Literature Review on Assessment of Livelihood Vulnerability to Climate Change and Recommendation of the Assessment Method for the North Central Coast

Literature Review on Assessment of Livelihood Vulnerability to Climate Change and Recommendation of the Assessment Method for the North Central Coast

Published: 2022.08.05
Accepted: 2022.08.02
Vietnam Academy of Agricultural Sciences (VAAS)


Households' livelihoods are particularly vulnerable to the increased impacts of climate change. Assessment of livelihood vulnerability to climate change will help to identify suitable adaptive livelihood strategies that balance risks and impacts to allow continued development while adapting adaptive capacity to climate shocks. Sustainable livelihood associated with the climate change vulnerability assessment framework can help assess the livelihood vulnerability in order to maintain sustainable livelihood in the context of increased climate change. This article presents a literature review on livelihood vulnerability assessment to climate change, and recommendation of the assessment method of livelihood vulnerability to climate change for the North Central Coast of Vietnam.

Keywords: climate change, livelihood, vulnerability


Climate change tends to increase in its magnitude, extent and scope of influence, requiring actions on a global scale in different areas and aspects of climate change mitigation and adaptation (IPCC, 2001). The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC, 2001) pointed out that there is growing evidence that increasing risks from climate change make it necessary for global adaptation efforts to mitigate and manage risks from climate change. Determining how natural and human systems are sensitive and vulnerable to the effects of climate change have become important inputs in goal setting as well as the formulation, implementation, and control of climate change adaptation policies. 

Vulnerability Assessment theories and methods have been developed over the past decades in areas related to natural hazards, food security, poverty and human livelihoods. Climate change vulnerability assessments can be undertaken at the international, national, sectoral, local and community levels and provide a strong scientific foundation to support the identification of strategies, and practical solutions for society's climate change adaptation activities.

Household livelihoods are particularly vulnerable to the increasing impacts of climate change. Adaptive livelihood strategies may not be effective without accurately assessing and identifying livelihoods vulnerability to climate change. A Sustainable Livelihood approach associated with a climate change vulnerability assessment can help assess the climate change vulnerability of livelihoods, thereby addressing the issue of creating sustainable livelihoods for people in the context of increasingly severe climate change worldwide.

The coastal area is an area with a lot of potential for development, but also a place that bears great and immediate impacts from changes in nature and human activities. At the global level, coastal areas are considered hotspots for the severe impacts of climate change, including sea level rise, shoreline erosion, flooding, drought and salinity intrusion (IPCC, 2001). The livelihoods of coastal people are severely affected by the impacts of climate change. Assessing the climate change vulnerability of coastal livelihoods plays an important role in proposing appropriate adaptive livelihood strategies.

Vietnam is considered to be a country that has suffered heavy damages from long-term and continuous changes in climate over the past many years, in which the North Central Coast region, including 6 provinces including Thanh Hoa, Nghe An, Ha Tinh, Quang Binh, Quang Tri and Thua Thien – Hue, are assessed as areas heavily affected by extreme weather events in recent years. An assessment of livelihoods vulnerability to climate change will help identify suitable adaptive livelihood strategies for the North Central Coast to balance risks and opportunities for continued development while ensuring resilience to climate shocks.

Using a desk-based approach, a review of theory and practice from secondary data sources, this paper reviews studies on assessing climate change vulnerability to livelihoods, from which a method is proposed to assess the vulnerability of climate change to livelihoods for the North Central Coast.


Literature overview on climate change vulnerability assessment

Since the 1990s, theories and methods for assessing climate change vulnerability have been developed and can be assessed at the international, national, sectoral, local and community levels. In general, climate change vulnerability assessment frameworks focus on sectors most affected by climate change impacts such as agriculture, water resources, coastal areas, human health and livelihoods. According to IPCC (2001), vulnerability to climate change is the degree to which a system (natural, economic, social) may be vulnerable to climate change or is not capable of its ability to adapt to the adverse effects of climate change. Therefore, vulnerability to climate change is a function of three components, including exposure (E - Exposure), sensitivity (S - Sensitivity) and adaptive capacity (AC – Adaptive Capacity) and is calculated by an index. Depending on the research object, a suitable set of indicators and statistics can be used to calculate the index for each subject and the specific research scope, of which the most common is the Injury Damage Index. Climate Change Vulnerability Index (CVI), Social Vulnerability Index (SVI) and Livelihood Vulnerability Index (LVI). As climate change adaptation measures are strengthened, vulnerability will decrease accordingly (IPCC, 2007).

