International Journal of Disaster Risk Science

, Volume 4, Issue 4, pp 169–181 | Cite as

Measuring social vulnerability to natural hazards in the Yangtze River Delta region, China

  • Wenfang Chen
  • Susan L. Cutter
  • Christopher T. Emrich
  • Peijun ShiEmail author
Open Access


Social vulnerability emphasizes the different burdens of disaster losses within and between places. Although China continuously experiences devastating natural disasters, there is a paucity of research specifically addressing the multidimensional nature of social vulnerability. This article presents an initial study on the social vulnerability of the Yangtze River Delta region in China. The goal is to replicate and test the applicability of the place-based Social Vulnerability Index (SoVI®) developed for the United States in a Chinese cultural context. Twenty-nine variables adapted from SoVI® were collected for each of the 134 analysis units in the study area. Using principal components analysis, six factors were identified from the variable set: employment and poverty, education, poor housing quality, minorities, family size, and housing size—factors similar to those identified for the United States. Factor scores were summed to get the final SoVI® scores and the most and least vulnerable study units were identified and mapped. The highest social vulnerability is concentrated in the southern portions of the study area—Jingning, Suichang, Yunhe, Lanxi, Pan’an, and Shengsi. The least socially vulnerable areas are concentrated southwest, west, and northwest of Shanghai. Limitations of replication are discussed along with policy-relevant suggestions for vulnerability reduction and risk mitigation in China.


