Concept of Vulnerability in HDR


Ajit Kumar AJIT KUMARWISDOM IAS, New Delhi.

As successive Human Development Reports have shown, most people in most countries have been doing steadily better in human development. Advances in technology, education and incomes hold ever-greater promise for longer, healthier, more secure lives. Globalization has on balance produced major human development gains, especially in many countries of the South. But there is also a widespread sense of precariousness in the world today—in livelihoods, in personal security, in the environment and in global politics. High achievements on critical aspects of human development, such as health and nutrition, can quickly be undermined by a natural disaster or economic slump. Theft and assault can leave people physically and psychologically impoverished. Corruption and unresponsive state institutions can leave those in need of assistance without recourse. Political threats, community tensions, violent conflict, neglect of public health, environmental damages, crime and discrimination all add to individual and community vulnerability.
Real progress on human development, then, is not only a matter of enlarging people’s critical choices and their ability to be educated, be healthy, have a reasonable standard of living and feel safe. It is also a matter of how secure these achievements are and whether conditions are sufficient for sustained human development. An account of progress in human development is incomplete without exploring and assessing vulnerability.
Traditionally, the concept of vulnerability is used to describe exposure to risk and risk management, including insuring against shocks and diversifying assets and income.3 This Report takes a broader approach, emphasizing the close links between reducing vulnerability and advancing human development. We introduce the concept of human vulnerability to describe the prospects of eroding people’s capabilities and choices. Looking at vulnerability through a human development lens, we draw attention to the risk of future deterioration in individual, community and national circumstances and achievements, and we put forward policies and other measures to prepare against threats and make human development progress more robust going forward.
We particularly emphasize systemic and perennial sources of vulnerability. We ask why some people do better than others in overcoming adversity. For example, almost everywhere, women are more vulnerable to personal insecurity than men are. We also ask what structural causes leave some people more vulnerable than others. People experience varying degrees of insecurity and different types of vulnerability at different points along the life cycle. Children, adolescents and older people are inherently vulnerable, so we ask what types of investments and interventions can reduce vulnerability during sensitive transitional periods of the life cycle.
2014  Report makes the case that the sustained enhancement of individuals’ and societies’ capabilities is necessary to reduce these persistent vulnerabilities—many of them structural and many of them tied to the life cycle. Progress has to be about fostering resilient human development. There is much debate about the meaning of resilience, but our emphasis is on human resilience—ensuring that people’s choices are robust, now and in the future, and enabling people to cope and adjust to adverse events.
Institutions, structures and norms can either enhance or diminish human resilience. State policies and community support networks can empower people to overcome threats when and where they may arise, whereas horizontal inequality may diminish the coping capabilities of particular groups.
This Report explores the types of policies and institutional reforms that can build resilience into the fabrics of societies, particularly for excluded groups and at sensitive times during the life cycle. It examines universal measures that can redress discrimination and focuses on the need for collective action to resolve vulnerability that stems from unresponsive national institutions and the shortcomings of global governance.
Human vulnerability is about the prospect of eroding human development achievements and their sustainability. A person (or community or country) is vulnerable when there is a high risk of future deterioration in circumstances and achievements. Of course, we all live in an uncertain world, and it may never be possible to reduce such risks to zero. Everyone, rich or poor, is vulnerable to some extent. But this Report focuses on the possibility of major deterioration in conditions, which may take people down to unacceptably bad conditions— poverty and destitution—or worsen the conditions of those already suffering low human development.
How far shocks translate into reduced human development depends on people’s ability to cope with shocks as well as on the assistance that they may receive. People’s ability to cope and adjust is referred to here as human resilience . Most people are resilient to some degree—they can adjust to minor shocks, for example. But how far they can adjust to large or persistent shocks without a major sacrifice and loss of human development varies according to their circumstances. The required adjustment depends on the nature of the shock and the circumstances of those affected. Those who are better placed and find it easier to adjust are more resilient.
This Report develops two basic propositions. One is that people’s vulnerability is influenced considerably by their capabilities and social context. The other is that failures to protect people against vulnerability are mostly a consequence of inadequate policies and poor or dysfunctional social institutions. And while almost anyone can be vulnerable to some event or shock, this Report focuses on those particularly vulnerable to changes in personal circumstances and external shocks, especially from persistent or systematic threats to human development, such as climate change, violence and societal barriers that prevent people from exercising their full ability to act.
Two central theses of this Report are that sustainably enhancing and protecting individual choices and capabilities and societal competences are essential and that human development strategies and policies must consciously aim to reduce vulnerability and build resilience. A better understanding of vulnerability and resilience from a multidimensional human development perspective allows for a deeper analysis of the key factors and policies that explain why some individuals, communities or countries are more resilient to adverse events and respond better to them.x


Thursday, 06th Aug 2015, 07:37:02 AM

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