Vulnerability and Capacity Assessment (VCA) uses various participatory tools to gauge people’s exposure to and capacity to resist natural hazards. It is an integral part of disaster preparedness and contributes to the creation of community-based disaster preparedness programmes at the rural and urban grass-roots level. VCA enables local priorities to be identified and appropriate action taken to reduce disaster risk and assists in the design and development of programmes that are mutually supportive and responsive to the needs of the people most closely concerned.
The aims of VCA are to:
- assess risks and hazards facing communities and the capacities they have for dealing with them;
- involve communities, local authorities and humanitarian and development organizations in the assessment from the outset;
- draw up action plans to prepare for and respond to the identified risks;
- identify risk-reduction activities to prevent or lessen the effects of expected hazards, risks and vulnerabilities.
VCA is complementary to national and sub-national risk, hazard, vulnerability and capacity mapping exercises that identify communities most at risk. A VCA is then undertaken in these communities to diagnose the specific areas of risk and vulnerability and determine what action can be taken to address them. To complete the circle, what a VCA unearths at the local level can provide a valuable indication of national and sub-national vulnerabilities and capacities.
The International Federation’s experience over the last ten years has enabled it to refine and improve VCA to make it better focused and more effective in achieving its purpose. It has also shown how VCA can be linked to and reinforce other Red Cross Red Crescent programmes and activities. Moreover, as VCA is a participatory process, National Societies can develop realistic and relevant activities that are better suited to local needs and priorities.
As one National Society member said after undertaking a VCA:
“Before, we used to work for people, but now we work with them.”
National Society experiences with VCA
- Nepal: Dealing with local hazards
In Nepal, after conducting a VCA-type process, the National Society worked with villagers to create community-based programmes to deal with local hazards such as flooding. The participatory nature of the process and the difference that people were able to make through their own actions helped them to realize that disasters were something they could influence and as a result they have become less fatalistic about risk.
- Yemen: Unexpected outcome
In 2005, the Yemen Red Crescent Society carried out a VCA in two districts badly affected by flash floods. The assessment turned up some surprising findings: over the past 15 years, more people have been killed in road accidents in Yemen than as a result of flooding. The National Society therefore initiated a road safety programme designed to reduce such accidents, especially near schools, which has been much appreciated by the local population.
- Solomon Islands: Improved community relations
Since the 1940s, the relationship between two distinct groups in one of the Solomon Island coastal villages had been affected by land disputes. The two groups had lived and worked in separate and different ways until August 2004, when the Solomon Islands Red Cross decided to carry out a VCA. The process brought the two communities together and gave them a forum in which to communicate.
During one of the VCA meetings to discuss the construction of a drainage system, which both communities had identified as essential, a representative of one of the groups acknowledged the importance of community youth development and invited the two communities to work together to improve living standards and to help their young people. As a result, elders and young people from both groups became closely involved in VCA activities.
The VCA process was a landmark event for the communities’ youth, who expressed a keen interest in cooperating with other community VCAs and in developing a local Red Cross group in 2005.
- Priorities in the Caribbean: Strong roofs v. kitchens
In a number of Caribbean countries, National Societies undertook a programme to strengthen roofs against hurricanes. Many of the intended beneficiaries, however, gave a higher priority to improving their kitchens. To outsiders this might seem to be courting disaster, but for local people it was more pressing to relieve the daily struggle to cook and perform household chores than to withstand a hurricane that might not arrive for many years. The National Societies agreed to help local people improve both their kitchens and their roofs.
- Rwanda: Using local expertise
While seeking to address food insecurity, the Rwanda Red Cross conducted a VCA in which it divided out the various topics of discussion according to local expertise. The elderly were assigned history, with special emphasis on problems relating to food security; women focused on the seasonal calendar and the daily work routine; and young people produced a map of the sector showing community development achievements.
- In Rwanda, women are usually the ones who tend the fields and take care of the children. They know a great deal about their land and the daily difficulties and obstacles that they face. The women’s group, therefore, started by drawing up a seasonal work calendar in order to pool their collective experience.
The discussion centred on the best crops to grow and revealed that, for example, production of coffee had slowed after several dry seasons – even though the income generated from coffee production was far higher than that from growing vegetables. The group highlighted the need for washing stations where the coffee beans could be properly treated and sold at current market prices as one way of reducing the community’s vulnerability to food insecurity.
“We had never thought in this way about how we live and grow food. We had never taken the time to visit our neighbours, even if they didn’t live nearby, to ask them when, why and how do you do that. We grow this variety rather than that one because…” VCA participant.
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