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Snakes and Ladders 20 Oct 2010

Snakes and Ladders 20 Oct 2010

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Published by Andy Sumner

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Published by: Andy Sumner on Oct 21, 2010
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11/04/2011

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SNAKES AND LADDERS, BUFFERS AND PASSPORTS:RETHINKING VULNERABILITY VIA A HUMAN WELLBEING LENS
Andy Sumner and Rich MalletInstitute of Development Studies, Sussexa.sumner@ids.ac.uk
20 OCT 2010Abstract
Much research to date has tended to view vulnerability by disciple orsector and yet individuals and households experience multiple, interactingand sometimes compound vulnerabilities.
 
Cross-disciplinary thinking isemerging as multi-dimensional vulnerability is increasingly recognized tobe likely to come to the fore if the outlook over the next 15-25 years is oneof multiple, interacting and compound stressors and crises as a result of the perfect stormor long crisisthesis of the interaction odemographics, climate change and food and energy prices. In light of theabove this paper reviews the literature on vulnerability and asks what a‘Human Wellbeing’ approach – a complement to more traditional ways of understanding poverty - might contribute to the analysis of vulnerability.Page 6 - ADD ANNEX TABLE IN TEXT - SIMPLIFIEDpage 26 - ADD TO TABLE 9 FROM TABLES 6, 7 and 8
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1. INTRODUCTION
Much research to date has tended to view vulnerability by disciple orsector and yet individuals and households experience multiple, interactingand sometimes compounding vulnerabilities.
 
Cross-disciplinary thinking isemerging as multi-dimensional vulnerability is increasingly recognized tobe likely to come to the fore if the outlook over the next 15-25 years is oneof multiple, interacting and compound stressors and crises as a result of the perfect stormor long crisisthesis of the interaction odemographics, climate change and food and energy prices (Beddington,2009; Evans et al., 2010; Sumner et al., 2010). In light of the above thispaper reviews the literature on vulnerability and asks what a ‘HumanWellbeing’ approach a complement to more traditional ways of understanding poverty - might contribute to the analysis of vulnerability. This paper is structured as follows. Section 2 provides a ‘broad-sweep’ of the vulnerability literature. Section 3 introduces the ‘humanwellbeing’ approach. Section 4 explores vulnerability via a wellbeing lens.Section 5 concludes.
2. DISCIPLINARY AND SECTORAL PERSPECTIVES ONVULNERABILITY 
2a. The evolution of the concept of vulnerability in development studiesliterature
 There is, of course, an enormous literature on vulnerability (see forreviews Alwang et al., 2001; Bohle, 2003; Sharma et., 2000). Vulnerabilityis defined and measured in different ways in different disciplines andsectors and yet individuals and households experience multiple andinteracting vulnerabilities at the same time. Room’s (2000) approach thatwe draw upon in this paper refers to ‘snakes and ladders’ and unexpectedand expected variability shocks and stressors - that can lead toadvancement (ladder) or decline (snake) in wellbeing and ‘buffers and
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passports’ to refer to resilience stock/capacities (buffers) and abilities totake opportunities (passports).Vulnerability is not only shocks but slow-burning stressors too. It isalso about exposure/sensitivity to harms/hazards and capacity to cope orresilience. Further, it is experienced in different ways by different people.In this vein Sharma et al., (2000:1) note, that even when exposed to thesame event, impacts will vary, depending on the person’s capacity tocope: that is, to withstand and recover from the impact of that event(Sharma
, et. al.,
2000, p.1). In this respects Sen historical work onentitlement failures and famine was seminal.
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Other seminal works to notewould be Chambers (1989) discussion of vulnerability, risk, shock, stressand coping mechanisms, and Moser’s (1998) asset vulnerability. The poverty dynamics literature is also of direct relevance withparticular reference to research on chronic and transient poverty (see inparticular Hulme et al., 2001; Shepherd et al., 2010). In countries withdata, the percentage of the poor that are always poor is around a third of poor households (see table 1). This implies that two-thirds of the poormove in and out of poverty depending on vulnerability and capacities tocope.
 Table 1. Selected countries: the chronic poor (‘always poor’) as % of poor householdsCountriesPeriodsAlways poor HH aspercentage of totalpoor householdsBangladesh1994-200625China1991-199530India1970-198242
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The literature on entitlements and famine has had a ‘major theoretical, empirical andpolicy impact’ (Fine 1997:619). Aside from influencing the practice of major globalinstitutions, the literature has also driven the concept of entitlement into other areas of interest, from the welfare system (entitlement to benefits) and the legal system(entitlement to property rights) to human rights (
ibid.
). Entitlement failure exists whenthere is a failure to establish command over sufficient resources for survival (Dreze andSen 1981 ). This is fundamentally about the relationship between endowment andexchange. As Elahi (2006: 544) points out, endowment – which is determined by one’sentitlements refers to an individual’s ability to command a resource through legalmeans through a process of exchange. For example, an individual can sell (exchange) hisor her labour power (endowment) in return for a wage (resource). Entitlement underpinsthe entire process. Although strongly influenced by a material approach insofar as theframework tends to deal with the ownership of tangible assets, entitlement alsoincorporates relational aspects as vulnerability depends to some extent on the nature of ‘terms of trade relationships’ (Vatsa and Krimgold 2000: 136).
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