Research frameworks for assessing vulnerability to climate change are a solid scientific foundation to support the identification of plans and solutions for society's climate change adaptation activities. Assessment of vulnerability to climate change includes vulnerability assessment to geographical areas (coastal areas, urban areas, forest land, agricultural land, etc.), to sectors (economic, environmental, social), for vulnerable groups (farmer households, the poor, children, women), or based on the vulnerability caused by climate change (storms, floods, droughts, saline intrusion, etc.). The typical climate change vulnerability assessment frameworks are the vulnerability assessment framework of IPCC (2001). Although the process of these assessment frameworks may vary, the main contents of climate change vulnerability assessment include: identification of vulnerable groups, assessment of vulnerability-- measure the vulnerability in the present, assess vulnerability in the future and use the results of the vulnerability assessment to propose policies and strategies to adapt to climate change.

Research overview of climate change vulnerability assessment on livelihoods

At the local level, climate change vulnerability assessment helps people understand how climate change affects the lives and livelihoods of the people. Household livelihoods are particularly vulnerable to the increasing impacts of climate change. Gibbs (2020) argues that the rate of adaptation of people is slower than the rate at which climate risks appear. When government support is not adequate and timely, households must mobilize their own resources on the basis of their own experiences and knowledge to implement adaptive livelihood strategies. However, adaptive livelihood strategies may not be effective without properly assessing and identifying livelihoods' vulnerability to climate change. A Sustainable Livelihood Approach associated with a climate change vulnerability assessment can help assess the climate change vulnerability of livelihoods, thereby suitable adaptive livelihood strategies can be proposed.

The Sustainable Livelihood Approach (SLA) analyzes the livelihood resources used, the livelihood activities that take place under the influence of external contexts and the impact of institutions and policies, at the same time consider the livelihood outcomes achieved. Several representative sustainable livelihood frameworks have been developed by Scoones (1998). Overall, the sustainable livelihoods approach describes how people access, control and use their inherent resources to improve livelihoods and reduce vulnerability to natural shocks, climate, or the shock of ill health or unemployment. Livelihood resources (including 5 categories: human resources; natural resources; financial resources; physical resources; and social resources) and access to these resources have a great impact on sustainable livelihood outcomes (Birkmann, 2006).

To assess the vulnerability of household livelihoods to the impacts of climate change, Hahn et al. (2009) developed The Livelihood Vulnerability Index (LVI) that consists of 7 main components which are based on the theory of climate change vulnerability of IPCC (2001) and sustainable livelihoods framework of DFID (2001). The focus of Hahn's LVI (2009) is on looking at different aspects of vulnerability and differences in household efforts and adaptive capacity to maintain livelihoods, because a household’s adaptive capacity and access to livelihood resources to recover from climate shocks depends on many factors such as magnitude of occurrence, degree of impact (external factors) and the difference of internal factors within the household (Bohle, 2001). There are three main factors determining the vulnerability of household livelihoods: exposure (E - Exposure), susceptibility (S - Sensitivity) and adaptive capacity (AC). LVI has a value from 0 to 1, calculated through partial weighted indexes to compare the degree of damage to more or less. The LVI – IPCC value is calculated through the result of the function: LVI = f (E, S, AC) is used to assess livelihood vulnerability for each different geographical area.

