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A Framework for Disaster Vulnerability in a Small Island in the Southwest Pacific: A Case Study of Emae Island, Vanuatu

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The societal costs of disasters around the world are continuing to increase and Pacific Island countries are considered some of the most vulnerable. This is primarily due to a combination of high hazard exposure coupled with a range of social,
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  ARTICLE A Framework for Disaster Vulnerability in a Small Islandin the Southwest Pacific: A Case Study of Emae Island, Vanuatu Guy Jackson 1 • Karen McNamara 1 • Bradd Witt 1   The Author(s) 2017. This article is an open access publication Abstract  The societal costs of disasters around the worldare continuing to increase and Pacific Island countries areconsidered some of the most vulnerable. This is primarilydue to a combination of high hazard exposure coupled witha range of social, economic, physical, and political vul-nerabilities. This article contributes to the growing body of work that aims to understand the causal factors of disastervulnerability, but with a specific focus on small islanddeveloping states. The article first develops a framework for understanding disaster vulnerability, drawing onextensive literature and the well-established Methods forthe Improvement of Vulnerability in Europe (MOVE)framework, and second, applies this adapted framework using empirically-derived data from fieldwork on EmaeIsland, Vanuatu to provide a working understanding of thecausal elements of disaster vulnerability. Drawn from asignificant body of scholarship at the time, the MOVEframework was primarily developed as a heuristic tool inwhich disaster vulnerability is considered to be a functionof exposure, susceptibility (socially, economically, physi-cally, culturally, environmentally, institutionally), and alack of resilience. We posit that this adapted framework forsmall islands should also include historical susceptibility,and we prefer livelihood resilience (as capabilities, socialcapital, knowledge, participation, and human rights) overlack of resilience. We maintain that understanding disastervulnerability holistically, which is inclusive of bothstrengths and drawbacks, is crucial to ensure that limitedresources can target the causal factors that producevulnerability and help safeguard and improve livelihoodsin both the short and long term. Keywords  Disaster risk reduction    Disastervulnerability    Livelihood resilience    Smallislands    Vanuatu 1 Introduction The historical development of disaster studies can besimplified into a dichotomy based on paradigmatic differ-ences in how disasters and their management have beenconceptualized (Gaillard and Mercer 2012). The dichotomyis based on the hazard versus vulnerability paradigm. The‘‘hazard paradigm’’ focuses on behavioral interpretations(Kates 1971), while the ‘‘vulnerability paradigm’’ draws ona human/political ecological interpretation (Hewitt 1983;O’Keefe et al. 1976; Wisner et al. 2004). Simplifying disaster studies into this dichotomy, however, runs the risk of over simplifying a complex set of literature and conceptsand this is acknowledged.The hazard paradigm was strongly influenced by thebehavioral geography movement and is considered to bethe first contemporary paradigm (Gaillard and Mercer2012). This paradigm considered disasters to be the resultof natural hazards in which the population affected failed toadjust due to being unprepared or was unaware of the risk itwas exposed to (Kates 1971). Gaillard and Mercer (2012) suggest that the hazard paradigm focused on the physicalhazard itself and was mainly driven by science- and tech-nology-driven mitigation measures, such as early warningsystems, engineered defences, and other structural methodssuch as building codes and land-use planning—referred toby Hewitt (1983) as a physicalist paradigm. As the hazards &  Guy Jacksonguy.jackson@uq.edu.au 1 School of Earth and Environmental Science, The Universityof Queensland, Brisbane, QLD 4072, Australia  1 3 Int J Disaster Risk Sci www.ijdrs.comDOI 10.1007/s13753-017-0145-6 www.springer.com/13753  paradigm grew from within the United States and spreadthroughout the developed world, the technocratic approach,based upon centralized modern states, showed little con-sideration for the developing world (Quarentelli 1987).A competing paradigm that emerged in the 1970s from ahuman/political ecological perspective can be broadlylabelled the vulnerability paradigm (O’Keefe et al. 1976;Hewitt 1983). The key difference is that the vulnerabilityparadigm suggests that disasters primarily affectmarginalized groups who lack access to resources andmeans of protection that are available to the more powerful(Hewitt 1983). Disasters were increasing around the worldthroughout the 1970s without