Anja Herkner
Institute of Rural Studies

Bundesallee 64
38116 Braunschweig
Phone: +49 531 596 5501
Fax: +49 531 596 5599

When climate impacts and reduced public services in rural areas come together


In rural areas in Germany, fire protection and emergency assistance are almost exclusively provided by voluntary fire brigades (c) Thünen-Institut/Annett Steinführer
In rural areas in Germany, fire protection and emergency assistance are almost exclusively provided by voluntary fire brigades (© Thünen-Institut/Annett Steinführer)

Social and institutional vulnerabilities to weather- and climate-induced extreme events from an actor-centred perspective

In the course of climate change it is expected that also in some rural regions of Germany flooding, heat waves and droughts will increase in frequency and/or duration. At the same time, the variability of such events is assumed to rise. Considering the ageing population and selective out-migration in many rural regions: will these also become more vulnerable to extreme events?

Background and Objective

Vulnerability is a buzzword in current socio-ecological discourses. From a social science perspective the term refers to the inequality of social groups to weather- and climate-induced extreme events. Such disasters need more than just a hazard or communities exposed. They rather come about when the susceptibility of the people living and the infrastructures available in a certain area is high and when the existing social capacities are low. The interaction of these three elements – exposure, susceptibility and social capacities – generates the vulnerability of a region, a community or an individual. A major research gap is to be noticed with regard to the behavioural dimension of vulnerability and, particularly, to the issue of social capacities to prepare for, cope with and recover from negative impacts of natural hazards as well as to adapt to their recurrence in the long run.

Rural areas are not a major focus of this discourse in Germany, probably because (expected) economic damages are lower than in cities. However, rural areas will also be affected. When such regions simultaneously face negative impacts of socio-demographic change (particularly aging and selective out-migration), also the local organisations in charge of risk and disaster management such as fire brigades are affected in their coping capacities.

The project aimed at:

  • a better foundation of the vulnerability concept from a social science perspective
  • an analysis of the current situation of voluntary fire brigades in selected rural areas in Germany.


The explorative project was part of the European research network CapHazNet (Social Capacity Building for Natural Hazards. Toward more resilient societies; EU FP 7; 2009–2012). The research built upon previous work within the FLOODsite project (EU FP 6; 2004–2009) auf.

Data and Methods

First we documented the state of the research and analysed self-representations of voluntary fire brigades as well as documents of their regional, state and national associations. In the second part of the project we conducted semi-structured interviews with decision-makers of voluntary fire brigades. These were analysed by qualitative content analysis.

Links and Downloads


Involved external Thünen-Partners


5.2010 - 12.2012

More Information

Projekt type:
Project status: finished

Publications to the project

Results 1 - 5 of 9

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  1. Steinführer A (2014) Freiwillige Feuerwehren als Einrichtungen der Daseinsvorsorge - tradiertes Ehrenamt im gesellschaftlichen Wandel. Zivile Sicherheit 7:169-186
  2. Kuhlicke C, Steinführer A (2013) Hochwasservorsorge - privat oder staatlich? LandInForm(4):14-15
  3. Kuhlicke C, Meyer V, Steinführer A (2013) Jenseits der Leitdifferenz von "Beton contra Natur" : neue Paradoxien und Ungleichheiten im Hochwasserrisikomanagement. Hydrol Wasserbewirtsch 57(2):70-74
  4. Kuhlicke C, Steinführer A (2013) Searching for resilience or building social capacities for flood risks? Planning Theory Practice 14(1):114-120
  5. Steinführer A, Kuhlicke C (2012) Soziale Verwundbarkeit gegenüber Hochwasser: Lehren aus der Elbeflut 2002. GAIA 21(3):202-209

Results 1 - 5 of 9

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