In this article we investigate the complex relationship between environmental risk, poverty, and vulnerability in a case study carried out in one of the poorest and most flood-prone countries in the world, focusing on household and community vulnerability and adaptive coping mechanisms. Based upon the steadily growing amount of literature in this field we develop and test our own analytical model. In a large-scale household survey carried out in southeast Bangladesh, we ask almost 700 floodplain residents living without any flood protection along the River Meghna about their flood risk exposure, flood problems, flood damage, and coping mechanisms. Novel in our study is the explicit testing of the effectiveness of adaptive coping strategies to reduce flood damage costs. We show that, households with lower income and less access to productive natural assets face higher exposure to risk of flooding. Disparity in income and asset distribution at community level furthermore tends to be higher at higher risk exposure levels, implying that individually vulnerable households are also collectively more vulnerable. Regarding the identification of coping mechanisms to deal with flood events, we look at both the ex ante household level preparedness for flood events and the ex post availability of community-level support and disaster relief. We find somewhat paradoxically that the people that face the highest risk of flooding are the least well prepared, both in terms of household-level ex ante preparedness and community-level ex post flood relief. © 2007 Society for Risk Analysis.