Assessing urban vulnerability to flood hazard in Brazilian municipalities

From Environment and Urbanization

Since 2000, Brazil has weathered 51 floods and five landslides, which together caused 2,559 deaths; 514,845 people lost their homes in these events, 6,403,073 people were affected and economic losses totalled US$ 4,831,870. Between 1900 and 2014, nine of the ten natural disasters in Brazil with the highest mortality were either floods or landslides. Climate change is likely to increase the severity and/or frequency of these kinds of disasters. This paper discusses the construction and use of an index, using factor analysis, to assess vulnerability to flooding of 1,276 urban, Brazilian municipalities. This analysis demonstrates how a more holistic approach to vulnerability assessment, which includes socioeconomic and spatial data, can illuminate which urban populations are most vulnerable to climate change. This assessment also illustrates the uneven distribution of the three factors that comprise vulnerability.


The rise in extreme weather events, coupled with the acknowledgement by policymakers that vulnerable populations are disproportionately at risk, has led to an increase in demand for vulnerability assessments, and particularly composite vulnerability indices. This paper presents a flood hazard vulnerability index that incorporates socioeconomic, built environment and natural environment data, and that was used to measure the vulnerability of 1,276 municipalities in Brazil. Findings show that 83 of these municipalities (with 22 per cent of the Brazilian population) are at risk. Vulnerability stemming from lower levels of socioeconomic status is concentrated in the Northern regions; that related to poor governance is widespread across all regions. This analysis highlights the dangers of assessing vulnerability using aggregate measures of socioeconomic status in middle-income countries with high levels of inequality, where the presence of vulnerable populations in informal settlements within highly developed municipalities may be obscured.

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Article details
Rebecca Joan Rasch
Assessing urban vulnerability to flood hazard in Brazilian municipalities
Environment and Urbanization 0956247815620961, first published on December 23, 2015 doi:10.1177/0956247815620961



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