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From Risk to resilience

The concept of vulnerability, even at the definitional level, has generated considerable debate in the academic community. While the physical scientists and engineers have typically equated it with physical exposure to extreme events and adverse outcomes, on the social [scientific] side the emphasis has been on failure of entitlement to resources, and [social] structural factors making certain groups differentially disadvantaged in the face of disasters (Adger, 2006). Some have attempted to bridge the gap between the physical and social scientific perspectives on vulnerability by proposing the concept of a ‘vulnerability of place’ where biophysical exposure intersects with political, economic and social factors to generate specific configurations of vulnerability (Cutter, 1996; Cutter et al., 2000). This paper will not engage in or revisit the vigorous, somewhat useful but ultimately unsatisfying definitional debates on vulnerability. Instead, we define vulnerability as susceptibility to suffer damage from an environmental extreme and relative inability to recover from that damage (Mustafa, 1998, McCarthy, 2001), which is the most cited and understood definition of vulnerability, and move on from there. Furthermore, we understand vulnerability to be more of a chronic state of being rather than an outcome of environmental extremes. Therefore, our emphasis will be on defining the metrics for recognizing, measuring and ultimately addressing vulnerability as defined above, instead of revisiting the well known basics.


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