Mapping social vulnerability in Southeastern states and the Gulf Coast

Family departs a vehicle after being rescued from flooding during Hurricane Isaac’s storm surge in Louisiana in 2012. Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

Share this:

The Gulf Coast is a special region of the US—home to extraordinary people and history. It is also uniquely exposed to risk from climate hazards, both because of its unusual geography as well as due to the vulnerability of its people.

Millions of people endure the difficulties of poverty and social vulnerability that can quickly turn life threatening in the face of a climate disaster: lack of transportation, mobility problems, inadequate housing, insufficient insurance, and/or cash on hand. Many are one big storm away from homelessness, unemployment, hunger, injury, and/or loss of life.

The Gulf Coast has suffered terrible blows in recent years, and there appears to be no end in sight to the severity and frequency of these dangers. As the temperature of the air and ocean rises, climate risks increase: temperature extremes, heat waves, heavy precipitation events, extended periods of dry days, and rising sea level.

Oxfam has published two series of maps and reports that illustrate why and how some communities are at greater risk from hazards caused by climate change than others. Both maps explore the climate hazards and use a complex set of social vulnerability measures developed by the Hazards and Vulnerability Research Institute at the University of South Carolina.

  • Coping with Disaster focuses on Louisiana and Mississippi, and explores the impacts of the four climate hazards on the most vulnerable populations.
  • Exposed explores all 13 states in the US Southeast, and illustrates how climate hazards affect vulnerable populations.

Hazards of Place: Louisiana and Mississippi

These maps measure and illustrate the convergence of social vulnerability factors (such as economic standing and age, among others) and four environmental hazards: flooding, hurricane force winds, sea-level rise, and drought.

Because of its unique geography, Louisiana (left) is susceptible to the four major climate hazards. When you add in a socially-vulnerable population that is distributed between dense urban areas and sparsely populated rural areas, you have a large population at great risk.

Mississippi (right) faces risks from all four climate hazards, and it has some of the highest poverty rates in the country. These two trends combined expose vulnerable populations to extreme risks.

 

Exposed to Risks: US Southeast

This map covers 13 states in the Southeast United States. It illustrates the convergence of social vulnerability factors (such as economic standing and age, among others) and four environmental hazards: flooding, hurricane force winds, sea-level rise, and drought.

This region is especially vulnerable to dangers from sea-level rise and hurricanes. At the same time, roughly 80 percent of all US counties that experience persistent poverty (defined as a county in which at least 20 percent of the population experiences poverty for three decades or more) lie in this region.

 

What does it mean to be socially vulnerable to climate hazards?

When a climate disaster strikes, it hammers a community: water floods in; high winds topple power lies, trees, and structures; drought dries-up crops.

If a community is strong and resilient, it will be better able to prepare for, recover from, and adapt to environmental change and disaster. If a community is vulnerable, it will have a harder time coping with the blows from a disaster.

Those who are most vulnerable—due to such factors as poverty or advanced age—are the ones most exposed and likely to suffer harm.

Share this: