The impact of climate change will be felt most acutely by those who are the most vulnerable – poor, women, elderly, and children. Their adaptation needs crucially depend on their vulnerability which is not the same as poverty as many policy makers assume.
Vulnerability is better defined as a “set of conditions determined by physical, social, economic and environmental factors or processes which increase the susceptibility of a community to the impact of hazards,” (adopted by the UN at the World Conference on Disasters in 2005). This emphasizes the need to look at vulnerability not simply as a result of, or response to, environmental extremes. Rather, vulnerability is rooted in the construction of everyday social space or social existence; that is, vulnerability needs to be seen as context (for example, unequal access to opportunities) rather than outcome.
Analyzing vulnerability requires us to recognize how different factors – physical, social, and attitudinal – are interconnected. These factors combine to affect the degree to which hazards affect individuals or communities, and also define their ability to adapt. InIndia, given its huge population and the fact that more than 75 per cent of it lives on less than $2 per day (UNDP 2007) women, children, and elderly people carry disproportionately high “burden of vulnerability”. It puts them in the high risk category.
The Vulnerability Capacity Index (VCI) is a simple quantitative vulnerability index based on about a dozen ‘drivers of vulnerability’. Scores are attached to the different indicators, and the three dimensions of vulnerability are then weighed to come up with a composite score.
A composite Vulnerabilities and Capacities Index (VCI) for the rural households
Material Vulnerability (Weightage: 35%)
• Income source – local/ non-local, and or non- land based
• Educational attainment, particularly for women
• Assets – fungibles
• Exposure to risk – distance from river, coast, landslide zone
Institutional Vulnerability (Weightage: 50%)
• Social networks
• Extra-local kinship ties – response at times of adversity
• Infrastructure – access to roads, water, sanitation, electricity, health services, communication
• Proportion of dependants in household
• Reliability of early warning systems
• Belonging to the disadvantaged – caste, religious or ethnic minority
Attitudinal Vulnerability (Weightage: 15%)
• Sense of empowerment, derived from:
(a) Proximity or access to leaderships at different levels – community, regional, national
(b) Lack of knowledge about potential hazards