a significant increase in thenumber of hazards—some researchers considered this asevidence of the link between unequal socioeconomicdevelopment and disasters (O’Keefe et al. 1976). Focusingon the socially constructed vulnerability of an exposedpopulation equally has allowed for a more nuanced soci-ological perspective that was not present in the earlierhazard paradigm.The hazard paradigm continues to be dominant atinternational and national levels, with Lavell and Maskrey(2014) suggesting that globally many actors and institu-tions still equate disasters as natural as opposed to resultingfrom socially driven vulnerability. The conceptual differ-ence between the hazard and vulnerability paradigmsaffects the way modern disaster risk reduction (DRR) isultimately implemented. Underlying social causes of vul-nerability will not be addressed if a disaster is framed as‘‘natural’’, which will lead to reactive management pro-cesses. Although ‘‘natural disasters’’ is an established term,many authors have stressed that disasters are not natural,but rather they are endogenous to human society and onlyarise when hazards interact with the physical and socialvulnerabilities of an exposed population (Bogard 1988;Chambers 1989; Watts and Bohle 1993; Cutter 1996; Weichselgartner 2001; Ferdinand et al. 2012; Oliver-Smith 2013; Aitsi-Selmi et al. 2015). The separation of disasters from the broader social-cultural, economic, environmental,and political contexts, as well as from issues such aspoverty, globalization, and climate change, has beenacknowledged as a barrier to the effectiveness of DRRstrategies in reducing vulnerability (Schipper and Pelling2006; Weichselgartner and Pigeon 2015). 1.1 Towards a Causal Disaster VulnerabilityFramework In the following sections, we build an adapted framework to generate a working understanding of casual factors of disaster vulnerability in small island contexts. First, theterm disaster vulnerability is discussed in relation to theliterature as we work towards a final set of conditions foruse in our framework. Second, resilience as a concept isbriefly explored, including the growth of the term and thesustained criticism of various interpretations, to arrive at aconcept that takes a livelihood framing. Lastly, our inter-pretation of vulnerability and resilience are adapted to theMethods for the Improvement of Vulnerability in Europe(MOVE) framework (Birkmann et al. 2013) before beingtried out in the rural developing nation context of EmaeIsland, Vanuatu.Extrapolating root causes of vulnerability has remaineda point of enquiry and contention over time (Weichsel-gartner 2001), and a full exploration of the history of vulnerability is beyond the scope of this research. Themore specific ‘‘vulnerability to hazards and climatechange’’ has been a focal area of interdisciplinary researchover the last few decades (Cutter 1996; Morrow 1999; Pelling and Uitto 2001; Cutter et al. 2003; Eriksen and O’Brien 2007; O’Brien et al. 2007; Ribot 2011; Kelman et al. 2015). As such, researchers have proposed numerousframeworks and assessments in an attempt to capture thenow acknowledged physical and social dimensions of vulnerability in developed (Fuller and Pincetl 2014) anddeveloping country contexts (Boruff and Cutter 2007;Turvey 2007; Djalante et al. 2013). Underlying most con- ceptions of disaster or climate vulnerability is that itinvolves exposure of social and physical attributes alongwith their propensity to suffer harm against a specifichazard or process. These components are encapsulated inthe Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)(Cardona et al. 2012) definition where climate vulnerabilityis considered a function of exposure, sensitivity, andadaptive capacity. While the underlying premise for vul-nerability is generally agreed on, there is a divergence onthe interpretation and application (Weichselgartner 2001).This may stem from various actors’ perceptions of hazardsas discrete exogenous events (Lavell and Maskrey 2014),whereas vulnerability is a socially constructed continuumthat hazards interact with (Weichselgartner 2001; Lewis2014; Oliver-Smith et al. 2016). Oliver-Smith et al. (2016, p. 8) captures the latter position succinctly: ‘‘disaster risk and eventual disaster are social constructs based on thepresence of potentially damaging physical events butseriously and dominantly conditioned by societal percep-tions, priorities, needs, demands, decisions and practices’’.In addition, vulnerability must take an ‘‘over time analy-sis,’’ which is well represented by the ‘‘historical con-struction’’ of disaster risk, in which the historical processesthat contributed to the severity of the disaster are consid-ered (Oliver-Smith 2010; Tobin 2013). We take these conditions of disaster vulnerability, built over decades of research, forward as we continue to build our casual dis-aster vulnerability framework by next exploring the con-tested term resilience. Jackson et al. A Framework for Disaster Vulnerability in a Small Island in the Southwest Pacific  1 3  While the history of the term resilience in DRR iscomplex (Alexander 2013), the first modern interpretationfor ecology can be traced to Holling (1973, p. 17) in whichhe defined ecological resilience as: ‘‘the persistence of relationships within a system; a measure of the ability of systems to absorb changes of state variables, driving vari-ables, and parameters, and still persist.’’ From this initialconception, resilience has been used liberally to representdifferent social and physical phenomena (Cutter et al.2008). The most common approach is epitomized by Patonand Johnston (2001, p. 273) in which resilience to envi-ronmental hazards at the community level is described as:‘‘the capability to bounce back and to use physical andeconomic resources effectively to aid recovery followingexposure to hazards.’’ Nevertheless, the term ‘‘bounceback’’ itself reveals the physical science roots that layembedded within the concept (Holling 1973; Paton andJohnston 2001), and tends to elicit images of a compositematerial returning to its srcinal state after being distorted.This reading of resilience would lead to a return to a pre-disaster state, which would recreate the causes of vulner-abilities that resulted in a disaster to begin with. Despitethis logical criticism, the physical science view of resi-lience in social-ecological systems became a dominantparadigm, which is well represented through the work of Folke (2006). Researchers are beginning to address thiscontradiction through concepts such as ‘‘build back better,’’which is becoming more established in the literature(Mannakkara and Wilkinson 2015). However, there arecriticisms of the feasibility of such concepts when opera-tionalizing them, due to possible constraints to capacitiescaused by poverty, weak institutions, or unproductiveenvironments, among other examples (Jauhola 2015).There also have been sustained criticisms regarding theapplicability of resilience in the social sciences morebroadly due to its possible role in depoliticizing complexsocial-political causes of vulnerability (Olsson et al. 2015).Disasters may reveal and accentuate deep rooted poverty(Tobin 2013), result in political change (Kelman 2012), or any number of outcomes (Me´heux et al. 2006). As such,trying to measure resilience remains conceptually chal-lenging (Olsson et al. 2015). The most prevalent method isto use a baseline of pre-event function and then measuresubsequent change to provide insight into how the disaster,as a discrete event, directly impacts, for example, health,infrastructure, and food systems along with social responsemechanisms. In contrast, by analyzing livelihoods overtime, including elements such as capabilities, social capital,knowledge, participation, and human rights, a far morerealistic picture of resilience to disturbances will likelyemerge (Tanner et al. 2014).As research continues to suggest that theoretically andpractically climate change adaptation (CCA), DRR, anddevelopment overlap (Kelman et al. 2015), we will use thebridging concept of livelihood resilience for our framework (Tanner et al. 2014). This is a human-centered conceptionof resilience that is defined by Tanner et al. (2014, p. 23)as: ‘‘the capacity of all people across generations to sustainand improve their livelihood opportunities and well-beingdespite environmental, economic, social and political dis-turbances.’’ Tanner et al. (2014, p. 23) suggested thatlivelihood resilience is informed by: ‘‘human agency andempowerment, individual and collective action, and byhuman rights, set within the dynamic processes of socialtransformation.’’ This approach to resilience reflects thepotential for adaptation against what Kelman et al. (2015)have aptly labelled multiple exposures from multiplethreats. Reframing resilience around livelihoods is impor-tant, for a livelihood is more than just income, it reflectsany activity that maintains the household or community, beit subsistence agriculture, production, trade, or labor, whilealso accounting for other key resources such as socialnetworks and ecosystem services (Ifejika Speranza et al.2014). Therefore, in our causal disaster vulnerabilityframework, livelihood resilience will be used, with thecaveat that there are real limitations to the use of resiliencethat will be acknowledged and expanded upon throughoutthe article. 