As of late, environmental scientists have recognized the need for an undertaking that addresses more than just the physical hazards resulting from the planetary boundaries that were discussed before.
The social impacts of transgressing these boundaries are not merely limited to how people are affected by such environmental hazards, but also to how such communities are socio-economically resilient in response.
To understand the concept of “risk” and its corresponding response–that is “resilience”–is important as it serves as the bridge into determining how communities can direct their environmental management efforts as based on their socioeconomic improvement.
For instance, two countries exposed to the same environmental hazards may not be experiencing the same risk under such hazards because of their respective states of development. For a country that has sufficient financial means, a capable and properly functioning government, and an organized civil society structure, the country could more or less invest in countermeasures against such hazards.
This capability is what we call vulnerability. Thus, coming from this fundamental understanding of risk, the World Risk Index of 173 countries calculates risk as the product of both exposure and vulnerability.
Risk = Exposure x Vulnerability
Risk is the interaction of both factors.
Exposure means that a certain good (generally: population, infrastructure, environmental areas) is exposed to the impacts of one or more natural hazards. Vulnerability, on the other hand, relates to social, physical, economic, and environment-related factors that make people or systems susceptible or resilient to the harm to which one is exposed.
Under “vulnerability”, there are three constituents—susceptibility, coping capacities, and adaptive capacities—all of which share equal weights.
Vulnerability = 1/3 (susceptibility) + 1/3 (coping capacities) + 1/3 (adaptive capacities)
Susceptibility is the likelihood of sustaining harm as based on factors such as current state of infrastructure, nutrition, housing conditions, and economic status.
Coping capacities refer to various abilities of societies to minimize the negative impacts of environmental hazards via direct action and the resources at their disposal.
Adaptive capacities, unlike #2m are long-term strategic processes aimed to target future natural events.
Examples of specific indicators under exposure and the three factors of vulnerability are as follows.
In the case of the Philippines, the country has been on the index as the 3rd country at most risk to environmental hazards, after small island states Vanuatu and Tongga. It has consistently been at that rank for three years since 2011.
In fact, UNU-EHS Director Prof. Jakob Rhyner said, “The World Risk Index reveals global hotspots for disaster risk in Oceania, Southeast Asia, southern Sahel and especially in Central America and the Caribbean. In these places a very high threat of natural disasters and climate change meets very vulnerable communities. [Meanwhile,] in Europe we find countries which are [also] highly exposed to hazards, for example the Netherlands and Greece, but due to their level of preparedness the actual risk is quite low.”
With this information, it is thus very important that the Philippines aim to possess an adaptive capacity as an ultimate goal if the country is to pursue a path of constant progress.