A set of prevailing conditions which adversely affect the community’s ability to prevent, mitigate, prepare for or respond to a hazard. Absence of coping strategies is also a part of vulnerability and has to be considered in vulnerability assessment e.g. living in hazard prone locations like near to a sea or river, above the fault lines, at the base of a mountain etc.
The physical vulnerability of an area also depends on its geographic proximity to the source and origin of the disasters e.g. if an area lies near the coast lines, fault lines, unstable hills etc. it makes the area more vulnerable to disasters as compared to an area that is far away from the origin of the disaster. Physical vulnerability includes the difficulty in access to water resources, means of communications, hospitals, police stations, fire brigades, roads, bridges and exits of a building or/an area, in case of disasters. Furthermore, the lack of proper planning and implementation in construction of residential and commercial buildings results in buildings that are weaker and vulnerable in earthquakes, floods, landslides and other hazards.
Economic vulnerability of a community can be assessed by determining how varied its sources of income are, the ease of access and control over means of production (e.g. farmland, livestock, irrigation, capital etc.), adequacy of economic fall back mechanisms and the availability of natural resources in the area.
A socially vulnerable community has weak family structures, lack of leadership for decision making and conflict resolution, unequal participation in decision making, weak or no community organizations, and the one in which people are discriminated on racial, ethnic, linguistic or religious basis. Other social factors such as culture, tradition, religion,local norms and values, economic standard, and political accountability also play a vital role determining the social vulnerability of a community
Social vulnerability to natural phenomena is greatest among the poorest people in developing countries owing to a lack of information and resources with which to take the appropriate measures. Within this group, children, women and the elderly are considered to be the most vulnerable. To reduce social vulnerability, all of the above factors must be addressed but this requires knowledge and understanding of the local conditions, which can – in most cases – only be provided by local actors.
A community which has negative attitude towards change and lacks initiative in life resultantly become more and more dependent on external support. They cannot act independently. Their sources of livelihood do not have variety, lacks entrepreneurship and do not possess the concept of collectivism. This brings about disunity and individualism in the society. Thus, they become victims of conflicts, hopelessness and pessimism which reduces their capacity of coping with a disaster.