Later studies have adjusted and supplemented many factors determining vulnerability in the LVI composite index in terms of calculation method and formula. For example, the study of Shah (2013) has added a number of factors constituting the vulnerability of the LVI index to suit the research spatial context; at the same time analyze the difference in gender, ability to access livelihood resources with support from local authorities in order to reduce the vulnerability of people. Research by Madhuri et al. (2014) used LVI to compare livelihood vulnerability among 7 different regions of Bihar; at the same time the author has added an indicator of skills in changing planting schedules, or borrowing, or using primary sources of watering, available control measures, public and private hospitals, sanitary facilities in the calculation of the LVI index. In which, natural resources (including access to forest products, land fertility and ownership of arable land) play an important role in the lives of rural people and when they encounter problems, access is difficult, agricultural livelihoods will be vulnerable. Therefore, it is necessary to add the factor of arable land to the index to calculate LVI. Ankita Paula et al’s research (2019) is talking about who are the poor living in urban areas and disadvantaged communities? The research question is the role of livelihoods in adjusting and mitigating human vulnerability. The study compares 3 different approaches to vulnerability assessment, including the LVI index - which is a composite index of 6 equally weighted sub-factors, whereas the vulnerability index Livelihoods Index (LVI) of IPCC includes 7 individually weighted components and climate change vulnerability index (CVI) to estimate climate change vulnerability of 8 other livelihood groups in the city of Guwahati, Assam, India. A survey was conducted involving construction workers, shopkeepers, farmers, taxi drivers/rickshaw drivers, cafeteria/snack sellers, gas delivery men, street vendors/salesmen, traffic police/policemen, doctors and boatmen. The results show that farmers are the most vulnerable communities, suffering the most economic losses, because they have a high sensitivity to health and are exacerbated by poor adaptability. Doctors are the least vulnerable due to a higher level of awareness and adaptability. This once again confirms the importance of awareness and access to resources in reducing vulnerability.

In Vietnam, there have been studies related to reducing vulnerability to floods and storms in Quang Ngai province, Thach Han River (Quang Tri), and the Thu Bon River basin (Quang Nam). Studies on calculating flood vulnerability index have been conducted by weighting method to build a set of flood vulnerability index for Quang Nam province. However, there are few studies on livelihood vulnerability due to climate change. In 2016, Tran Quoc Nghia (2016) applied the LVI index developed by Hahn (2009) based on the sustainable livelihood approach to calculate the 7 components that make up the final LVI composite index. Similarly, in 2016, Phan The Cong's research group (2016) also published an article applying LVI to Nam Dinh province. Although this study still has limitations on how to apply the formula to calculate the LVI index, it initially shows the flexible application of using the index to rank vulnerability for many different livelihoods.

Overall, the Livelihood Vulnerability Index (LVI) is a method that is being used extensively in recent times to assess the vulnerability of livelihoods to climate change. LVI is derived from the theoretical foundation of vulnerability of IPCC (2001), then developed by Hahn (2009) into LVI index, then further edited and supplemented through other research, such as Shah (2013), Madhuri et al. (2014) and are applied in many other studies. The outstanding advantage of the LVI is that it uses primary data from household surveys instead of using climate scenarios and socio-economic development scenarios. With research at the local and household level, this method has taken advantage of the informational value due to the combination of expert consultation, flexibility in research subjects and research scope. Therefore, the research results have implications for the livelihoods of people and communities. The essence of LVI is built on three important points of view. First, LVI is built based on information of indigenous knowledge and practical experience of the people to select the elements constituting the LVI index. Although it has limited predictive power, this index can identify vulnerable factors. Second, the LVI builds on the argument that vulnerability and resilience are limited by available resources, contextual conditions, and human accessibility. Third, vulnerability assessment is based on empirical observations and field studies to in-depth analysis of local climate change adaptation and mitigation planning. Therefore, the use of the LVI index to assess the vulnerability of household livelihoods in the North Central Coast coastal region is appropriate and has high scientific and practical significance.


General introduction about the North Central Coast region

Vietnam is considered as a country that has suffered a lot of damage from continuous and long-term changes in climate over the past years. The risks from storms and floods in Vietnam are considered to be very large and are typical types of natural disasters in our country. According to the World Bank (2022), disaster risks will continue to increase due to more and more climate change impacts in the near future. Some key economic sectors in coastal areas of Vietnam that will face risks from floods and storms every year are agriculture, aquaculture, tourism and industry. Coastal areas focus on dynamic economic activities that generate livelihoods for millions of people and have about 316,000 workers directly affected by coastal and river floods each year in Vietnam (World Bank, 2022).

