Does a Rights Based Approach Make a Difference? The Role of Public Law in Vulnerability Reduction

November 2004 (VOL. 22, NO. 3)

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Reducing the impact of climate-related disasters can be conceptualized as being about reducing or managing ‘vulnerability’. ‘Vulnerability’ is a multi-faceted concept incorporating issues of livelihood, housing, security and gender among many others. For example, groups of people may be more or less vulnerable to climate-related disasters due to the security of their livelihoods or the quality of their housing. International and national law may regulate some of these constituents of vulnerability. In some jurisdictions, such as countries in the European Union and the Council of Europe, and countries with new constitutions, there is a range of specific rights that may be mobilized to reduce vulnerability. Much of the work on the link between vulnerability reduction and human rights focuses on international law. However, national law is generally more accessible and enforceable than international law. We draw on three recent South African cases to illustrate the potential for citizens to mobilize public law to reduce their own vulnerability, and raise the question of whether a legal rights based approach might be useful elsewhere in the world.