China natural hazards social vulnerability index Yangtze River Delta 


  1. Abdi, H., and L. J. Williams. 2010. Principal Component Analysis. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Computational Statistics 2(4): 433–459.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Alexander, D. 1997. The Study of Natural Disasters, 1977–97: Some Reflections on a Changing Field of Knowledge. Disasters 21(4): 284–304.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Armas, I. 2008. Social Vulnerability and Seismic Risk Perception. Case Study: The Historic Center of the Bucharest Municipality/Romania. Natural Hazards 47(3): 397–410.Google Scholar
  4. Birkmann, J. 2006a. Indicators and Criteria for Measuring Vulnerability: Theoretical Bases and Requirements. In: Measuring Vulnerability to Natural Hazards: Towards Disaster Resilient Societies, edited by J. Birkmann, 55–77. Tokyo: United Nations University Press.Google Scholar
  5. Birkmann, J. 2006b. Measuring Vulnerability to Promote Disaster-Resilient Societies: Conceptual Frameworks and Definitions. In: Measuring Vulnerability to Natural Hazards:Towards Disaster Resilient Societies, edited by J. Birkmann, 9–54. Tokyo: United Nations University Press.Google Scholar
  6. Blaikie, P. M., T. Cannon, I. Davis, and B. Wisner. 1994. At Risk: Natural Hazards, People’s Vulnerability, and Disasters. 1st Edition. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  7. Boruff, B. J., and S. L. Cutter. 2007. The environmental Vulnerability of Caribbean Island Nations. Geographical Review 97(1): 24–45.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Cardona, O. D. 2003. The Need for Rethinking the Concepts of Vulnerability and Risk from a Holistic Perspective: A Necessary Review and Criticism for Effective Risk Management. In: Mapping Vulnerability: Disasters, Development and People, edited by G. Bankoff, D. Hilhorst, and G. Frerks, 37–51. London: Earthscan.Google Scholar
  9. Chen, Y., Q. F. Chen, and L. Chen. 2001. Vulnerability Analysis in Earthquake Loss Estimate. Natural Hazards 23(2–3): 349–364.Google Scholar
  10. Cutter, S. L. 1996. Vulnerability to Environmental Hazards. Progress in Human Geography 20(4): 529–539.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Cutter, S. L., B. J. Boruff, and W. L. Shirley. 2003. Social Vulnerability to Environmental Hazards. Social Science Quarterly 84(2): 242–261.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Cutter, S. L., and C. Finch. 2008. Temporal and Spatial Changes in Social Vulnerability to Natural Hazards. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 105(7): 2301–2306.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Cutter, S. L., and D. P. Morath. 2014. The Evolution of the Social Vulnerability Index. In: Measuring Vulnerability to Natural Hazards: Towards Disaster Resilient Societies, edited by J. Birkmann. New York: United Nations University Press.Google Scholar
  14. Fan, S., R. Kanbur, and X. Zhang, eds. 2009. Regional Inequality in China: Trends, Explanations and Policy Responses. London and New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  15. Few, R., and G. T. Pham. 2010. Climatic Hazards, Health Risk and Response in Vietnam: Case Studies on Social Dimensions of Vulnerability. Global Environmental Change — Human and Policy Dimensions 20(3): 529–538.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Fordham, M. 1999. The Intersection of Gender and Social Class in Disaster: Balancing Resilience and Vulnerability. International Journal of Mass Emergencies and Disasters 17(1): 15–37.Google Scholar
  17. Ge, Y., W. Dou, Z. Gu, Z. Qian, J. Wang, W. Xu, P. Shi, X. Ming, X. Zhou, and Y. Chen. 2013. Assessment of Social Vulnerability to Natural Hazards in the Yangtze River Delta, China. Stochastic Environmental Research and Risk Assessment. doi:10.1007/s00477-013-0725-y.Google Scholar
  18. Henderson, J. V., J. Quigley, and E. Lim. 2009. Urbanization in China: Policy Issues and Options. Unpublished manuscript, Brown University. Scholar
  19. Hewitt, K., ed. 1983. Interpretations of Calamity: From the Viewpoint of Human Ecology. Boston, MA: Allen & Unwin.Google Scholar
  20. Hewitt, K. 1997. Regions of Risk: A Geographical Introduction to Disasters. Singapore: Longman.Google Scholar
  21. Holand, I. S., and P. Lujala. 2013. Replicating and Adapting an Index of Social Vulnerability to a New Context: A Comparison Study for Norway. The Professional Geographer 65(2): 312–328.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Huang, D., R. Zhang, Z. Huo, F. Mao, Y. E, and W. Zheng. 2012. An Assessment of Multidimensional Flood Vulnerability at the Provincial Scale in China Based on the DEA Model. Natural Hazards 64(2): 1575–1586.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Jolliffe, I. 2005. Principal Component Analysis. Wiley Online Library. Scholar
