An integrative approach to study and promote natural hazards adaptive capacity: a case study of two flood-prone communities in Puerto Rico



The risk and vulnerability literature emphasises the importance of increasing the adaptive capacity to natural hazards of exposed populations. This paper analyses the strategies of adjustment implemented by members of two flood-prone communities in Puerto Rico, and discusses how the adoption of these strategies and other factors could influence future adaptive capacity and vulnerability to floods. Semi-structured interviews with community members from different resource endowment groups were used to elicit the resources behind the process of adjustment along with additional factors that could influence future adaptive capacity, including their perceptions of risks related to floods. The analysis revealed how access to resources – including material, economic and human resources – has facilitated living with floods in these communities; although not everyone has been able to adapt in the same way. Past actions, along with public responses being undertaken in the area (i.e. flood control project and upstream structural modifications) appear to be reducing flood-risk perceptions and promoting a false sense of security among community members, irrespective of resource endowment group. For that reason, developing ways to increase awareness about future flood potential and making clear the need for complementary non-structural strategies is imperative. In short, the research findings emphasise that access to resources and cognitive factors are important determinants of adaptive capacity. Hence, both should be taken into account while developing practical strategies towards increasing adaptive capacity and reducing vulnerability to floods specifically, and to other natural hazards in general.