Wednesday, September 29, 2010


While anyone can be vulnerable, the poor and the near poor are particularly at risk because they have fewer assets, reserves, or other opportunities to fall back on during natural and artificial negative uncertainties.

World trends in development action are aimed primarily to reduce the incidence of poverty and promote sustainable development. However, the achievement of this goal starts with the understanding of the causes of poverty. Poverty translates into hunger, high incidence of diseases, inaccessibility to social services, increase risks and insecurity. In a broader perspective, poverty can be defined to mean the absence or loss of livelihood security or a situation where a person is exposed to risks and shocks leading to the erosion of his livelihoods. This is because “a livelihood comprises the capabilities, assets (including both material and social resources) and activities required for a means of living” (Conway and Conway 1992). Consequently, poverty results from the loss of livelihoods or the breakdown of the livelihood support, i.e. poverty results from a situation where the means of protecting citizens against loss of income, food, education, health, shelter, etc. breaks down. While anyone can be vulnerable, the poor and the near poor are particularly at risk because they have fewer assets, reserves, or other opportunities to fall back on (ADB 2007). This realization has a direct impact on poverty reduction both in view of how we protect citizens from falling below critical poverty; and how we can help in mitigating and coping with social and other risks (Morduch 1999).

All these situations that make people susceptible to negative phenomena making them worse off than before, presents issues of vulnerability. Vulnerability is a state of deprivation based on poverty or lack of enjoyment of other rights and entitlements; it is therefore multi-dimensional. It leads to the exclusion of disadvantaged groups of men, women and children and persons with disability from active participation in the economic, political and social life of their society, leaving them with little or no defense against exploitation and risks (NDPC 2005). The condition of poverty is linked closely to vulnerability. Poor people are the most vulnerable to the "shocks" that result from the occurrences of social or economic risks. Access of the poor to social security is identified as a foundation for reducing vulnerability, promoting sustainable development and a key prerequisite for poverty eradication (Mach, 1998). Development planning at all times must make the vulnerable a priority in the development process. Development planning must therefore seek to strengthen the livelihoods (improve their living standards) of the most vulnerable, such as women, children and minorities, to the social, political and economic resources to increase their ability to reduce, cope and manage risks. Diagnosing and integrating vulnerability issues into development planning implies the critical understanding of the dynamics of vulnerability. Subsequently, this discussion attempts to present a framework for analyzing and integrating vulnerability issues in the development planning process.

Understanding Vulnerability as a critical Issue of Development Planning
The first point of understanding vulnerability is an appreciation that several factors affect human development positively and negatively. Similarly, wider influences that are important in shaping people’s livelihoods include both positive and negative factors (Turton 2000). Populations, households, and individuals face various risks that can plunge them into poverty, so societies have to take steps to reduce their vulnerability and to cope with the effects when shocks occur. Vulnerability indicates exposure to hazards and the likelihood that the welfare of an individual or a household falls below minimum consumption levels (ADB, 2007). These factors reduce the ability of people to reduce, cope and manage risks and shocks. People’s livelihoods are largely affected by critical trends and shocks over which they have little control.

Some vulnerable groups can be traditional rain-fed farmers and pastoralists, groups least resilient to climate-related shocks, Landlessness returnees, land-mine disables, migrant herdsmen tendering other people’s herd, unemployed people, people living in slums on city outskirts, homeless people in urban areas, ethnic minority, subsistence or small scale farmers, children under age 5 especially infants, disable and sick people, etc. Ortiz (2007) suggests that these people are vulnerable because they are exposed to hazards and are faced with the likelihood that their welfare would fall below minimum consumption levels and/or living standards. The people who are vulnerable are exposed to risks which may include natural disasters, financial crises, harvest failure, war, and serious illness, among others. Different causes of vulnerability and needs of populations living below the poverty line are crucial starting points for understanding vulnerability and these different categories require different policies (Ortiz 2007).

Analyzing issues of Vulnerability
Issues of vulnerability according to the NDPC (2005) among other things encompass, weak early warning systems, low priority given to semi subsistence food farmers and allied occupations, children in difficult circumstances (child poverty, child abuse, children in conflict with the law, child trafficking, child labour, orphans and vulnerable children), people in disaster prone areas, plwhas, persons with disabilities, victims of abuse, inadequate alternative social insurance systems and safety nets, lack/inadequate implementation/enforcement/compliance of international and national conventions as well as bye-laws in the interest of the vulnerable and excluded, etc.

To critically analyze issues of vulnerability, the quantity and quality of data on the issues that reduce the assets and capabilities of people making them prone to risks and poverty must be taken into considerations. Consequently, data to be collected when assessing issues of vulnerability must present some or all the issues identified earlier (as and when they are applicable). The issue of vulnerability just like poverty cannot be generalized. It is relative and depends on people’s understanding of why they are at risk as well as the consequences of events on people’s assets and capabilities for making a living. Measuring vulnerability depends critically on the dynamics of the context within which the issue being measured pertains. For instance, not all people in conflict areas are vulnerable as some are victims whereas others are perpetrators. Thus in analyzing conflict as an issue of vulnerability, there is the need to identify the incidence of the event, those who are affected by the phenomenon negatively or positively, effects on their ability to meet certain basic needs; reduce, cope and manage risks, or their ability to perform their normal socio-economic functions.

