Thursday, 8 December 2011

HUMAN VULNERABILITY TO ENVIRONMENTAL CHANGE

By: Maggie .M. Mwape 

Vulnerability represents the interface between exposure to the physical threats, human well-being an the capacity of people and communities to cope with those threats. Threats may arise from a combination of social and physical processes. Human vulnerability thus integrates many environmental concerns. Since everyone is vulnerable to environmental threats, in some way, the issue cuts across rich and poor, urban and rural, North and South, and may undermine the entire sustainable development process in developing countries.

Reducing vulnerability requires identifying points of intervention in the causal chain between the emergence of a hazard and the human consequences. Many natural phenomena pose threats, including extreme events such as floods, drought, fire, storms, tsunami, landslides, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and insect swarms. Human activities have added to the list, with threats from explosions, chemical and radioactive contamination, and other technological matters.


Although everyone is vulnerable to environmental impacts of some kind, the ability of people and societies to adapt and cope with change is very varied. Developing countries, particularly the least developed, have less capacity to adapt to change and are more vulnerable to environmental threats and global change, just as they are more vulnerable to other stresses. This condition is most extreme among the poorest people (IPCC 2001) and disadvantaged groups such as women and children.

The coping capacity of human society is a combination of all the natural and social characteristics and resources available in a particular location that are used to reduce the impacts of hazards (IATFDR 2001). These include factors such as wealth, technology, education, information, skills, infrastructure, access to resources and management capabilities.

Some groups are more exposed than others to particular environmental risks. Urban populations are exposed to high levels of contaminant and particulate pollution in the air. Slum dwellers often lack the minimum protective infrastructure, employees may be exposed to particular hazards in the work place, and the uninformed may simply not know about the threats that surround them. A wide range of social and economic factors have direct and indirect bearing on human vulnerability to environmental change, including poverty and inequality, and the availability of natural resources.

The mosaics of vulnerability seemso complex as to cast doubt on attempts to describe patterns and estimate trends at the global or even the regional scale. General or gradual economic decline can affect vulnerable groups disproportionately,

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