Three faces of Vulnerability

Vulnerability as an entitlement problem
Endowment bundle is individual’s own labor power plus land and other assets he/she owns. And now Entitlement mapping is about rules and processes for transforming endowment bundle into entitlements (e.g. market structure & regulations, rights to communal output e.g. food, property etc.). Entitlement set is commodity bundles including food that can be commanded given an initial endowment. Lack of access to food and other resources caused vulnerability. Lack of command over food is caused by lack of power. There is a relation between power and command over food. Sen argues that famine is caused by power of the individual to command food, or exchange entitlement. He argues that there is always enough food to feed the worlds population, but there are many factors that prevent some people from receiving an adequate share of this. According Sen, there is enough food but extreme poor does not have command over resources (ie money) to purchase food. He emphasizes on entitlement relations. It is not lack of food rather it is lack of means to command over food. However, access to food may not help because vulnerable groups can not buy food from the market. Therefore, we need to focus on assets and entitlement.

Assets (labor, human capital, and productive assets) ——————food entitlements

Command over food is the most essential. The striking question is how vulnerable group of people can get command over food. Food entitlements and assets have to be mutually complementary to each other. According to Ford an entitlements approach is adopted whereby vulnerability of a group is explained by the availability of resources, and the entitlement of individuals and groups to call on these resources. In a broader context this relationship between entitlement and assets depend on political economy, which in a wider context related to political economy of distribution and formation of entitlements. Globalization, economic reform, and liberalization of trade could be a broader political economy that can make poor vulnerable locally.

Vulnerability as powerlessness/ political empowerment
Extreme poor and disadvantaged by other means are the powerless community. In the power relation perspective, this community is known as the rights claimers. This group of people, some time, does not have enough voice to speak out for their rights. They are illiterate, poor, and unaware about rights as well as their duty bearers are ignorant and uneducated about rights. They live within the society but outside the power structure. They are vulnerable by means of their livelihoods. Well, what makes people vulnerable and eventually powerless? According to Watts and Bohle (1993), “Vulnerability can also be politically determined, where people are powerless in their command over basic necessities and rights”.

Within the context of a developing or poor country, political factors cause powerlessness or vulnerability. Absence of good governance and lack of efficacy of institutions leads poor to live as poor or to become poorer. Powerless groups are usually found as deprived of fundamental rights, for example, right to food, adequate house, education, health, and employment etc. When fundamental rights are violated, it could be beyond their capacity to deal with civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights. Therefore, weak governance and deprivation of fundamental rights cause powerlessness and eventually vulnerability.

Availability of assets and ability to own that asset makes one not to be vulnerable. Moser & McIlwailne (1997) defines vulnerability as, “The more assets people have, the less vulnerable they are; the greater the erosion of assets, the greater the level of insecurity”. Vulnerability is also defined as lack of material and immaterial condition to stand against risk events (assets, entitlements). Political economy of distribution and formation of entitlements is wider context of asset entitlement relationship. Therefore, powerless people are neither politically empowered nor economically.

Political economy / social position of vulnerability
According to Ford (2002), economic and political power plays in determining vulnerability of individuals and groups. Historical and structural class-based pattern of social reproduction lies within the causes of vulnerability. So, political, economic, and social structures influence vulnerability. According to pressure and release model (PAR), vulnerability is part of risk (Blaikie et al 1994). The model says Risk = Hazards + Vulnerability. Hazards mean natural disasters. The progression of vulnerability is a series of levels of social factors e.g. i) root cause, ii) dynamic pressures, and iii) unsafe conditions. These levels focus on social, cultural, and political processes that give rise to unsafe conditions of vulnerable groups. According to Ford the model has a distinct scale element whereby root causes concerns remote influences including economic, demographic, and political processes within society and the world economy that reflect the distribution of power. The dynamic pressures include factors such as lack of local institutions, training, appropriate skills, local investments, local markets, press freedom, ethical standards in public life, and macro forces such as population growth, urbanization, arms expenditure, debt repayment, and deforestation. Unsafe conditions mean when people live in dangerous location with dangerous livelihoods, poor health, lack of building codes and regulations, and a lack of disaster preparedness. Unsafe conditions determine the vulnerable groups.

Women headed households are vulnerable because of gender inequality, social position, lack of mobility, and lower level of income. Class, caste, gender, age, ethnicity,
religion, or disability are factors for marginality and social exclusion. Hierarchical systems, structural and historical sequences of a society, and class based patterns of social reproduction continue a society to reproduce exploitation, exclusion, inequality, and consequently inequity. Under these dominant social factors poor live constantly at vulnerable state where they do not have any choice and eventually they do not achieve freedom for development.
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