The University of Arizona

Social Vulnerability | CLIMAS

Social Vulnerability


This aspect of the CLIMAS drought research effort examined how non-climatic factors affect societal vulnerability to drought and which mitigation approaches can help reduce drought vulnerability in Arizona. Four projects, described below, assessed drought hazard planning in municipalities, community vulnerability to drought, potential drought mitigation strategies, and impediments to implementing the Arizona Drought Preparedness Plan.

The first project assessed societal vulnerability to drought using a hazard assessment approach. Societal response to drought has typically been reactionary, incomplete, and costly. Increasingly, however, communities, states, and even nations are drafting proactive mitigation plans to better deal with recurring natural hazards. This project took a closer look at flood and other risk-reduction actions and evaluated the extent to which these were applicable to drought risk mitigation at a municipal level.

A second project addressed the concept of vulnerability to drought. Unlike past drought research, vulnerability research examined how drought impacts result from interactions of social, political, and economic systems. This research identified societal buffering mechanisms that mitigate the effects of drought.

A third project involved a comparative evaluation of drought mitigation strategies. Research results summarize the feasibility, effectiveness, and longevity of recommended mitigation strategies. CLIMAS researchers reviewed other states’ drought plans, which provided a synopsis of mitigation opportunities and a theoretical framework of the social dimensions of drought.

The fourth project isolated the potential difficulties in implementing the Arizona Drought Preparedness Plan (ADPP). The ADPP aimed to mitigate the effects of drought through rigorous drought monitoring and enhanced communication between state agencies and Arizona communities. The ADPP calls for local groups to participate in drought impact monitoring, improve local drought planning capacity, and enhance communication between localities and the state's drought monitoring committee. Successful drought mitigation hinges on local and state-level collaboration, which can be hampered by hidden barriers. This project sought to uncover the potential impediments to implementing the drought plan by focusing on the difficulties in drought plan implementation as it related to geographic boundaries, social tensions, and on specific drought plan mitigation recommendations for rural communities.

Research Methods

A comprehensive review of current Arizona county and municipal planning documents was carried out to examine how various natural hazards have been incorporated into these plans. The hazard plans were analyzed for presence or absence of particular mitigation or response elements and ranked for the number of critical elements found in each plan that pertained to water shortage and drought. In addition, the content of these mitigation and response protocols was analyzed for various qualities that ensure risk reduction or provide measures recommended in various disaster relief acts.

To evaluate effective strategies for mitigating drought and reducing vulnerability, researchers conducted phone interviews with drought planners and resource managers in other states, and thoroughly reviewed states’ drought plans and archives. Integrating these qualitative methods with quantitative data and methods—such as spatial analysis using GIS (Geographic Information System) technology—will help researchers develop a more complete model of drought vulnerability and of how to evaluate and reduce it through effective mitigation options.

Researchers isolated the impediments to implementing the Arizona Drought Preparedness through interviews with sixteen key decision makers, including water providers, land managers, NGO staff, irrigation district leaders, and municipal officials.

Products for the Governor's Drought Task Force:

  • A State Drought Plan Summary: A Review of Colorado, Georgia, New Mexico, and Montana Drought Plans (October 2003) - summarizing the structure, implementation, and successes of other drought plans
  • Drought Mitigation and Adaptation: Discussions with State Drought Planners
  • A Study of Potential Difficulties in Implementing the Governor’s Drought Preparedness Plan in the Little Colorado River Basin, Arizona 
  • Drought Mitigation and Adaptation: Discussions with State Drought Planners - makes three suggestions:
  1. A single point of contact for all activities related to drought and drought planning is critical, particularly during times when there is adequate precipitation.
  2. As many local stakeholders should be involved as possible, including irrigation districts, forestry groups, tourism operators, water capital project managers, fire managers, state agencies, realtors, developers, regional water planners, and city council staff.
  3. Drought advisory committees are critical for short-term mitigation; however, other states have found watershed alliances to be the most effective type of structure in linking the local and state scales of drought planning. These groups provide continuity in monitoring and preparedness during non-drought times, especially in vulnerable rural areas.
  • A Study of Potential Difficulties in Implementing the Governor’s Drought Preparedness Plan in the Little Colorado River Basin, Arizona - This report delves into the possible impediments to implementing the drought plan. However, in spite of the barriers discussed in this report, the residents of the Upper Little Colorado River Basin (ULCRB) region possess extensive social capital, which would allow them to plan for and cope with drought. The barriers discussed in this report include:
    • Resistance to drought planning due to the perception of an ample water supply from the C- and N- groundwater aquifers;
    • Apprehension over pending adjudication involving water rights in the basin;
    • Tensions between irrigators and recreators, summer residents and permanent residents, and Mormons and non-Mormons;
    • Lack of funds to carry out drought planning and preparedness measures;
    • Discouraged collaboration due to antipathy toward extensive bureaucratic “red tape.”