The North Central Coast region consists of 6 provinces bordering the sea, including Thanh Hoa, Nghe An, Ha Tinh, Quang Binh, Quang Tri and Thua Thien-Hue with many different characteristics and similarity points in climate and socio-economic structure. Livelihood activities in this region are diverse and abundant but have similar characteristics in coastal areas. The natural topography has common characteristics of being relatively steep, fast-flowing river water and frequent floods causing difficulties for life and production. On average, each year, the provinces suffer from 3-5 storms from August to November. In which, there are some provinces with the harshest climate conditions in the whole country such as Ha Tinh, Quang Binh, and Quang Tri. The year has a period of intense heat, then from August to the end of the year, storms, heavy rains, and frequent floods cause many great consequences. During the last decade, during the storm season, the North Central Coast experienced more fluctuations (in frequency) and stronger intensity compared to the past. In the context of increasingly complex and unpredictable climate change, research to assess climate change vulnerability of people's livelihoods is useful to help coastal provinces adjust to climate change by adopting appropriate adaptive livelihood strategies.

Proposing a method to assess the vulnerability of livelihoods to climate change for the North Central Coast

Selection of study sites

3 provinces of Nghe An, Quang Binh and Thua Thien-Hue were selected as representatives in 6 coastal provinces of North Central Vietnam to carry out the survey to collect primary data. Criteria for selecting communes for household livelihood survey should satisfy the following requirements: (i) coastal communes with specific livelihood activities representing the North Central Coast region; (ii) have harsh climatic conditions, namely being directly affected by storms, floods, deep inundation; and (iii) people's main income depends on local livelihood activities (tourism, agriculture, fishery, services).

Coastal livelihoods exist in different forms in different regions and can be grouped into main livelihood categories based on several criteria. Livelihoods can be grouped based on the share of livelihood contribution to household income and by means of livelihood implementation and can be divided into the following five main groups: (1) rice-growing livelihoods; (2) the livelihood of raising chickens and ducks; (3) the livelihood of fishing; (4) the livelihood of aquaculture; and (5) the business of tourism services.

Collected Information

The information collected from the survey, including qualitative and quantitative information, can be obtained from two main target groups: (i) commune government officials working in the fields of agro-forestry-fishery, resource managers, officials in charge of disaster prevention and response to disaster recovery when they occur, government officials managing residential areas; and (ii) households representing 5 main livelihood groups in the locality.

Qualitative information can be collected by 3 main methods of information collection used in qualitative research: observation - recording (with pictures to describe), in-depth interview and group discussion. The method of observation - recording with pictures and description was carried out with the aim of witnessing the actual manifestations of livelihood activities that took place after the disaster and the attitudes of people in the study area. In-depth interviews help to extract specific information about some issues. Focus group discussion consists of 6-8 people sharing common socio-economic conditions, being affected by a natural disaster such as a tropical storm/low pressure in the same area, witnessing and experiencing the living in extreme spatial climates. It is intended to provide a preliminary assessment of climate change vulnerability to coastal livelihoods immediately after natural disasters occur. The main issues raised to collect qualitative information are: (i) people's perception of climate change in the locality; (ii) assessment of the severity and impact of natural disasters that occurred during the year; (iii) livelihood activities affected and changed after the disaster; (iv) community adaptation and recovery activities; and (v) forms of livelihood support of local authorities and adaptation solutions of the people.

Quantitative information was collected through a questionnaire designed for households. The survey sample size is calculated as 5% of the study population (after classifying into main livelihood groups). The households selected to participate in the survey are random, live in the study area, and are supported by village officials to make the list and assist in the data collection process. The information to calculate the LVI index is compiled from the survey responses of households.

Using Hahn's method of calculating LVI (2009), the data collected from the household survey need to be coded and roughly calculated into the indicators as shown in Table 1.

Table 1. System of Criteria for building livelihood


Reflecting criteria

Number of indicators

(1) Demographic profile

- Percentage of households headed by women

- Inverse proportion of median age Average female head of household

- Percentage of households whose head does not go to school

- Percentage of households with orphans

- Percentage of households with dependent members (elderly, young children, disabled people) Disability)


(2) Health

- Percentage of households with a member with a chronic illness

-Percentage of households receiving medical examination and treatment services from the state government or private health organizations

-  Percentage of households having access to/using facilities and equipment suitable for childbirth and child vaccination

- Percentage of households that do not have access to/use sanitation facilities


(3) Food

- Percentage of households with self-sufficient food sources

- Percentage of households with difficulties in finding food sources during natural disasters

- Crop diversity index

- Percentage of households that do not have a food source to save each year

- Percentage of households that do not have seeds and breeds for next year


(4) Water source

- Percentage of households using natural water sources

- Percentage of households having difficulty accessing drinking water during natural disasters

