Mapping Social Vulnerability

Caitlin Dempsey


Oxfam America has released new maps about the geography and the people of the US Southeast, specifically Louisiana and Mississippi. This project follows Oxfam’s previous maps of the entire Southeast, but provides more detail and depth.

The maps illustrate how climate hazards pose the most risk to communities that share certain characteristics of social vulnerability–such as poverty, larger numbers of elderly or young, substandard housing stock.  Oxfam America sought to look geographically at the reasons why certain communities are more at risk from natural hazards than others.

  • The SVM website is designed to be interactive, so that users can view and print customized version of the maps. Zoom in on a specific area, choose social vulnerability factors, view the risks from climate hazards, and more.
  • The print versions of the Social Vulnerability Maps of Louisiana and Mississippi measure and illustrate the convergence of social vulnerability factors and four climate-related hazards: flooding, hurricane force winds, sea-level rise, and drought. Both states have areas where the population is particularly vulnerable to harm from climate disasters.
  • The full report, Coping with Disaster, covers the history of the two projects, and discusses the methodology and findings.

The analysis adapted to climate change is from the Social Vulnerability Index (SoVI) developed in 2003:

The SoVI statistically examines the underlying social and demographic characteristics of the population and how they can impact certain segments in disabling ways when it comes to climate change-related hazards. In this project SoVI uses 32 variables to define the multiple dimensions of vulnerability (called components) and then adds them up to arrive at a single reference point to measure vulnerability. Eight components account for 74.4 percent of the variation in social vulnerability in the study: wealth, age, race, gender, ethnicity, rural farm populations, special needs populations, and employment status.

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Oxfam America created these maps to promote the urgency of taking action on climate change and developing innovative ways to build climate resiliency in coastal communities.  Oxfam America is an organization that is focused on creating lasting solutions to hunger, poverty and social injustice in over 90 countries around the world, including the US.


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About the author
Caitlin Dempsey
Caitlin Dempsey is the editor of Geography Realm and holds a master's degree in Geography from UCLA as well as a Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) from SJSU.