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Social vulnerability to climatic shocks is shaped by urban accessibility

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal article

<mark>Journal publication date</mark>01/2018
<mark>Journal</mark>Annals of the Association of American Geographers
Issue number1
Number of pages19
Pages (from-to)125-143
Early online date22/06/17
<mark>Original language</mark>English


Despite growing interest in urban vulnerability to climatic change there is no systematic understanding of why some urban centers have greater social vulnerability than others. In this article we ask whether the social vulnerability of Amazonian cities to floods and droughts is linked to differences in their spatial accessibility. To assess the accessibility of 310 urban centers we developed a travel network and derived measures of connectivity and geographical remoteness. We found that 914 thousand people live in road-less urban centers (n=68) located up to 2820 km from their state capital. We then tested whether accessibility measures explained inter-urban differences in quantitative measures of social sensitivity, adaptive capacity and an overlooked risk area, food system sensitivity. Accessibility explained marked variation in indicators of each of these dimensions and hence, for the first time, we show an underlying spatial basis for social vulnerability. For instance, floods pose a greater disease risk in less-accessible urban centers because inadequate sanitation in these places exposes inhabitants to environmental pollution and contaminated water, exacerbated by poverty and governance failures. Exploring the root causes of these spatial inequalities, we show how remote and road-less cities in Amazonia have been historically marginalized and their citizens exposed to structural violence and economic disadvantage. Paradoxically, we found places with the highest social vulnerability have the greatest natural and cultural assets (rainforest, indigenous peoples and protected areas).
We conclude that increasing accessibility through road-building would be maladaptive, exposing marginalized people to further harm and exacerbating climatic change by driving deforestation.

Bibliographic note

This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in Annals of the American Association of Geographers on 22/06/2017, available online: http://www.tandfonline.com/10.1080/24694452.2017.1325726