Old and new vulnerabilities

By Patrick Guillaumont, President of FERDI

"International financing facing new vulnerabilities" was the theme of the third conference organized by the Labex IDGM+ on financing the 2030 Agenda in a vulnerable world. A broad audience attended this conference led by FERDI to hear the vigorous, complementary, and knowledgeable speeches successively given by Masood Ahmed, Jean-Michel Severino, Paul Collier, Tidjane Thiam, Laureen Kouassi-Olsson, Christophe Bories, and Lisa Chauvet. You can read the summary of the session on the FERDI website and listen (or listen again) this important moment of diagnosis and proposal.

The study on the nature of vulnerability, its different dimensions and how to measure them, using indicators adapted to their intended use, is continuing at FERDI and, of course, outside. 

First, the Economic Vulnerability Index (EVI) used at the United Nations for the identification of the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) was significantly revised at the last meeting of the Committee for Development Policy. This indicator, on which FERDI has produced a great deal of work, has been simplified and rebuilt to take into account external and natural shocks in a more balanced way. We will come back on this reform shortly. 

It is crucial for FERDI to analyze vulnerability in its three main manifestations in a separate but complementary way: Economic vulnerability, physical vulnerability to climate change, and societal or socio-political vulnerability. Indicators of the structural determinants corresponding to these three types of vulnerability as well as their use for aid allocation are the theme of the book Mesurer les vulnérabilités pour allouer l’aide au développement, en particulier en Afrique[ Measuring vulnerabilities for allocating development assistance, particularly in Africa - forthcoming in English ], based on a study produced by FERDI, for the African Development Fund. 

The work on the different dimensions of vulnerability has led to further publications. The article The Physical Vulnerability to Climate Change Index: An Index to Be Used for International Policypublished in the journal Ecological Economics presents the Physical Vulnerability to Climate Change Index (PVCCI). This article is the outcome (necessarily provisional) of a work begun nearly ten years ago, which had been the subject of various FERDI documents, and book chapters. The PVCCI was notably presented at the COP 21 as a possible criterion for allocating adaptation funds among developing countries. 

The structural risk of internal conflict is the subject of another recent publication. In a report (in French) published by FERDI, the Foundation Prospective et Innovation, and the Leaders for Peace Foundation, the authors Sosso Feindouno and Laurent Wagner, who had already published several papers on this subject, present a new indicator of conflict risk. This indicator distinguishes between structural and non-structural risks and identifies the most vulnerable countries concerning each of these two types of risk. This indicator is not a prediction of conflict. The work is only intended to show those factors that constitute objective conflict risk in some countries and must be taken into account in a prevention policy. There is no doubt that this indicator will be discussed and followed by improvements, already suggested in the report.

The three previous dimensions of economic vulnerability, in the context of COVID 19, might appear too restrictive and omit health vulnerability, which dominates current debates. In fact, health vulnerability is an ambiguous concept. The term refers firstly to the vulnerability of health to shocks of any kind (economic, climatic, telluric, volcanic...epidemic), but also sometimes to the vulnerability of the economy to health shocks. In other words, health is considered either on the impact side, or on the shock side, or both sides. For example, referring to the recently published brief on the international transmission of mortality (see : How the North has transferred its risk of excess mortality due to coronavirus to the South: a draft model of international mortality transfer - forthcoming in English), the first stage of this transmission, the recessionary effect of quarantine, reflects the economy's vulnerability to a health shock. In contrast, the last stage, the effect of the imported recession on mortality in the South, reflects the vulnerability of health to an economic shock, a link poorly documented as shownby Sosso Ferindouno’s policy brief (in French).  As for the reaction of mortality in the South to mortality in the North, which FERDI examines, it clearly expresses a health vulnerability that is captured both on the impact side and the shock side. This is a new field of research on vulnerability for FERDI.

Whether old or new, the vulnerabilities of developing countries reflect the risk that the exogenous shocks they face may compromise their sustainable development. As FERDI has been underlining since the preparation and adoption of the 2030 Agenda, vulnerability is the opposite side of sustainability.

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