Natural disasters, risk and social vulnerability

What was the problem?

The register and analysis of natural disaster's statistic information has been, in the recent years, one of the risk management focuses in the entire world. In this sense, the development of natural disasters' databases is a determinant tool for its management and aims at the implementation of vulnerability and risk indicators' systems, whether at the national scales level, or at the local and regional ones. In this way, governments and the entities responsible for the risk management seek to equip themselves with precious information which enables them to assess the impact of natural disasters, to build support models and advance in the scenario planning, both from an environmental and social and economic perspectives.

In Portugal, this strategy only became a priority in 1998, in the frame of the National Program for Land Planning Policy (Programa Nacional da Política de Ordenamento do Território), and after a severe floods and landslide episode. Beyond these mentioned risks, Portugal is also targeted by several annual forest fire episodes, and is considered a country under tsunami risk, in spite of the weak social perception of this process among the Portuguese population.

The information on risk and disasters' impact in Portugal is, therefore incomplete or dispersed, becoming an obstacle to the implementation of efficient measures to mitigate natural disasters, which amplify in magnitude and frequency as a direct consequence of the climatic changes. These disasters are also felt – and in a more aggravated way – over persons and goods, making this strategy a priority in the building of risk management public policies, in order to hold a  sustainable economic development from the point of view of risk in the public and private investment.

What did we do?

In the recent years, the investigation developed in the CES' context, in partnerships with other scientific investigation' institutions and governmental authorities, has been creating, exploring and publicizing SIG databases (amongst others) which include historic informations, as well as real time information, on natural disasters, among which; hydro-geomorphologic-related disasters such as floods and mass movements, tsunamis, seismic activity and forest fires.

The investigation has, thus, allowed the development of risk assessment and management  methodologies which can be applied as much at the municipal as to the national management level; articulating the territorial planning policies and the emergency planning and management. These methodologies had into account an important investigation aimed at data acquisition and mapping  socioeconomic variables in the different evaluation scales, tests and variable validation, as well as the cartographic production at the adequate scale for the local and national intervention.

Beyond the work of building the historic databases, CES has also been promoting a comprehensive model of risk exposure, following a social-vulnerability-logic, incorporating as variables geo-referenced informations stemming from diverse trans-disciplinary spheres such as demography, labour situation, socio-economic conditions, built patrimony's characteristics, collective equipments' accessibility and collective equipments. An adequate tool was therefore developed to inform the individual and communities' support and resilience capacities, and capable of outlining risk exposure municipal policies and development and territorial cohesion strategies based on the engagement of both the citizens and the municipal actors. It's a local-based construction in which the intervenients are bearers of different knowledges and support answers based upon the users and beneficiaries.

For example, the investigation performed in the frame of the project “Risk, Social Vulnerability and Planning Strategies: An Integrated Approach”, beyond executing a genealogy of the risk concepts, precaution, vulnerability, catastrophe and disasters, has allowed to understand the actors involved in the construction of answers associated with these concepts, enabling the creation of a risk and social vulnerability assessment methodology applicable as much to local as national and transnational contexts.

CES, in partnership with the Institute of Geography and Spatial Planning of Lisbon's University (IGOT/Ulisboa), developed a structuring national database on the impacts of the  hydro-geomorphologic risks in the context of project “DISASTER”, currently being furthered with project “FORLAND – Hydro-geomorphologic risk in Portugal: driving forces and application for land use planning”, which aims at providing a toolbox, incorporating proactive orientations for the territorial planning, management tools for disasters' risk and adaptation strategies to promote the disasters' reduction, based on municipal differentiated risk profiles and involving scientists, regional and local authorities and stakeholders.

Besides these developments, CES' investigators, in partnership with the  National Laboratory for Civil Engineering, developed a vulnerability chart for the Tagus estuary in the frame of project MOLINES, sustaining the building of warning and alert tools for the exposed communities. This investigation with local and regional impact is currently under development with project MOSAIC.PT for the coastal areas.

What happened?

Concerning the risk, social vulnerability and natural disasters' theme, the results of the diverse projects CES had been involved in enabled it to co-develop a social vulnerability assessment model – designated VS-CES-OSIRIS Model – which is based on the multi-varied analysis of the components such as criticality and support capacity. Beyond that, they have allowed CES to become a reference entity in this model's application and in the socio-graphic characterization of the emergency, rescue and risk perception institutions at the municipal level. In this context, CES and its researchers responsible for this investigation have already worked in close collaboration with local administration entities; such as Lagos' City Hall, Câmara de Lobos and Cascais' City Halls and Coimbra's Civil Government. Beyond these, CES participated in the implementation, validation and approval process of the “Intermunicipal Risk Management Plan for the Coimbra region", funded by the Operational Programme for Sustainability and Efficient Use of Resources (POSEUR).


Related Projects

FORLAND

Hydro-geomorphologic risk in Portugal: driving forces and application for land use planning

Alexandre Oliveira Tavares

Susana da Silva Pereira

June 1, 2016 to May 31, 2019

Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology
(Concursos de Projectos de I&D)

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MOLINES

Modelling floods in estuaries. From the hazard to the critical management

Paula Freire

July 1, 2013 to February 29, 2016

Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology

Read more

TsuRIMA

TSUnami RIsk MAnagement for spatial planning and civil protection

Angela Cristina da Silva Santos

February 1, 2012 to July 31, 2015

Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology

Read more

DISASTER

Desastres naturais de origem hidro-geomorfológica em Portugal: base de dados SIG para apoio à decisão no ordenamento do território e planeamento de emergência

Alexandre Oliveira Tavares

José Luís Zêzere

March 1, 2010 to August 31, 2013

Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology

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SCRAM

Crises, risk management and new socio-ecological arrangements for forests: a perspective from science and technology studies

Rita Serra

April 1, 2010 to September 30, 2013

Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology

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Risk, Citizenship and the Role of the State in a Globalised World

September 1, 2007 to October 28, 2010

Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology

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Risk, Social Vulnerability and Planning Strategies: An Integrated Approach

José Manuel Mendes

October 1, 2007 to December 31, 2010

Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology

Read more

Caracterização sociográfica das instituições de emergência e socorro e percepção do risco no Distrito de Coimbra

José Manuel Mendes

November 1, 2006 to October 30, 2007

Governo Civil de Coimbra

Read more