The cumulative evidence for increasing human vulnerability to environmental
change calls for a significant policy response and action on several fronts.
Social responses have frequently focused on 'downstream' measures, designed
to mitigate the hardships and cushion the impacts of environmental change
or natural disaster after the event, rather than on interventions intended
to modify basic driving forces ahead of a potential crisis. The onset
of conditions that give rise to threats and vulnerability can often be
gradual or inconspicuous. Donors are often ready to offer relief once
a high-profile disaster such as a famine or flood has occurred but they
are less likely to finance precautionary measures. 'Upstream' intervention
is generally highly costeffective and should be given greater priority.
Levels and trends of vulnerability for different groups need to be assessed
regularly as a basis for designing specific measures for vulnerability
reduction and evaluating their impact. Governments need to assess and
map national threats due to environmental change, particularly those that
may be growing, and to institute early warning, mitigation and response
measures to reduce the human and economic costs of disasters that are
in part avoidable. Vulnerability should be recognized as a key indicator
of the seriousness of environmental problems such as global warming (Adger
and others 2001). It should be a focus for developing policies that seek
to help people avoid, cope with or adapt to adverse effects of environmental
change. Prior action to mitigate threats and to boost people's capacity
to cope with or prepare for change makes more sense than remedial efforts
after the event. The following sections discuss some possible approaches.