1.2 Adapting the MOVE Framework Disaster vulnerability is a social construct that must beconsidered over time (Oliver-Smith 2010), and resilience iswell represented by livelihood resilience (Tanner et al.2014). With these preconditions, we build on the MOVEframework, which was developed as a heuristic tool tooutline the key dimensions of disaster vulnerability andbuilt over many years of research (O’Keefe et al. 1976;Cutter 1996; Weichselgartner 2001). The MOVE framework, like the IntergovernmentalPanel on Climate Change (IPCC) definition, considersvulnerability to be a function of exposure, susceptibility,and adaptive capacity (framed as lack of resilience orsocietal response mechanisms). Fixed physical (for exam-ple, infrastructure) and social (for example, livelihoods,economy, and culture) attributes of the population, whichare dependent on specific resources and practices, are usedto represent potentially exposed assets. The exposedphysical and social attributes are then considered suscep-tible if they are likely to suffer harm during a hazard event.Finally, lack of resilience or societal response capabilitiesis used to express the limitations in terms of ‘‘access to andmobilization of the resources of a community or a social-ecological system in responding to an identified hazard’’(Birkmann et al. 2013, p. 200). Based on our previousargument in favor of a livelihoods framework that draws on Int J Disaster Risk Sci  1 3  strengths as well as stresses, our adapted framework replaces lack of resilience (adaptive capacity) with liveli-hood resilience that comprises the following indicators:knowledge, information, and resource flows; participationin formal and informal decision-making processes; capa-bilities, agency, assets, and activities required for a meansof living; social capital; and human rights.Social, economic, physical, cultural, environmental, andinstitutional dimensions are included in the MOVEframework, which posits that the susceptibility of exposedphysical and social assets is multidimensional. The socialdimension represents the propensity for a loss of well-be-ing, either individual (for example, mental or physicalhealth) or collective (for example, services) and the char-acteristics of those most affected (for example, groupsmarginalized by virtue of race, ethnicity, or gender). Theeconomic dimension represents the propensity for loss of economic value due to physical damage or the loss of productive capacity. The physical dimension includes thepropensity for damage to infrastructure or other fixedassets. The cultural dimension is defined as the potentialfor damage to intangible values including meanings placedon artefacts, customs, habitual practices, and natural orurban landscapes. The environmental dimension expressesthe potential damage to ecological and biophysical systemsand their function (for example, ecosystem services).Finally, the institutional dimension is the potential damageto governance systems, formal and informal, due toexposed weakness following a disaster. The one area of susceptibility that is inadequately represented in the src-inal MOVE framework is the historical considerations. Assuch, we include the historical dimension, which we baseon the formulation by Oliver-Smith (2010). The historicaldimension asks what historical actions or processes led tothe severity of a disaster. Asking and answering questionsover time will add depth and causality to our adaptedframework. In summary, drawing on the MOVE frame-work, Oliver-Smith (2010), and Tanner et al. (2014), we posit that disaster vulnerability is, conceptually, a functionof the dimensions outlined in Fig. 1.In this adapted framework, the physical and social assetsthat are exposed to hazards will be identified by previoushazard impacts and communities’ experience. Susceptibil-ity of the exposed assets can be understood by exploringthe historical, social, economic, physical, cultural, envi-ronmental, and institutional dimensions of susceptibility.The identified susceptibility can be evaluated against thelevel of livelihood resilience (with the caveat of real lim-itations) comprising the following attributes: knowledge,information, and resource flows; participation in formaland informal decision-making processes; capabilities,agency, assets, and activities required for a means of living;social capital; and human rights.The MOVE framework has thus far been appliedquantitatively using a range of socioeconomic andsocioecological indicators for different hazards and settings(Depietri et al. 2013; Welle et al. 2014; Kablan et al. 2017). Our adapted MOVE framework is applied qualitatively in asmall island in the South Pacific. 1.3 Small Island Developing States Small island developing states (SIDS), while heteroge-neous, share certain features and characteristics relating tovulnerability to environmental, social, political, and eco-nomic disturbance (Pelling and Uitto 2001; Julca andPaddison 2009). For example, small islands by their natureare limited: their small size and restricted resource base,high exposure to hazards and climate change (Lewis 1990;Betzold 2015), great distance from major population cen-ters and resources (plus subsequent economic costs incur-red to overcome relative isolation), and limited economicopportunities (Briguglio 1995; Encontre 1999) are common characteristics. Global change, holistically, is affectingSIDS in multifaceted ways—for instance, although manychanges have been deleterious, novel opportunities havealso emerged (Pelling and Uitto 2001). There has also beenan overwhelming focus on climate change adaptation inSIDS, possibly to the detriment of underlying root causesof vulnerability by depoliticizing many of the processesthat continue to weaken the ability of states to confrontthese challenges on their own terms (Kelman 2014). 