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Key Elements of Vulnerability and Capacity Assessment ((vca) a Tool for Disaster Risk Reduction

Updated on December 26, 2020
Endy Noble profile image

Endy is a DRMDS student and had worked extensively in hazard identification, hazard and risk assessment and vulnerability studies.

Introduction to Vulnerability and Capacity Assessment (VCA)

Vulnerability and capacity are two related, but opposing terms in disaster risk management and risk reduction. Vulnerability is defined by two key elements—presence of hazards and the exposure of individuals or groups to the adverse effects of such hazards.

Hazards without exposure does not create vulnerability, but once there is exposure to a hazard or hazardous processes, vulnerability results. Hence, vulnerability is a situation in which an individual or group are exposed to the negative impacts of hazards once such hazards are active or live.

Capacity on the other hand is defined as the level of preparedness of the at-risk individual or community or their ability to put up resistance—otherwise called resilience. The level of an individual or group capacity is a determinant in their overall outcome of the impact of an active hazard or a disaster.

Vulnerability and capacity assessment (VCA), therefore, is an investigative study aimed at gathering data or information about existing or new hazards/risks or both as well as how these hazards/risks may affect individual or group in the event of a hazard manifestation or disaster.

VCA is an important part of disaster risk management and risk reduction because it helps to (1) gather data about hazards or risks (2) analysed such gather data (3) interprets the result of such analysis (4) create awareness about disaster risks based on the analysed data (4) develop/formulate hazards/risks reduction activity and (5) build community resilience otherwise called capacity.

VCA is a technical tool for creating community or community-based disaster preparedness activities which aid local authorities toward prioritising disaster risk reduction activities, actions or strategies. VCA is said to be a pre-disaster preparation that deploys community participation. It gives the community opportunity to recognise/understand their own level of exposure (vulnerability) to hazards, hazards risks (disaster risks) as well as what capacity they have to handle such risk at community level.

Vulnerability and Capacity Assessment Team
Vulnerability and Capacity Assessment Team | Source

Purpose of VCA in Disaster Risk Reduction

Vulnerability and capacity assessment (VCA) play a number of roles in disaster risk reduction (DRR). Because of these roles, the conduct of VCA becomes necessary for the following reasons or purposes:

#1. VCA is conducted for the purpose of hazards identification within a community and the threats that these hazards posed to the community as well as the sources of such hazards.

#2. The conduct of VCA is important in the identification of the at-risk individual or vulnerable groups to the threats posed by those hazards identified in one above. The groups mostly vulnerable to the threats of hazards are the old people, the disable groups, young children and women, particularly women with pregnancy.

#3. VCA is conducted for the purpose of identifying those factors that make people vulnerable and the specific ways that these factors are likely going to affect the vulnerable groups.

#4. VCA is conducted for the purpose of assessing the needs of the community or the vulnerable groups and what capacity they have available to meet these needs or what external assistance they may needs in coping or getting rid of the hazards.

#5. The conduct of VCA is for the purpose of instituting policies and measures that ensure adequate VCA programs are put in place, and particularly targeted at the needs of the most vulnerable groups within the community.

#6. The conduct of VCA enables the community or VCA experts to know and request external assistance for capacity building where existing capacities within the community are inadequate.

These are some of the underlying purposes or reasons for the conduct of VCA and the functions serve for the community where it’s conducted. Next is the steps on how to conduct a VCA.

We call for disaster risk reduction and building of resilience to disasters to be addressed with a renewed sense of urgency in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication, and, as appropriate, to be integrated into policies, plans, programmes, and budgets at all levels and considered within relevant future frameworks.

— United Nations, 2012

Steps in Conducting Vulnerability and Capacity Assessment

Basically, conducting VCA involves several steps which varies according to individual experts or the purpose of the VCA. However, most VCA experts employs seven basic steps in conducting a VCA. Also, most VCA experts use linear flow-charts to represent the procedural nature of VCA activities, this author believed that VCA activities should be represented in a looped-in or cyclic manner (Figure I). This is because VCA is a continuous activity for individuals or communities that take its safety and the safety of the general environment seriously.

Steps in Vulnerability and Capacity Assessment

VCA model
VCA model

Explaining the VCA Model

The first step in the VCA cycle is understanding the need to conduct a VCA by individual experts or group within the community. This is an important stage because no VCA activities can take place without the community or group first realizing the need for such activities. The individual or group had to convince themselves of the need to conduct VCA and promote their conviction through education, sensitization, awareness creation as well as securing political and community supports.

Furthermore, a VCA structure and VCA team need to be constituted to draw-up the VCA activity outlines and objectives. These outlines and objectives must be specific, realistic and can be achieved in a timely manner.

In the step two (2) of VCA, the VCA agenda are properly planned according to the VCA objectives. This step may involve specific details such as selection of VCA team, team leaders, members’ roles, VCA location or identification of the at-risk (vulnerable) community, VCA resources estimation, source and acquisition of VCA funds, VCA data/information collection tools and VCA field testing options. The success of this step requires deep knowledge of VCA itself and VCA objectives.

