Creating an index of social vulnerability to climate change for Africa

TitleCreating an index of social vulnerability to climate change for Africa
Publication TypeTyndall Working Paper
SeriesTyndall Centre Working Papers
Tyndall Consortium Institution


Secondary TitleTyndall Centre Working Paper 56
AuthorsVincent, K.
Year of Publication2004

Although shrouded by uncertainties as to its specific nature and manifestations, climate change is a very real phenomenon that will inevitably affect human populations in the coming decades. Thus far impacts assessments have been predicated upon a linear model of pressure-impact, which focus on the biophysical vulnerability of the natural environment to the risk exposure. It has been increasingly recognised that those impacts are mediated by the social vulnerability, that is the complex interrelationship of social, economic, political, technological and institutional factors that renders an exposure unit vulnerable or resilient in the face of a hazard. The aim of this research was to create an index to empirically assess relative levels of social vulnerability to climate change-induced variations in water availability and allow cross-country comparison in Africa. A theory-driven aggregate index of social vulnerability was formed through the weighted average of five composite sub-indices: economic well-being and stability (20%), demographic structure (20%), institutional stability and strength of public infrastructure (40%), global interconnectivity (10%) and dependence on natural resources (10%). Using current data, Niger, Sierra Leone, Burundi, Madagascar, and Burkina Faso are the most vulnerable countries in Africa. When mapped in conjunction with the appropriate indicators of biophysical vulnerability this will allow a more holistic and integrated assessment of the impacts of climate change-induced changes in water availability. This contributes to the academic debate by proposing a methodology to overcome the persistent dichotomy in different epistemological approaches to vulnerability research. It also has policy implications by highlighting priority areas for aid and building adaptive capacity, as enshrined in the UNFCCC.

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