Assessing Risk and Social Vulnerability in Environmental Hazards Context

Assessing Risk and Social Vulnerability in Environmental Hazards Context
The relevance and connections of the research to a wider academic context
In Senegal, every year an increasing number of people[1] suffer from water-related hazards (coastal erosion and floods). Related risks are insufficiently studied, because they are complex and intertwined. They indeed jeopardize survival in these habitats that grapple with many other problems.
This is the context that triggered my desire to develop a wide research which attempts to analysis the Risk and Social Vulnerability in Environmental Hazards Context. In effect, the question is insufficiently studied in Africa and in Senegal. In addition to the technical dimension, there is also a need for an in-depth analysis of concepts in use. Given that vulnerability feeds on poverty, the other concepts, to be dealt with, interact with risk, survival techniques and the search of sustainable solution.
The dilemma of floods, in rainy season, is a disaster affecting more and more localities[2], year after year. Indeed, populations are displaced and losses are huge and difficult to assess, leading to some vulnerabilities. When disasters taking the form of floods are experienced regularly, they end up pushing populations, generally very poor, in a kind of vicious circle that further exacerbates their problems, leaving them in a situation of chronicle poverty.



Perceptions must be appreciated with a good method of analysis and assessment. These relate to governance of disasters and violence which could result from them when it is not well managed. Demonstration should not solely focus on risk and vulnerability. Both situations stem from poverty and its impacts. The depth of poverty dictates how to get out of poverty. This raises the largely jeopardized issue of resilience.
As a weak segment, populations could be exposed to other risks in their search for individual solutions. This shows how vulnerable they are. The internal migration that leads to the occupation of sites unfit for habitation is an evidence of poverty. Inhabited and flooded sites correspond with illegally occupied areas where some districts concentrate densities above 2000 inhabitants per square kilometre!
Conceptually…
The study discussion take further the notion of risk and vulnerability, and work out a Social Vulnerability Assessment. The approach wishes to draw from systems of analysis elaborated in the European Institutes, in the form of an analytical and critical replication, the reason being that, contexts are too different. In effect, moving from one approach using developed country parameters, to other approach using developing country parameters, should be considered. These are mostly paradigmatic discussions which are little studied in poor countries, particularly in Africa. Any approach should l put emphasis on the share of social constructions in the form of multiple vulnerabilities in relation to the context of environmental changes, whose many crises culminate in disasters.
As far as we know, scientific literature does not refer to the development of Assessment of Social Vulnerability for Africa, particularly for Senegal. Cases, where these indexes are crafted, are to be linked to interventionists support organisations like International Federation of Red Cross, United Nations Development Programme, or financing as World Bank or International Monetary Fund[3].
Risks and vulnerability factors are insufficiently analysed, all the more risk and vulnerability. I aim for a conceptual strengthening, following the emergence of these paradigms. Practically achieving a Social Vulnerability method of development and analysis drawing from the model developed by some ‘’Vulnerability Research Institutes’’ or other institutes involved in the formulation of these indexes.
 Risk Perception
In view of showing how these indicators can contribute to an improved understanding of a person’s vulnerability, I wish to use this approach and target risk perception through a survey form taking into consideration a series of data. Data describing vulnerability is often absent, because individual vulnerability is difficult to describe. Targeted individuals give their opinions on mentioned indicators in case of disaster as elements which help cope, whether successfully or not?
These last years, I have been working on ‘’Human Dimension of Global Environmental Change issues’’[4]and is achieving a book untitled ‘’Flood Syndrome in Senegal[5]’’. This is the reason why, my schedule work focus on some aspect developed in the book like particularly these issues:
Victims and Poverty –
Victims of their position: the poor occupy sites unfit for habitation, especially in depressions: low topography; erosions on watersides and floods from the ocean, rivers and particularly variable runoff waters during climate seasons (rains and drainage during hot and cold periods).

Victims of their social conditions: we can find very high demographic densities in risk sites (2000 inhabitants / ha). These sites had been occupied after hard-won strategic fights (embankments, more or less legal appropriation). Indeed, some rural and even urban populations came and settled on the outskirts of cities, after periods of drought prior or subsequent to the modernization of many sites in some secondary cities. The brutal passage of those local areas from the status of villages to that of towns in a poor country, with the lack of basic infrastructures, hampers the development of the basic conditions required in a city.

