Vulnerability to natural disasters

Explicitly accounting for population heterogeneity—in particular with respect to level of education—provides an analytical tool for anticipating future vulnerability. Community participation and strong social networks can also aid preparedness to natural disasters in vulnerable regions, shows new research conducted in the south of Thailand.

© Kristina Afanasyeva | Dreamstime

© Kristina Afanasyeva | Dreamstime

A new study co-authored by World Population Program researcher Raya Muttarak and published in PLoS ONE suggests that people who participate in social activities in their community are more likely to plan and prepare for future disasters, such as tsunamis, in vulnerable regions [1].

The study was based on household surveys in tsunami-prone areas of Phang Nga, Thailand, a region which was hard hit by the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami, and which has been active in setting up tsunami early-warning systems and disaster-training programs.

The researchers analyzed the data using a statistical model to explore whether there were links between social engagement in the community and disaster preparedness efforts including following disaster-related news closely, preparing a family emergency plan or a disaster supplies kit, or planning to migrate to a lower risk area.

Previous IIASA research has shown that education, in particular women’s education, is connected with reduced vulnerability to natural disasters [2]. The new study supports these findings, showing that in communities where more women had at least secondary school education, more people planned for disaster risk reduction. In addition, the researchers found a strong link between social engagement, or participation in social, sports, and religious activities in a community, and taking actions to prepare for a potential natural disaster.

Although community activities and social networks cannot replace early warning systems and disaster training, they can complement and promote diffusion of such efforts.


[1] Witvorapong N, Muttarak R, and Pothisiri W (2015). Social participation and disaster risk reduction behaviors in tsunami prone areas. PLOS ONE. DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0130862.

[2] Lutz W, Muttarak R, and Striessnig E (2014). Universal education is key to enhanced climate adaptation. Science 346 (6213): 1061–1062.


College of Populations Studies, Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand

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Last edited: 25 February 2016


Raya Muttarak

Principal Research Scholar Migration and Sustainable Development Research Group - Population and Just Societies Program


Why universal secondary education can help fight climate change

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