way, the exposure and vulnerability of structures, both physical and social can be the reason.
Vulnerability is however the most elusive component of the hazard- vulnerability- coping capacity-risk (losses)-recovery cycle. It needs to be defined as “vulnerability of what”,“vulnerability to what” at “what scale” to mention but the most important aspects.
In order to be useful, vulnerability of a community, a building or a country should be estimated, like hazard frequencies in advance, before an extreme event strikes.“Post mortem” vulnerability assessment may be useful to find explanations why and what type of losses happened, but their use in the conception of disaster preparedness measures is limited.
We are definitely still at the beginning of what may be called “vulnerability research”. On the theoretical level the multitude of definitions as summarized in the SOURCE No.2 Components of Risk,publication of UNU-EHS clearly indicates this evolutionary stage.
However, practice could not wait till theoretical debates were settled. In the meantime assessment techniques have been developed at different scales and for different purposes. Yet there is no general consensus in definitions, terminology, not to mention policy relevant indicators and indices.
Vulnerability assessment addressing the social, economic, environmental and institutional aspects occupies the central part within the research and human capacity building scope of UNU-EHS. Review of the state-of-the-art is being published in a book entitled Measuring Vulnerability to Natural Hazards:
Towards Disaster Resilient Societies. UNU-EHS has established an international Expert Working Group (EWG) to serve as the platform of dialogue among the different schools of thought in vulnerability research. Several participants of the EWG contributed to this book.
Together with the MunichRe Foundation (MRF) UNU-EHS starts in 2006 to organize annually a summer academy on social vulnerability. Likewise annual PhD courses are held on vulnerability and risk assessment. Besides this postgraduate level, capacity building events on vulnerability assessment are an important component of continuing educational activities of the Institute.
The present issue of the SOURCE Series of UNU-EHS, Vulnerability: A Conceptual and Methodological Review is a concise summary of ideas, concepts and methods developed to capture vulnerability at different scales. Praxis oriented and example based, the present work of Dr.Villagrán de León provides an excellent entry into the complex problematic of vulnerability assessment for students and practitioners alike.
Janos J. Bogardi
To read more about the work of the author J. C. Villagran de Leon please click