  24. Laska, S., and B. H. Morrow. 2006. Social Vulnerabilities and Hurricane Katrina: An Unnatural Disaster in New Orleans. Marine Technology Society Journal 40(4): 16–26.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Li, K., and G. S. Li. 2011. Vulnerability Assessment of Storm Surges in the Coastal Area of Guangdong Province. Natural Hazards and Earth System Sciences 11(7): 2003–2010.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Mallick, B., K. R. Rahaman, and J. Vogt. 2011. Social Vulnerability Analysis for Sustainable Disaster Mitigation Planning in Coastal Bangladesh. Disaster Prevention and Management 20(3): 220–237.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Mendes, J. M. 2009. Social Vulnerability Indexes as Planning Tools: Beyond the Preparedness Paradigm. Journal of Risk Research 12(1): 43–58.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Mileti, D. 1999. Disasters by Design: A Reassessment of Natural Hazards in the United States. Washington, DC: Joseph Henry Press.Google Scholar
  29. Ministry of Civil Affairs of the People’s Republic of China. 2011. China Civil Affair’s Statistical Yearbook 2011. Beijing: China Statistics Press.Google Scholar
  30. Montz, B. E., and G. A. Tobin. 2011. Natural Hazards: An Evolving Tradition in Applied Geography. Applied Geography 31(1): 1–4.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Myers, C. A., T. Slack, and J. Singelmann. 2008. Social Vulnerability and Migration in the Wake of Disaster: The Case of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Population and Environment 29(6): 271–291.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Population Census Office of the State Council and Department of Population and Employment Statistics of the National Bureau of Statistics of China. 2012. Tabulation on the 2010 Population Censue of the People’s Republic of China by County. Beijing: China Statistics Press.Google Scholar
  33. Sheng, Z. 2011. Towards China’s Urban-Rural Integration: Issues and Options. International Journal of China Studies 2(2): 345–367.Google Scholar
  34. Shi, L. 1993. Health Care in China: A Rural-Urban Comparison After the Socioeconomic Reforms. Bulletin of the World Health Organization 71(6): 723.Google Scholar
  35. Tierney, K. 2006. Social Inequality, Hazards, and Disasters. In: On Risk and Disaster: Lessons from Hurricane Katrina, edited by R. J. Daniels, E. F. Kettl, and H. Kunreuther, 109–128. Philadephia: University of Pennsylvania Press.Google Scholar
  36. Tobin, G. A., and B. E. Montz. 1997. Natural Hazards: Explanation and Integration. New York: The Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  37. Weather China. 2009. The 1954 Flood Disaster in the Taihu Lake Basin. Scholar
  38. Wei, Y. M., Y. Fan, C. Lu, and H. T. Tsai. 2004. The Assessment of Vulnerability to Natural Disasters in China by Using the DEA Method. Environmental Impact Assessment Review 24(4): 427–439.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Wen, K., and G. Bian, eds. 2008. Encyclopedia of Meteorological Disasters in China — Jiangsu. Beijing: China Meteorological Press.Google Scholar
  40. Wen, K., and G. Xi, eds. 2006. Encyclopedia of Meteorological Disasters in China — Zhejiang. Beijing: China Meteorological Press.Google Scholar
  41. Wen, K., and Y. Xu, eds. 2006. Encyclopedia of Meteorological Disasters in China — Shanghai. Beijing: China Meteorological Press.Google Scholar
  42. White, G. F., R. W. Kates, and I. Burton. 2001. Knowing Better and Losing Even More: The Use of Knowledge in Hazards Management. Global Environmental Change Part B: Environmental Hazards 3(3–4): 81–92.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Whyte, M. K., ed. 2010. One Country, Two Societies: Rural-Urban Inequality in Contemporary China. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  44. Wu, D., D. H. Yan, G. Y. Yang, X. G. Wang, W. H. Xiao, and H. T. Zhang. 2013. Assessment on Agricultural Drought Vulnerability in the Yellow River Basin Based on a Fuzzy Clustering Iterative Model. Natural Hazards 67(2): 919–936.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Zeng, J., Z. Y. Zhu, J. L. Zhang, T. P. Ouyang, S. F. Qiu, Y. Zou, and T. Zeng. 2012. Social Vulnerability Assessment of Natural Hazards on County-Scale Using High Spatial Resolution Satellite Imagery: A Case Study in the Luogang District of Guangzhou, South China. Environmental Earth Sciences 65(1): 173–182.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Zou, L. L., and Y. M. Wei. 2010. Driving Factors for Social Vulnerability to Coastal Hazards in Southeast Asia: Results from the Meta-Analysis. Natural Hazards 54(3): 901–929.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2013

This article is published under license to BioMed Central Ltd. Open Access This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits any use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author(s) and source are credited.

Authors and Affiliations

  • Wenfang Chen
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
  • Susan L. Cutter
    • 2
  • Christopher T. Emrich
    • 2
  • Peijun Shi
    • 1
    • 3
    Email author
  1. 1.State Key Laboratory of Earth Surface Processes and Resource EcologyBeijing Normal UniversityBeijingChina
  2. 2.Hazard and Vulnerability Research Institute, Department of GeographyUniversity of South CarolinaColumbiaUSA
  3. 3.Academy of Disaster Reduction and Emergency Management, Ministry of Civil Affairs and Ministry of Education of ChinaBeijing Normal UniversityBeijingChina

Personalised recommendations