Assessing vulnerability

M. Hellmuth, P. Kabat

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


It is in the shantytowns and rural villages of the Third World that floods and droughts strike hardest and deepest. Vulnerability to the vagaries of climate depends not only on location, but, crucially, on the capacity of the victims to cope with the impacts of extreme weather. So, where are the people most at risk from the effects of climate variability and climate change? It is not an easy question to answer. How can we compare the hazards facing the inhabitants of a small island as the sea level rises with those that confront African farmers from prolonged drought? And is the sea a greater threat to Bahrain or the Comoros Islands? Climate change predictions provide part of the answer. Human development indicators can help to indicate the likely coping capacity, and there are other social, geographic and environmental parameters that have to be taken into account. Combining all these variables in mathematical models is allowing specialists to make comparisons that development agencies can use to determine the most critical regions or "hot spots". The techniques are still evolving, but some interesting conclusions are starting to emerge. Climate changes are likely to mean 12¿ess cereal production in sub-Saharan Africa, even though eight of the region¿s countries will actually produce more under many of the climate scenarios tested. The answer to the islands question is that the Comoros are and will remain the most vulnerable to sea level rise. However, if the "Climate Vulnerability Index" method of comparison is to be believed (it is still experimental), by 2030, population growth and a worsening environmental situation will see Bahrain closing in fast as the small islands hot spot. Where people are vulnerable, so are development goals. Look at the predicted effects of Hurricane Mitch on Nicaragua¿s previously encouraging progress in bringing down poverty. By 2008, it could mean as many as quarter of a million less people removed from extreme poverty, unless there is more outside support
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationClimate changes the water rules; how water managers can cope with today's climate variability and tomorrow's climate change
EditorsB. Appleton
Place of PublicationDelft/Wageningen,
PublisherDialogue on Water and Climate
Publication statusPublished - 2003


  • climatic change
  • water systems
  • hydrology
  • food supply

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    Hellmuth, M., & Kabat, P. (2003). Assessing vulnerability. In B. Appleton (Ed.), Climate changes the water rules; how water managers can cope with today's climate variability and tomorrow's climate change (pp. 44-59). Dialogue on Water and Climate.