Environmental vulnerability, resilience and justice: social differentiation in short- and long-term flood impacts

Donald Houston, Alan Werritty, Tom Ball, Andrew Black

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This paper reports household questionnaire survey results on vulnerability and resilience to flooding from one of the largest and most representative samples (n=593) of households up to 12 years after they were flooded. Results indicate that social differentiation in flood impacts are relatively small soon after a flood, but widen over time, with socially-disadvantaged groups displaying less recovery. The patterns of social differentiation in vulnerability and resilience to flooding differ markedly according to the type and timescale of the impact, with some normally socially advantaged groups (e.g. professionals and homeowners) being most vulnerable to short-term impacts. In contrast to assumptions in existing literature and in flood vulnerability indices used by governments in flood risk management, older residents (age 70+) have greater resilience to flood impacts. As in previous research, low income is linked to lower resilience, particularly in the long term. Prior experience of flooding erodes rather than enhances resilience to flooding. Magnitude and frequency of flooding are more important than social categories in determining vulnerability to flooding, and flood warnings are effective at reducing short-term vulnerability. Underlying influences on resilience to natural disasters are complex and may only be revealed by multivariate analysis and not always be evident in simple observed patterns. The paper concludes that vulnerability and resilience to flooding are sensitive to financial resources, institutional support (chiefly from a landlord) and capacity to deal with disruption (chiefly time availability, which is low among professionals and high among retired people). These findings challenge the assumption that vulnerability to flooding is closely linked to general measures of social deprivation, with implications for the appropriateness of some flood vulnerability indicators used in flood risk management.
Original languageEnglish
JournalTransactions of the Institute of British Geographers
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 26 Aug 2020


  • Scotland
  • household questionnaire survey
  • Flooding
  • Flood Risk Management
  • Environmental Vulnerability
  • Environmental Resilience

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