- Average travel time to reach access to clean water

- Percentage of households that have to store water in the event of a disaster

- Percentage of households that do not have a stable water supply in the event of a disaster


(5) Climate change and natural disaster

- Number of storms and tropical depressions occurred in the past 3 years

- Percentage of households who were not warned about the natural disasters

- Percentage of households with injured/dead people caused by the natural disasters

- Mean Standard Deviation of monthly mean maximum temperature

- Average standard deviation of monthly mean minimum temperature

- Average standard deviation of average monthly rainfall


(6) Livelihood strategy

- Percentage of households with members who have to move to other places to work

- Percentage of households that only work in agriculture/forestry/fishery

- Average indicator of diversity in agricultural livelihoods of households


(7 ) Social network

- Percentage of households receiving support from social objects

- Percentage of households borrowing and lending

- Percentage of households receiving support from the government finance within 12 months of the disaster


(8) Natural capital (cultivated land, houses)

- Percentage of households without houses built with disaster resistant materials (floors, houses, etc.) roof...)

-Percentage of households that do not have productive land

- Percentage of households without legal land ownership


Source: Aggregated from Hahn, (2009), Madhuri (2014), Shah, (2013)

Methods of data analysis and calculation of LVI

In the world, there have been many studies applying the calculation of LVI in different ways, but gradually there have been improvements and limitations of previous studies. Based on the theoretical framework of IPCC (2001) and sustainable livelihoods framework, the LVI index (IPCC) can be calculated based on the factors in Table 2.

Specific steps to be taken are as follows:

Step 1: Convert raw data to appropriate units of percentage or into ratios. Each factor will give a result called value (Sd). In which, d stands for the study area and it is possible to calculate the LVI for many localities and compare the results with each other i.e. assess which areas are more vulnerable.

Step 2: Normalize the values ​​for the LVI-dependent components to ensure the right combination when calculating the final composite index. Since the raw data are in different units (number of people, age, liters of water, meters, etc.), a conversion is required into a standardized index that can be integrated into the LVI. We have:

In which: Sd is the result of the initial data collection of the survey sample. 

Smin, Smax are the minimum and maximum values ​​in the survey sample of each survey element used. For factors whose units are percentages, the smallest value is considered to be 0 and the maximum value is 100. Depending on the characteristics of the data, the inverse of the raw index can be taken to normalize into an index as a scale with the value (0, 1).

Step 3: Calculate the average value for each component element based on the following formula:

where: Md is one of the 8 components of LVI. These are NDCV, SDP, LS, SN, H, F, W, NC; (n) is the number of sub-components that define each of the above 8 components.

Step 4: combine the weighted averages of all the principal components to aggregate into a final LVI index.

In which: CFd is 3 factors E, A, S for district (region) d; Mdi are the components of each factor E (which is NDCV), factor A (which is: SDP, LS, SN), factor S (which is: H, F, W, NC)

WM is the weight of each factor, n being the number of sub-components in each contributing major factor.

Step 5: apply the formula to calculate LVI= (E+ S-AC) presented and applied. The LVI results range from (-1:1) meaning very little to the most damaged, respectively. Many versions of LVI synthesis have been performed, but Paula (2019) has shown that the above model is best used for vulnerability analysis for different areas of human livelihoods and assess the effects of climate change.


In the context that climate change is causing increasingly large and unpredictable impacts, it is necessary to assess the vulnerability caused by climate change. Ankita Paula (2019) has asserted that assessing vulnerability to climate change involves a combination of methods and the use of multiple metrics to analyze human and social interactions with the environmental physical field with interrelationships. At the household level, assessing the vulnerability of livelihoods to climate change needs to make full use of information related to human capacity, necessary resources, and physical assets to implement livelihood activities as well as using the human development index (HDI), data on population living standards, characteristics of natural resources and environment (Ankita Paula, 2019). Assessment of climate change vulnerability of livelihoods informs decision-making about planning and proposing adaptation solutions to address vulnerability and poverty in the implementation of the sustainable development goals. The studies carried out on the assessment of climate change vulnerability of the livelihoods around the world will be important references for the assessment of climate change vulnerability of the livelihoods in Vietnam, particularly in the North Central Coast of Vietnam.


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