The World Bank (2003) identifies that in analysis data on vulnerability, the risk, or uncertain events must first be identified and examined. This would enable the analyst to appreciate the phenomena that reduces people’s assets and capacities. Secondly, the agency espouses the analysis of the options for managing risk, or the risk responses. Here, the analyst identifies formal and informal systems, structures and institutions that enable individuals or groups to reduce, cope and manage risks and shocks. Lastly, the analyst should be able to present the outcome of step one and two in terms of welfare loss. It is only when such relationships are drawn before one can emphatically and empirical espouse that an issue of vulnerability exist or not. Vulnerability is seen as “the forward-looking state of expected outcomes, which are in themselves determined by the correlation, frequency and timing of realized risks and the risk responses. Households are vulnerable if a shock is likely to push them below (or deeper below) a predefined welfare threshold; e.g., poverty” (World Bank 2003).

Box 1

Source: World Bank 2003

From the perspective of the ADB (2007), analyzing issues of vulnerability embody four many issues namely the identification and appraisal of the following:

1. The most vulnerable groups in the population (at country, regional or local level);
2. The major risks affecting these groups;
3. The coverage and effectiveness of existing risk-reduction mechanisms (both informal mechanisms at the household/community level and formal mechanisms that government, private sector firms, or nonprofit organizations support); and
4. Opportunities to reduce or mitigate risks to vulnerable groups through new mechanisms or improvements in existing mechanisms.

It should be noted that these two approaches present one critical realization that vulnerability can only be analyzed based on a presentation of the causes and effects of the situation of vulnerability on those affected. Consequently, vulnerability is:

  • Complex: It is influenced by a wide range of factors that together constitute the causes and effects of the livelihood of people making them prone to risks and shocks;

  • Context Specific: The understanding of the issues of vulnerability is subjective to the values, norms, beliefs, cultural practices and ideologies of the study population. Similarly, it is subjective to the geographical location of people. Thus to critically appreciate issues of vulnerability of people demands a critical appraisal of the particular environmental, socio-cultural, economic and political characteristics of the situation in a given area;

  • Relative: Exhibited in its subjectivity to events and situations;

  • Dynamic: That the situation where someone is vulnerable is never permanent. Thus people can move in and out a vulnerable situation. For this reason, it means that through conscious and concerted efforts whether internal or external can influence the state of a person’s or group’s vulnerability.
In presenting the issues of vulnerability, data and information must be disaggregated based on the structure of the population. It must present issues of vulnerability among the age-groups (cohorts), sexes, social disaggregation (Ethnicity, religion, educational attainments), economic disaggregation (employment; status and occupation; income levels, expenditure levels, etc) and geographical disaggregation (local-regional-national; community-town area council-Urban or Zonal Councils-Sub-Metropolitan District Councils). Understanding diversity based on these differences may be a prerequisite for effective development, and targeting of marginalized and vulnerable groups, such as indigenous peoples, may be necessary to achieve sustainable development (World Bank 2003).

An analysis of those who are vulnerable must be based on defined parameters with clear articulation of what needs to be assessed. Any presentation must be justified based on the consequence of the incidence on a person’s or group’s ability to improve their standard of living. The criteria for targeting the most vulnerable groups can relate to persons who have the least access to social and economic infrastructure and services. For instance, under education, one can suggest that a vulnerable situation can be defined as children without access to basic education, illiterate persons, and persons with low educational attainment. In justifying these parameters for instance, data can be provided by correlating (cross-tabbing) to income levels of those employed. If the income levels of those with employed reduces towards those with low income levels such that they are unable to meet certain basic needs then these group of persons are vulnerable.

It must be noted that the application of the parameters cannot be generalized and thus the justification is presented on the basis of the affected persons and the nature of effects. Based on this, it can be said that rural farmers are vulnerable but it is not always so as in some part of the world the richest are mostly farmers in rural areas undertaking large-scale commercial farming. In this direction, the analysis of vulnerability issues requires circumspection and objectivity; i.e. based on facts and figures.

Box 2

Source: ADB 2007

In sum, because the poor lack the means to manage risk and to cope with external shocks, the first step in analyzing poverty is an assessment of the vulnerability of the (poor) populations that are mostly affected with natural and artificial tendencies. Thus assessment of vulnerability issues is critical for poverty reduction and the promotion of sustainable development.

Mainstreaming Issues of Vulnerability in Development Planning
Five mainstreaming issues have been identified as eminent to development planning. These issues relates to both appraisal of data on vulnerability, participation of individuals, capacity and empowerment and policy formulation.

