SARVA is an initiative of the Department of Science and Innovation and forms part of a 10-year Global Change Grand Challenge. It is currently in its third phase of implementation, focusing on improved access to ecological, economic, human, and settlement data and the development of decision-support tools that assist with evaluating and managing the risks associated with global change.


The South African Risk and Vulnerability Atlas is an open science portal that provides access to a growing collection of decision-ready data, dashboards, infographics and maps covering a wide range of natural and anthropogenic hazards (including climate change, biodiversity loss, and epidemics).

The aim of the atlas is to disseminate spatial and non-spatial data that describes, assesses and evaluates the risks and vulnerabilities facing the country. SARVA combines multi-disciplinary datasets from a range of organisations in a single point of access. Examples of curated data collections, include land-use change, urbanisation, historical rainfall and temperature observations, biodiversity, social and physical infrastructure, education, maternal and child health, and poverty indicators.

SARVA at its core is an open science platform of curated and maintained spatial and non-spatial data. SARVA is a living product that will be updated as new data is made available and published to SAEON’s Open Data Repository. SARVA relies on the collaboration and data sharing of other institutions and organisations. 

CITATION: Davis-Reddy, C.L., Hilgart, A., Hlanane, K., Pienaar, M., Wilson, H., Chiloane, L. 2020. South African Risk and Vulnerability Atlas. 3rd Ed. Pretoria: SAEON. Available at

Special measures are required in creating effective channels for dissemination information that allow decision-makers to make decisions based on the best available knowledge.

open access

There is a growing awareness and need for countries, communities, cities, sectors, and businesses to consider and adapt to physical and social challenges and opportunities beyond their boundaries.

The world is facing a number of complex global challenges. These ‘wicked problems’ include changes in the climate system as well as changes in any biophysical and human system such as urbanisation, deforestation, biodiversity loss and more recently the rise of pandemics.

The SARVA team is continually working on providing access to up to date data and information for South Africa on risk and vulnerability. Creating an enabling environment through improved data access will assist municipalities, government departments and sectors to respond to global change risks.

SARVA relies on data management infrastructure being by SAEON to support the publication, discovery, dissemination, and visualisation of global change data. Our open access data systems operate on the Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, and Reusable (FAIR) data principles.


The South African Environmental Observation Network is the lead agency and implementer of the South African Risk and Vulnerability Atlas.The SAEON team, based at the uLwazi Node, develops innovative data products in support of open data. The team offers a skill base that includes climate change specialists, geo-spatial data analysis, consultative facilitation, decision support tool development, data management, data curators, systems developers and engineers

Understanding Risk and Vulnerability

Risk results from the interaction of vulnerability, exposure, and a particular hazard and refers to the likelihood of an adverse impact from an event. These components of risk are exacerbated by global change drivers (external pressures).  A highly vulnerable system would be one that is very sensitive to modest changes (e.g. increases in heat waves), where the sensitivity includes the potential for substantial harmful effects, and for which the ability to adapt is severely constrained. Risks should be considered a priority when there is a high probability of a hazardous event occurring or high vulnerability of societies, systems exposed, or both. The risk of adverse event is reduced by interventions such as adaptation, disaster risk reduction and good governance.

Exposure refers to the presence of people, livelihoods, species or ecosystems, environmental functions, services, and resources, infrastructure, or economic, social, or cultural assets in places and settings that could be adversely affected.

Vulnerability is the propensity or predisposition to be adversely affected and includes elements of sensitivity and adaptive capacity.

Risk refers to the likelihood of an adverse impact from an event. Risk is often represented as the probability of occurrence of hazardous events or trends multiplied by the impacts if these events or trends occur