Literature reviewed shows that the territory’s reaction to an extreme event doesn’t only depend on the intensity and frequency of recurrence of natural events like heat waves, but also on multiple factors inherent to the society, economy and environment on the territory and conditioned by political environment and some external factors, like excessive migration (Wisner et al., 2003, IPCC 2014). IPCC in its scheme of multidimensional vulnerability underlines how the preexisting inequalities in capacities and opportunities condition the vulnerability to extreme events (Fig.11). Among the dimensions of inequality, gender, class, ethnicity, age, race and disability are mentioned (Field et al., 2014). Wisner et al. add also occupation, health status, the nature and extent of social networks, and immigration status (“legal” or “illegal”) as key variables that explain impact variations. (Wisner et al., 2003). The vulnerability increases as the inequality dimensions accumulate.
Fig.11 Multidimentional vulnerability. Source: Field et al., 2014
Vulnerability increases with the accumulation of inequality factors not only because these factors push the marginalized to live in the places most exposed to disasters (in the flood plains, for example, or on the highest floor of the building with no roof thermal insulation), but also due to the manner in which the inequalities influence the access of the population to income, knowledge, information and other resources, and to the manner in which these assets and resources are distributed between social groups.
Examples of how a risk is driven by a socio-economic vulnerability of the population are as follows. The low-income groups of urban population are more susceptible to climate change risks because of poor-quality, insecure, and old housing, insufficient healthcare and inadequate infrastructure (IPCC 2014). The elderly are more vulnerable due to their limited mobility, need of help, specific health conditions. (Hajat et al., 2007, Garssen et al., 2005, Kovats et al. 2006, Knowlton et al., 2009; Naughton et al., 2002; Whitman et al., 1997; Poumadere et al. 2005; Reid et al., 2009)
In order to adapt to climate change socio-economic vulnerability needs to be dealt with. Yet the measures taken most often rely on technical aspects, due to a rather short term and relative easiness of their implementation, compared to the policies and actions that address socio-economic vulnerability. To address the underlying social and economic situation on a territory means to alter the way that power is excercised in a society, the policies take time and political will to integrate, as for example, changes in building codes, greater investments into infrastructure and public health, etc.; many of which face serious political opposition (Wisner et al., 2003).