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date: 04 August 2020

Summary and Keywords

The concepts of vulnerability, disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation are interlinked. Risk reduction requires a focus not just on the hazards themselves or on the people and structures exposed to hazards but on the vulnerability of those exposed. Vulnerability helps with the identification of root causes that make people or structures susceptible to being affected by natural and climate-related hazards. It is therefore an essential component of reducing risk of disasters and of adapting to climate change.

The need to better assess and acknowledge vulnerability has been recognized by several communities of thought and practice, including the Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) and Climate Change Adaptation (CCA) communities. The concept of vulnerability was introduced during the 1980s as a way to better understand the differential consequences of similar hazard events and differential impacts of climate change on different societies or social groups and physical structures. Since then, the concept gradually became an integral part of discourses around disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation. Although the history of the emergence of vulnerability concepts and the different perspectives of these communities mean the way they frame vulnerability differs, the academic discourse has reached wide agreement that risk—and actual harm and losses—are not just caused by physical events apparently out of human control but primarily by what is exposed and vulnerable to those events.

In the international policy arena, vulnerability, risk, and adaptation concepts are now integrated into the global agenda on sustainable development, disaster risk reduction, and climate change. In the context of international development projects and financial aid, the terms and concepts are increasingly used and applied. However, there is still too little focus on addressing underlying vulnerabilities.

Keywords: vulnerability, risk, exposure, natural hazards, disaster risk reduction, climate change adaptation

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