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Vulnerability, refers to the state of being exposed to risk factors or hazards that can harm an individual mentally, physically or even emotionally. The vulnerability of a people to the various types of hazards and especially the natural hazards depends on the geographical location where the people reside, the type of natural resources used by the people as well as the type of resources the people are expected to cope-up with during their time of residence in the area. The natural hazards are often mediated by institutional structures, and in general, the increased economic activities do not necessarily reduce the vulnerability to a hazard as well as its impacts. There are two major models of vulnerability that are used to provide insight into the natural hazards, and they include the hazard of a place model and the pressure and release (PAR) models.

The hazard of a place model is one of the vulnerability models that are aimed to provide insight into the vulnerability of people as a result of exposure to natural hazards. The vulnerability model was designed by Cutter 1996, and the model is designed to provide useful insights into the perception of vulnerability in a disaster situation. Cutter considers the vulnerability of a place as a combination of social vulnerability factors that include the demographic characteristics, the biophysical vulnerability factors such as the hazard exposure in a particular geographical location as well as the risk perception. Various elements have been brought up in the model hazard of a place that is essential for the development of the hazard of a place and these elements include; risk, mitigation, hazard potential, geographic contexts such as elevation and proximity, the social fabric such as experience, perception, and the built environment. Other elements in the hazard of a place vulnerability model include biophysical vulnerability, social vulnerability, and the place vulnerability.

From the hazard of a place model, a risk is defined as the probability of a hazard event to occur, while mitigation refers to the measures that are aimed to reduce the occurrence of the risk or its impacts. A hazard potential if created by the existence of both the risk and mitigation, and such hazard potential passes through the geographic context that include the location, proximity and elevation and the various types of social fabrics that include risk perception, socio-economic factors, the built environment and resiliency which have the potential to either moderate or enhance the hazard potential. Social vulnerability, as well as the biophysical vulnerability, are both in conjunction responsible for the development of the overall vulnerability of a place. The hazard of a place model focuses on the geographical location, depicting the overall conditions and at the same time presenting the various elements that contribute to the vulnerability of a particular geographic location.

On the other hand, the pressure and release model perceives the risk-hazard approach, defining risk as a product that is generated by the interaction of a hazard and vulnerability. The model as well claims that the occurrence of a disaster is mainly based on the vulnerable population’s exposure to a hazard. Besides, the model considers hazard as a physically driven problem to which can be mitigated through the eradication of the root causes of vulnerability that include the political, demographic as well as the economic processes. The root cause of vulnerability is said to affect the allocation as well as the distribution of resources among the various groups. The dynamic pressure transforms the political and economic process in a local situation such as migration. The resultant product of the root causes of vulnerability and the dynamic pressure is the unsafe condition that is defined and expressed in time and space. The occurrence of a disaster, therefore, depends on the physical exposure to the natural hazards on one side while on the other side the interaction with the unsafe conditions. According to the authors of the model, they attributed and argued that a hazard is most of the time a physically produced problem that can be mitigated through the elimination of the root causes of vulnerability.

The two models of vulnerability are similar in some aspects in that they are all triggered by natural hazards. The natural hazards such as the unsafe conditions and the place of residence can be attributed as being the main point of argument for both of the models. Another similarity that occurs in the two models is that they both attribute a certain cause of the primary cause of the hazard. In the first model hazard of a place model, there are elements which are responsible for the development or acceleration of vulnerability, while on the second model, the pressure and release model, there are as well the root causes of vulnerability that for this include the processes that alter the allocation and distribution resources making the groups vulnerable. Geographical location as well as a common aspect in the two models as they try to provide an insight on the vulnerability of a population and therefore, the two models have a common base for their arguments differing on the course of action that leads to vulnerability.

Human factors are considered the greatest determinants of vulnerability. The severity of a disaster depends on the physical nature as well as other social nature of the human populations that are affected by the event (Shi & Stevens, 2010). Wealth is one of the risk factors that affect vulnerability; poor people are more vulnerable to disasters as they are unable to afford the basic needs and other infrastructures that are necessary to withstand the extreme events making them more vulnerable. Education, on the other hand, affects vulnerability to hazards in that the less educated individuals are not aware of the ways to cope, avoid or reduce the impacts of the disaster unlike the educated. Governance as well contributes to the vulnerability of a population to hazards, and this is because the governments can advance their policies aimed at the reduction of vulnerability through establishing agencies, education programs as well as the economic development to reduce poverty. Technology is another determinant to vulnerability as they can forecast extreme events, withstand the impacts and as well recover from the disaster. Governance, education and wealth are closely related to technology and therefore work together. Another risk factor is age, children are more vulnerable to disasters than the elderly and this can be attributed to the less physical strength to survive disasters making them susceptible to diseases. Gender, on the other hand, is a risk factor to vulnerability in that women are more vulnerable to natural disaster than men, and this can be attributed to sexism in the society making women be more poor, politically marginalized and less educated. Women are therefore less mobile and less experienced to cope with disasters.

Shi and Stevens assert that a National focus should be placed on vulnerable populations as vulnerability is primarily a social issue (Shi & Stevens, 2010). Vulnerability being a social issue is created through the social forces and resolved as well through the social means as opposed to the individual means. Vulnerability does not reflect personal deficiencies but rather the structural social forces over which most of the people have less or no control at all. The authors argue a point that is made with the increasing frequency in the field of public health that the effective reduction of the vulnerability, as well as the mitigation of the consequences, requires broader health and social policies to which address the societal forces as well as the ecological context of health. Vulnerability being a social matter and as well calling for a social resolution implies that the government which is responsible for the welfare of its people should take measures and therefore shift its focus on solving the social problems such as poverty and education as these are jointly needed to solve the problems. I, therefore, agree with the authors that a national focus should be placed on the vulnerable populations as solving the social problems will reduce the risk of vulnerability to natural hazards.


Shi, L., & Stevens, G. D. (2010). Vulnerable populations in the United States (Vol. 23). John Wiley & Sons.

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