Social, political and institutional drivers of vulnerability around volcanoes
As with any type of natural hazard, understanding the impact of volcanic activity requires study both of the physical characteristics of the hazard but also of the societal drivers that render people more or less vulnerable to its effects. STREVA not only places central value on understanding the social dimensions of risk, but, crucially, integrates insights from physical science into this work so that the outcome is genuinely an interdisciplinary endeavour.
Vulnerability is commonly understood as a combination of exposure to hazard and susceptibility to its impacts. Both of these are shaped by the decisions and actions taken by people and institutions – on where and how to live, and how to manage threats. These choices are inevitably constrained or influenced by factors external to risk, and closely associated with the availability of resources and capacities. The result is that different social groups and different disaster risk management actors experience and/or manage risk in different ways.
STREVA research on the social drivers of vulnerability aims to go beyond a focus purely on the immediacy of volcanic events. It sees volcanic risk as an on-going risk process with on-going social impacts for the vulnerable. Working with residents and institutions based around all 4 of our study volcanoes, our research shows that though volcanic hazards may be brief and episodic in their violent phases, they tend to induce complex and long-term patterns of environmental, social, economic and political impact. Moreover, as with many hazards, the ability to recover (or not) over time is a key facet of people’s overall vulnerability to these impacts, and is something that varies from person to person, household to household, and community to community.
STREVA research with disaster risk management institutions emphasises the importance of creating strategies that incorporate ‘everyday’ concerns into risk management decisions. Adapting risk management strategies to the ongoing challenges of sustainable development, rather than enforcing them separately is the key to improving outcomes for communities at risk.