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Assessing human vulnerability to climate-related extreme events: from theory to practice

Book/book chapter

Written by James Ryan Hogarth

​Human vulnerability to extreme events is not only a factor of exposure to exogenous hazards; it is also a factor of endogenous characteristics of the human system in question (be it a household, community or nation). Vulnerability assessments aim to identify the different elements that contribute to a human system’s vulnerability.

This chapter presents behavioural and structural perspectives on vulnerability, and argues that an evolutionary perspective can offer important insights, particularly in regards to human systems’ adaptive capacity.

Human systems have a capacity to adapt to local environmental and climatic conditions; however, that capacity is constrained by structural and historical factors. To illustrate, a comparison is made between the root causes of vulnerability in Haiti and Chile to their respective 2010 earthquakes.

Different modelling and empirical methods that have been used to assess vulnerability are discussed. It is argued that the rich data necessary to identify the structural and historical root causes of vulnerability can only be obtained through qualitative research methods.

The methodology used by the Global Islands’ Vulnerability Research Adaptation and Policy Development Project is offered as a model for a qualitative community-based vulnerability assessment.

  • Assessing Human Vulnerability to Climate Change from an Evolutionary Perspective

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James Ryan Hogarth, Campbell, D., Wandel, J