Data and Information management

The first point of call in mainstreaming issues of vulnerability in development planning is data and information. These present the state, extent, and effects of the factors leading to the loss of assets and capabilities of people. With data and information on vulnerability, development planners are able to appreciate the causal factors of vulnerability. To this end, pragmatic and innovative initiatives that are responsive and comprehensive can be formulated and implemented to reduce its incidence. Again, data and information on the vulnerable can serve as the basis of assessing the progress being made in reducing poverty in Ghana. Nonetheless, the success of mainstreaming issues of vulnerability is highly dependent on the quality and quantity of data and information.

Mainstreaming vulnerability issues in development planning is fundamentally dependent on the individuals who are affected by the phenomena. They are the first source for data and information about the situation. Involving them in the process would lead to the understanding of the situation in terms of incidence, causes and the effects. Participation does not only mean the involvement of only those affected but the involvement of all actors who are directly or indirectly affected by the situation or present systems to aid in mitigating this situation. These would aid in understanding from a broader perspective the nature of the situation and the available systems to mitigating the situation.

Empowerment and Capacity Building
Institutions or organization are fundamental to the efforts aimed at integrating vulnerability into development planning. They play critical roles in the collection and analysis of data, development interventions and the implementation of identified interventions. Based on this, the ability of these institutions/organizations to perform their functions of mainstreaming vulnerability issues effectively, efficiently and sustainably in the development planning process is crucial. To this end, the systems of operations must be flexible and responsive to mainstreaming issues, there must be the right kind and quantity of personnel who understand the intricacies of vulnerability, and the needed logistics and physical infrastructure must be available to support the activities of these institutions in mainstreaming vulnerability in development planning. In addition, financial allocations must done on time to facilitate the activities of these institutions.

Policy Formulation
Policy provides the direction to respond to needs and aspiration of people. The formulation of policy begins with the understanding of the problem people face. In development planning, vulnerability issues become critical to the process because they form the foundation for reducing poverty and promoting sustainable development. Vulnerability must be treated with a high sense of priority and interventions articulated in policy frameworks must reflect the needs and aspirations of the vulnerable groups in society. It must be appreciated that when articulating interventions, they must reflect the issues of responsiveness, comprehensiveness and sustainability. Assessing policy options to mitigate possible negative impacts requires a solid understanding of the interest of different stakeholders, available resources (human, fiscal) and knowledge of the country laws and idiosyncrasies (ADB 2007). Box 3 provides a framework for assessing and mitigating vulnerability.

Box 3

Source: ADB 2001

The Way Forward
Vulnerability is a complex issue; the generalization of which would elude us from understanding those who are at risk of losing their livelihoods. This would make mitigation measures non-responsive to the needs and aspiration of those mostly at risk. Financial commitment becomes inefficient and ineffective as they may be directed to the wrong beneficiaries.

In analyzing and mainstreaming vulnerability in development planning therefore requires the identification and definition of parameters for assessing vulnerability, complete disaggregation of data and information on vulnerability to understand those at risk, why they are at risk and the consequences (effects) of this on their livelihoods, and identification of the formal and informal mechanism to mitigating these risks and assess their capacity to perform these functions. The result of which must inform policy action to mitigating the issue of vulnerability. In all these, the involvement of all stakeholders both primary and secondary is fundamental to the development planning process if interventions are to be responsive, comprehensive and sustainable.

ADB (2001): Social Protection in Asia and the Pacific. Manila

ADB (2007): Handbook on Social Analysis; A Working Document. ADB, Philippines.

Balgis Osman Elasha, Nagmeldin Goutbi Elhassan, Hanafi Ahmed, and Sumaya Zakieldin (2005): Sustainable Livelihood Approach for Assessing Community Resilience to Climate Change: Case Studies from Sudan, AIACC Working Paper No.17,

Canagarajah, R. Sudarshan, Karin Heitzmann and Paul B. Siegel, 2002. “Guidelines for Assessing the Sources of Risk and Vulnerability.” Social Protection Discussion Paper 0218, available from the Social Protection Unit, the World Bank, Washington, D.C.

Conway R. and G. Conway (1992) Sustainable Rural Livelihoods: Practical Concepts for the 21st Century. IDS Discussion Paper 296. Brighton: IDS.
Mach, A (1998): “Amartya Sen on Development and Health”. In: To Our Health, WHO.

Morduch, J. (1999): Between the State and the Market: Can Informal Insurance Patch the Safety Net? The World Bank Research Observer 14, No. 2.

National Development Planning Commission; NDPC; (2005): Growth and Poverty Reduction Strategy 2006-2009. Volume 2, Accra

National Development Planning Commission; NDPC; (2005): Guidelines for the Preparation of District Medium Term Development Plans under the Growth and Poverty Reduction Strategy 2006-2009. Volume 2, Accra

Ortiz Isabel (2007): Social Policy; National Development Strategies Policy Notes, UNDESA

Turton, C (2000): The Sustainable Livelihoods Approach and Programme Development in Cambodia, Overseas Development Institute, London.

World Bank (2003): Social Analysis Sourcebook: Incorporating Social Dimensions into Bank-Supported Projects, Social Development Department, Washington, D.C.

No comments:

Post a Comment