Victims of their economic conditions: with the low or absence of regular incomes (extreme poverty level, even for survival, and far from it. Here we do not talk about risk insurance as it happens sometime in European countries or other early warning systems (EWS, there exists a traditional forecasting system in Senegal which is loudly echoed today by modern media and communications technicians). Disasters increase populations’ vulnerability to the level of a real tragedy, while depriving them of everything.

These conditions or ‘victimization’ factors maintain people in a system that can be labeled ‘risk and poverty vicious circle’, as they are obliged to move according to dry or relatively rainy periods. The habitat, built with precarious materials, exposes these economically poor populations to a higher vulnerability, regarding environmental risks. The geology and soils of the host sites are more favorable to rainfalls, thus bringing about floods. These are all the more dramatic as they regularly occur and accumulate year by year. As a consequence, people are compelled to move out, which jeopardizes family structures or social and community groups. These floods create amphibious ghost cities in former beautiful landscapes, Thiam M.D, 1999, 2007. When disaster strikes, displacement becomes inevitable and poorly organized, not only because of the lack of foresight, but also because of policy programs that inadequately address the management of assistance. The Disaster Contingency Plan (DCP) is a culture of interventionism (IHDP report, 1999, ihdp.org). It accommodates victims in schools, and if not, in tents. And recently in the Dakar region, development attempts have been undertaken with a home building program named ‘Jaxaay »[6], in order to accommodate flood victims. And other important political decisions were made at the national level (postponement of elections and theorization of sustainable aid).

Victims because they are poor; poor because disaster victims. The demonstration can be confusing as it sounds like a tautology. The hierarchy of the spiral is complex  »Complex syndrome’: (risk, vulnerability, disaster, poverty, loss, disaster, etc.). And yet, the deepening of the approach, at both theoretical (conceptual) and practical (statistics and demonstration) levels is necessary. The socio-spatial and economic contexts are intimately intertwined. So much so that  vulnerability includes a set of factors that range according to different levels that must be analyzed for a statement of policy actions to be undertaken as responses to an important social demand.
Interdisciplinary dimension
Early warning Systems, for intervention: what has been done? Studies are insufficient and particular emphasis should be taken regarding this question.
Analytical spatial model, in fact of their absence, should inspire the Social Vulnerability Analysis in progress as test phase methodology, when considering hazardous context. I wish to answer at following questions from an interdisciplinary approach.
The Social aspect, it is important to mention the context of suburbswith indescribable demography and densities which reach records. Field work identifies spatial strategies of occupation and culture of disorder shown with very stretches pathways or roads, which are sometime unusable.
The absence of water collecting system and an interventionism action witness the culture of emergency, aid and for support.
The economic aspect, the very dynamic process of impoverishment is intertwined to natural disasters. It must be analysed from this fact. To that is added the losses economy which has a stretched relationship with disasters. The commons benefits which are expected in results target a term (time to be mastered) by knowledge for preparedness, anticipation, action in case of catastrophic events. This is the price which can help to realize benefits from different scales, particularly for poor countries. The originality is retrieved, otherwise, in marginalised areas which are components, particularly in cities which grow indefinitely.
The political dimension is overturned by the brutality of the events manifestation as hazards like floods. Is it possible to be surprised, if anticipation policy is practised? What suppose knowledge and preventing definition, reactions and actions to be conducted in consideration of available means, which are also insufficient?
I wish to collaborate with scholars who study population affected by hazards and displacement in its relationship with rapid, brutal hydro-climatic changes. Specialists of social questions are desired as collaborators, with an approach which puts emphasis on sociological risk, or environment threat in terms of catastrophic events, which also act surprisingly. This dimension covers today risk in relation with different societies (divided between poor and rich populations).


[1] – About 500000 victims were recorded in 2009; 70% from Dakar and its suburbs area.
[2]Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Mauritania, Senegal are affected by floods in 2009, 2010
[3] – Human Development Index.
[4] – Inondations au Sénégal : Penser au Solutions durables. In ‘’Nouvel Horizon. Weekly Magazine
[5] – Book edited ‘’Le Syndrome des Inondations au Sénégal”.

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