Disasters are not equal in their impact. The very old, the very young, the sick, the wounded, person with disabilities and, in some circumstances, women and minority groups, can face particular and acute challenges. This chapter explores how international law has responded to vulnerability in emergency situations. The genesis and evolution of legal norms governing the protection of various groups of vulnerable people in disaster situations are explored. The chapter is organized around two main arguments. First, relevant international legal norms are very much work in progress, having developed first in response to human conflict and epidemics. Legal norms and practices to govern responses to natural disasters are recent and ill-defined. Secondly, international human rights law has moved away from charity, paternalist and medical models of protection towards a rights-based framework for all vulnerable groups – from women and children through persons with disabilities to minority groups.
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