chapter  3
15 Pages

The Need for Rethinking the Concepts of Vulnerability and Risk from a Holistic Perspective: A Necessary Review and Criticism for Effective Risk Management

ByOmar D Cardona

Human development has led humankind to idealise the elements of its own habitat and environment and the possibilities of interaction between them. In spite of confused perceptions about the notion of vulnerability, this expression has helped clarify the concepts of risk and disaster. For a long time, these two concepts were associated with a single cause: an inevitable and uncontrollable physical phenomenon. However, the conceptual framework of vulnerability was borne out of human experience under situations in which it was often very difficult to differentiate normal day-to-day life from disaster. Vulnerability may be defined as an internal risk factor of the subject or system that is exposed to a hazard and corresponds to its intrinsic predisposition to be affected, or to be susceptible to damage. In other words, vulnerability represents the physical, economic, political or social susceptibility or predisposition of a community to damage in the case of a destabilizing phenomenon of natural or anthropogenic origin. A series of extreme, and often permanent, conditions exist that make livelihood activities extremely fragile for certain social groups. The existence of these conditions depends on the level of development attained, as well as the success of development planning. In this context, development has begun to be understood as a process that involves harmony between humankind and the environment, and vulnerability in social groups could thus be understood as the reduced capacity to ‘adapt to’, or adjust to, a determined set of environmental circumstances.