The social–ecological dimension of vulnerability and risk to natural hazards

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The impacts of natural hazards on local communities are increasing worldwide and are projected to rise further due to urban expansion and climate change. To address these threats, a large amount of literature has characterized and assessed the physical, social, economic and institutional dimensions of disaster risk. However, much less attention has been paid to the social–ecological dimension of vulnerability and risk. The lack of consideration of this dimension represents a major knowledge gap, especially when considering that environmental degradation is regarded as one of the primary drivers of risk to natural hazards worldwide. While the international community advocates for the restoration of ecosystems as an important strategy for disaster risk reduction, the relationship between environmental health, vulnerability and risk of populations is often overlooked in vulnerability and risk assessment, a precondition for the design and implementation of effective ecosystem-based adaptation strategies. Possible explanations for this gap are: (1) the contradictory results on the role of ecosystem health in determining risk of local communities; (2) the poor theoretical framing of the social–ecological dimension of vulnerability and risk to natural hazards; or (3) the lack of clarity regarding how to assess this dimension of risk. This paper addresses potential reasons (2) and (3). It first reviews the available literature related to social–ecological drivers of vulnerability and risk of local communities exposed to natural hazards. Second, it discusses and provides a definition of social–ecological vulnerability and risk. Third, it reviews assessment methods and, finally, it suggests an improved conceptual framework that illustrates the main interactions between natural hazards, the ecosystem and the social system.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)587-604
Number of pages18
JournalSustainability Science
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1 Mar 2020
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019, Springer Japan KK, part of Springer Nature.


  • Disaster risk reduction
  • Ecosystem-based approach
  • Environmental degradation
  • Natural hazards
  • Social–ecological vulnerability

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Health(social science)
  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Ecology
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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