1.4 South Pacific Disaster Risk The South Pacific is considered one of the most hazard-prone regions in the world (Garschagen et al. 2016). This isattributed to high levels of exposure to hazards (Solomonand Forbes 1999; Noy 2015) coupled with a range of  vulnerabilities that include low economic development,weak formal governance structures and social protection,and a dependence on exposed assets and entire industries,such as agriculture and fisheries, that are crucial forlivelihoods (Barnett 2010; Connell 2010, 2015; Cobon et al. 2016). Climate change also poses a greater risk of hazards in the South Pacific: increasing intensity of cyclones (despite a possible decrease in the number(Knutson et al. 2010; Walsh 2015); sea level rise; an increased frequency of El Nin˜o-Southern Oscillation(ENSO) cycles (Cai et al. 2014); changing rainfall patternsand increased temperatures, among others (Hansen andStone 2015). Faced with these present and future threats,improving the management of ‘‘natural disasters’’ hasbecome a central theme in policy throughout the SouthPacific, including Vanuatu where this research is based. Jackson et al. A Framework for Disaster Vulnerability in a Small Island in the Southwest Pacific  1 3  The destructive impact of category five cyclones Pam(March 2015) in Vanuatu and Winston (February 2016) inFiji may be indicative of the type of hazards associatedwith climate change. The capacity of rural Vanuatu com-munities to cope with such powerful cyclones is low (SPC2015), which can be observed from the post-recoveryperiod. Homes, infrastructure, crops, and fisheries wereseverely impacted, causing widespread disruption to thecommunities affected. Although relief operations are cur-rently needed, they remain reactive and the SendaiFramework advocates placing more focus on DRR, whichshould be targeted at underlying casual factors of disastervulnerability (UNISDR 2015). There are also many othersevere hazards in the region such as droughts, floods,earthquakes, king tides, landslides, fires, volcanoes, amongothers, which must be considered in any DRR strategy(SPC 2015). 1.5 Study Aims The study had two inter-linked aims. The first was todevelop a framework for understanding causal factors of disaster vulnerability in the context of small island devel-oping states by drawing on relevant literature and the well-established MOVE framework. The second goal was toapply this adapted framework to a rural community in asmall island in the southwestern Pacific. These objectiveswere accomplished by engaging in fieldwork on EmaeIsland, Vanuatu. 2 Methods and Study Site Driven by the adapted disaster vulnerability framework (Fig. 1), we used an array of qualitative methods includingsemistructured interviews, informal discussions, and par-ticipatory hazard mapping, to collect qualitative data onEmae Island, Vanuatu in early 2016. In the local context,informal methods proved to be particularly valuable as theyaligned with local sociocultural norms surrounding theexchange of information. This section outlines the methodsemployed and finishes with an introduction to the studysite. 2.1 Interviews, Informal Discussions,and Participant Observation Data collection on Emae Island, Vanuatu took place over a5-week period in early 2016. Semistructured interviewswith key informants were used due to the ability of thisprocess to ensure flexibility in respondent response, whilestill being informed by the conceptual framework andresearch aim (Semali et al. 2007; Schischka et al. 2008). These beneficial attributes are reinforced by Dunn (2000,p. 200), who suggests that semistructured interviews have‘‘some degree of predetermined order but still ensuresflexibility in the way issues are addressed by the infor-mant.’’ They were also more culturally acceptable inrelation to norms and values on Emae Island, in whichdiscussions, even serious, were approached in an openmanner, with interjections from other community mem-bers, arguments, and anecdotes used by those involved.The value of using culturally appropriate methods is vital Fig. 1  Dimensions of disastervulnerability as affected byexposure, susceptibility, andlivelihood resilience.  Source :Adapted from the MOVEframework (Birkmann et al.2013), and the concepts of livelihood resilience (Tanneret al. 2014) and ‘‘historicalconstruction of disasters’’(Oliver-smith 2010)Int J Disaster Risk Sci  1 3
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