Vulnerability has been studied through the lenses of different dimensions: system and exposure units, dynamic processes, multiple threats, differential exposure, social capital and collective action. The purpose of this framework is to grasp the social (and ecological) dynamics in the system over the past decades, in order to identify future actions for reducing vulnerability and to enhance adaptive capacity.

To understand each vulnerability dimension, a combination of participatory and analytical methods and tools was used. An assessment of the differential exposure and the dynamic processes as contributors to current vulnerabilities was carried out by examining a range of actors, activities, livelihoods and resources and how they were affected by a number of identified hazards.

The dynamic aspect defines the complexity of vulnerability as it encompasses many attributes or multiple stresses (social, economic, cultural, environmental) that may change at different speeds. Climate change is an added stress to these already existing and alarming stresses. As there are differences in the sensitivity and responses to climate variability within local communities and the system in which they live, it is not possible to capture the vulnerability of the system per se at any point in time.

The assessment was designed using participatory and holistic approaches to enable interaction with communities and to allow community members to discuss common concerns and negotiate a common vision. Participatory field exercises were used to characterize each vulnerability dimension as defined in this document. Methods were defined by the type of exposure unit thought to be vulnerable (e.g. natural resources, community, region), the nature of the hazard leading to that vulnerability, and the specific aspect of the vulnerability being described.

Lessons learned from the methodology for participatory vulnerability assessment are discussed, considering the benefits as well as challenges and limitations of this approach.

Note: This paper is an output of the Climate Change and Forests in the Congo Basin: Synergies between Adaptation and Mitigation (COBAM) project.


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