Social vulnerability to natural hazards

Some people are more vulnerable to the negative impacts of natural hazards on their health and wellbeing, due to their current circumstances.

This section describes social vulnerability to natural hazards. 

How can natural hazards affect health and wellbeing?

Natural hazards can have a large impact on people's health and wellbeing, through:

  • injuries and/or death
  • illness (eg due to contact with contaminated water)
  • worsening of existing health conditions (such as heart disease, diabetes, asthma)
  • poorer mental health.

People can also be impacted by disruption to lifeline infrastructure, including transport networks, electricity, telecommunications, safe drinking water, food supplies, and health services.

Natural hazards can also damage houses, property and cars, and lead to ongoing issues to housing (such as damp and mouldy houses, and displacement). 

Social vulnerability to natural hazards

'Social vulnerability' to natural hazards is made up of three main components:

  • exposure: being exposed to the hazard (such as flooding)
  • susceptibility: being more susceptible or sensitive to the impacts of the hazard (due to age or health status)
  • lack of resilience: relating to people's capacity to anticipate, cope with, and recover from the hazard. Resilience can be understood in terms of: money, food and water, housing, social connectedness, knowledge and skills to face hazards, and decision-making and leadership. 

Social vulnerability indicators

We have developed a national set of social vulnerability indicators for flooding. You can find information and indicator data on the Social vulnerability indicators project webpage. 

The list below provides the social vulnerability indicators for flooding. Data for these indicators are currently available for 2013. 


People who regularly commute outside of the area

People who use public transport to get to and from work

People living in rural or remote communities


Children aged 0-4 years

Children aged 0-14 years

Households with at least one child 

Older adults

Older adults aged 65+ years

Older adults aged 75+ years

Older adults aged 85+ years

Households with an older adult (65+ years) living alone 

Physical health needs Pregnant women 
Mental health needs People with a psychological or psychiatric impairment 

People with a disability (physical, hearing, vision, psychological or psychiatric impairment) 

Having enough money to cope with crises/losses

Socioeconomic deprivation (NZDep2013)

Single-parent households

Unemployed people

People who are not in the labour force

People with minimal education

Households with no access to a car

People working in the primary industries 

Social connectedness

People who are new to the neighbourhood

Households with an older adult (65+ years) living alone

Single-parent households

Single-person households

Households living in rental housing

Neighbourhoods with fewer households with children

Recent immigrants  

Knowledge, skills and awareness of natural hazards

People who are new to the neighbourhood

Households with no access to the internet / mobile phone / telephone 

People with limited English proficiency

Recent immigrants 

Safe, secure and healthy housing

Households living in rental housing

Crowded households

People living in crowded households

People who are homeless and/or severely housing deprived 

Enough food and water (and other essentials) to survive (proxy indicators)

Households living in rental housing

Single-parent households

Socioeconomic deprivation (NZDep2013)

Decision-making and leadership

Level of voting participation in the community

Other individual-level factors of social vulnerability

Healthcare workers and emergency services workers (ambulance, police, fire)

Households with one or more healthcare workers and/or first responders

Registered dog owners (and number of dogs)

For more information

Visit the Social vulnerability indicators project webpage to access indicator datasets and for further information. 

Interested in more information?

Kylie Mason

Phone 04 9793124 (ext 63124)
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