Step three (3) in the VCA cycle is very important because it can be called the VCA in action. It is called VCA in action because data/information on vulnerabilities and capacities are the bedrock of VCA. This step does not only assess hazards vulnerabilities and capacities (HVC), but also assesses existing institutions, skilled-manpower, available VCA tools and their overall effectiveness or adequacy.

In the fourth step, an important phase in VCA activities because it gives meanings to the conduct of the entire VCA action plans, is VCA data analysis. VCA data analysis is important because raw data may not or may be difficult to understand by non-VCA experts. Even some VCA experts who are not data inclined may find raw VCA data cumbersome.

The threats/risks posed by hazards, the extent of vulnerability or capacity may be undermined by unanalyzed VCA data. Hence, VCA data analysis phase puts VCA data in perspective, so that such data can be understood by experts and non-experts alike. This stage may include representation of VCA data in graphs, charts, histograms and even in pictures where necessary.

The next step in the VCA roadmap is the action planning phase. This is the formation of programs, strategies and actions that seek to reduce individual or community vulnerability while at the same times increasing community capacity. Here, the VCA team and the engaged community determines the priority problems, issues, hazards and action paths through critical evaluation and raking of issues in order to attend to the most urgent or threatening problems.

This phase is broad because it details the problems, the vulnerability factors, new and existing hazards or capacities as well as possible mitigation measures.

Generally, a VCA action plan attempts to answer the questions: what is the hazard? What is at-risk due to the presence of the hazard? What are the existing capacities? What new capacities need to be put in place? What are the resources available for the required actions or VCA activities?

VCA Action Planning Phase

Problems or Hazards
Promoting Factor(s)
Vulnerability factors
Action Plan for building Capacity
Dam collapse and blocked drainages
Livelihoods and properties
Construction of Dykes and clearing of drainages
Indiscriminate mining activities
Properties and agricultural lands
Awareness creation on the danger of indiscriminate mining
Indiscriminate burning of bushes and waste dumps
Lives and properties
Mass sensitisation

Planning VCA Actions

Flood Risk VCA Team

Flood Risk Assessment Team
Flood Risk Assessment Team | Source

Developing VCA Implementation Action Plan

Step 6 of the VCA is the development of VCA implementation plans. All the activities detailed in step 5 are formulated into concrete and executable project or projects for implementation. A typical VCA implementation plan contain details of project to be carried out; the department or group responsible for the execution of each task; the measures, strategies and actions required to accomplish each task; the resources required for implementation and timeline set for the completion of each task or the entire project.

Table 2 gives specific example of a VCA implementation plan for erosion, flood and fire risk reduction.

The last step in the VCA activities is report writing which according to some experts include recommendations base on lessons learned from the VCA activities. The VCA report documents the entire process of VCA covering the various steps. Most VCA reports are concise and clear detailing the findings of the VCA teams, their challenges as well as recommendations. VCA reports are presented in simple format that can easily be comprehend by stakeholders in the VCA activities.

The VCA report is submitted to authority in the jurisdiction where the VCA activities is to be conducted. Upon approval of the VCA report by relevant authority, it’s passed unto relevant implementation team for action.

Although most VCA expert take this step as the final step in VCA activities, it is important to note that VCA reports can be subject to review and upgrade by VCA teams while awaiting the reply of the concerned authority. Routine review and evaluation as contained in the proposed chart in figure I may be necessary to upgrade new hazards, vulnerabilities and capacities. This makes the VCA report more of a proposal subject to changes than a dogmatic report.

VCA Implementation Plan

Specific Risk Reduction Activities
Department or group responsible for the execution of task
Resources required
Completion Timeline
Monitoring of water level
Department for Flood Risk reduction
Aug. 7 – Oct. 21, 2021
Planting of cover crops or plants
Forest Reserve Agency
Jan. 21, 2021
Fire awareness advocacy
Department of Fire Service
Jan. 1-Mar. 30, 2021

VCA Implementation Plans

Benefits of VCA to Communities and Disaster Risk Reduction Experts

Every society that invest in safety benefits from such investments in a number of ways. The same is true for VCA. Vulnerability and capacity assessment have a number of benefits to the community and the disaster risk reduction experts. Some of these benefits include:

#1. VCA helps the community to identify their own hazard-related problems and the ways in which such hazards or their associated problems can be handled by seeking and proffering solutions to such problems.

#2. Because VCA is heavily a grass-root or community-based program with community participatory programs and projects, it helps the community to take responsibility toward building their own capacities.

#3. VCA also encouraged adoption and application of indigenous local coping capacities and/or technologies to the problems of hazards and the threats these hazards pose. This bring about innovated disaster risk reduction at local level.

#4. Since VCA is a community-based effort, it encourages local volunteers’ involvement and engenders community assistance in the heart of the people. This helps to reduce the burden on the experts as the communities are able to internalize their own vulnerabilities as well as capacities.

#5. Lastly, VCA’s participatory nature help to develop VCA experts among and from within the community. This is an important benefit because it can create the culture of ‘safety awareness’ and ‘vulnerability reduction’.

Summarily, VCA rewards the community from their own efforts; eliminating community weaknesses and vulnerabilities while at the same times improving community strengths, skills as well as capacities. “VCA is a enjoy your own effort activities”.

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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Ajodo Endurance Uneojo


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