Understanding vulnerability in southern Africa: comparative findings using a multiple-stressor approach in South Africa and Malawi
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Within southern Africa, many households are facing increasing pressures as they deal with multiple challenges such as low employment, high levels of disease, environmental resources under pressure and changing political landscapes. To respond to the needs of different individuals and households, it is important to define the nature of their vulnerability. An increasing amount of theoretical and empirical work on the concept of ‘vulnerability’ has led to a range of definitions, indicators and measurement tools, which have come to characterise this field of study. As a result, there is no one general consensus. This paper presents the results from the latest in a series of applied studies conducted since 2004 by a network of scientists working in southern Africa, aimed at refining the definition and application of the concept of vulnerability. The study employed a recently developed multiple-stressor model to guide the collection and analysis of data from three sites in South Africa and Malawi. In this paper, we identify and explore five key ‘symptoms’ of vulnerability emerging from our multi-country data and reflect on the usefulness of the model employed.