By Saqar ' M Al Zaabi, on 5 March 2020
Written by Dr Akhtar Alam, Research Fellow at UCL IRDR
A masterclass was organised by UCL Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction (IRDR) on February 20, 2020. Attended by twenty-five researchers, practitioners and students from different institutions, the event included lectures, proactive sessions and a laboratory exercise.
The morning session started with a lecture on the application of Earth Observation (EO) technology in monitoring and mitigating natural hazards, delivered by Aisha Aldosery, a PhD student at UCL IRDR. She presented an overview of the fundamental principles of remote sensing, data products and space programmes. She also discussed the applications of this technology to collect information on various natural hazards.
The second lecture was an illustration of a case study – “Cyclone risk assessment of the Cox’s Bazar district (CBD) in SE Bangladesh”, delivered by Dr Akhtar Alam, Research Fellow at UCL IRDR. He demonstrated the use of EO data, statistical methods and GIS for simulating risk scenarios at varied spatial scales of the study area. He also discussed the issues concerning the availability and selection of the data, uncertainties and limitations of the procedures, and validation of the results in the risk assessment process.
In addition to the conceptual discussions, the participants were given an exercise on risk mapping. The objective was to simulate the spatial patterns of risk with a manual procedure. It imitated the complementary use of EO technology, Geographic Information System (GIS) and Analytic Hierarchy Process (AHP) for mapping the risk. This was an exciting session where participants were divided into groups and engaged in the activity. At the end of the session, they were given a chance to express their views and present the results of the exercise.
The afternoon session was devoted to a GIS exercise in the laboratory. Original raster data layers were provided to the participants to perform a landslide hazard analysis. The learning outcomes included visualization, interpretation and integration of the standardized raster data layers for weighted overlay analysis in ArcGIS, deriving weights of different parameters and checking the consistency of the weighting process using AHP, and developing a landslide hazard map of the study area from the given data layers.
The participants expressed positive feedback about the event.
By Saqar ' M Al Zaabi, on 3 March 2020
Written by IRDR Master’s student Ronja Lutz
The UCL Humanitarian Institute evening conference, held on 19 February 2020 and chaired by Prof Peter Sammonds, presented a panel of four speakers giving diverse perspectives on disaster relief in the Himalayan region.
Dr Jessica Field from Brunel University gave the first talk. She introduced the history of disaster relief in India in order to zoom in on the situation in Ladakh. She characterised disaster governance in this region of Northern India as focused on top-down security and military interventions, relief practices as centred on hazards, and being reactive rather than proactive. Of particular interest was her analysis of relief work in the context of different actors, governmental and non-governmental, competing for legitimacy.
The second talk, by Sultan Bhat of Kashmir University, was focusing on factors that make the Kashmir valley vulnerable to hazards such as floods. He then highlighted changes due to tourism, such as deforestation, expanding settlements, that lead to increased vulnerability. In a long-term overview spanning several centuries, he was able to show that not only vulnerability but also the occurrence of floods in the Kashmir valley has increased.
Third up was Dr Punam Yadav from UCL’s Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction (IRDR), presenting on the conflict in Nepal and its effects on women. She gave an overview of Nepal’s Civil War 1996–2006, in the wake of which around 70,000 people are still displaced. Despite the numerous negative effects of conflict, Dr Yadav pointed out how conflict can create spaces for women. For example, the political representation of women has increased from 6% to 33% after the introduction of a quota in 2007, and 20% of combatant roles in the military are now reserved, arguably due to women’s involvement in civil war combat.
The final talk by IRDR’s Akhtar Alam gave a broader overview of the challenges to disaster risk reduction in the Himalayas in the future. After surveying the numerous natural hazards in the region, including earthquakes, flash floods, and landslides, he pointed out that despite a high occurrence of hazards across the whole region, the vulnerability of certain regions is what ultimately determines fatality rates. For example, Myanmar and Bangladesh saw relatively few incidents compared to other regions, but a very high death toll. Consequently, he urged for increasing resilience to natural hazards, for example by improving and enforcing building standards in the face of earthquake risks. Similar to Dr Field, he cited a focus on response instead of prevention and a neglect of community involvement as obstacles to preventing disasters in the Himalayan region.
The event was live-streamed and you still can watch the video on the Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction YouTube channel: https://youtu.be/dhYU0MuJf3g
By Saqar ' M Al Zaabi, on 27 February 2020
The team from UCL IRDR Centre for Digital Public Health in Emergencies (dPHE) attended the 9th International Conference on Digital Public Health (www.acm-digitalhealth.org) chaired again by the dPHE Centre Director, Prof Patty Kostkova.
Held on 20th – 23rd November 2019 in Marseille, France, the DPH 2019 was supported by the newly established UCL IRDR Centre for Digital Public Health in Emergencies (dPHE) and for the first time held in conjunction with a public health event – 12th European Public Health Conference 2019 and continue our cooperation with ACM Special Interest Group on Knowledge Discovery and Data Mining (SIGKDD). There were two parallel tracks on digital health: 9th DPH 2019 conference with technical focus, and a joint track with EPH ‘Digital Applications in Health’ bringing public health applications of digital health. Young researchers, MSc and PhD students enjoyed a truly interdisciplinary ‘Young Researches Forum’ day organised in collaboration with ASPHER, the Association of Public Health Schools in the European Region.
Building on the growing success of previous editions (2008 London, 2009 Istanbul, 2010 Casablanca, 2011 Malaga, 2013 Rio de Janeiro, 2014 Soul, 2015 Florence, 2016 in Montreal, 2017 London, 2018 Lyon), the 9th International Digital Public Health conference mission has ideally met the EPH 2019 vision: ‘Building Bridges for Solidarity and Public Health’.
This year, we enjoyed exciting plenary session bringing the highest calibre of international speakers for topical panel debates: ‘AI and Big Data: Ethical challenges and health opportunities’ (chaired by Patty, organised jointly with EPH), international perspective was discussed at a DPH plenary on ‘Challenges of Implementing Healthcare Technology and Innovation across Europe and Beyond’ (chaired by Dr Arnold Bosman) and lessons learned from successful DH innovation projects will be highlighted at plenary on ‘Digital Health Innovation: From Proof of Concept to Public Value’ (chaired by Dr Michael Edelstein). The role of fake news in social media for public health is addressed at the joint session: ‘Online anti-vaccination movements: The role of social media in public health communications’ was chaired by Patty and organised jointly by DPH, EUPHA Health promotion section & EUPHA Infection Diseases Control section. Another highlight featured the launch of the European mHealth Knowledge and Innovations Hub – a bold new partnership for the future of mHealth in WHO European Region. DPH 2019 offered even more: a joint EPH and RECON workshop offering a session on programming in R for epidemiologists.
In addition to being busy chairing with the event, Prof Patty Kostkova, Dr. Caroline Wood, Dr. Anwar Musah, Dr Adrian Rubio Solis and Georgiana Birjovanu had the opportunity to present their recent digital solutions to combat antibiotic overuse or to create an early-warning tool for the ZIKA virus and the gamified intervention improving resilience of women in Nepal, MANTRA. Several dPHE papers were published by ACM Digital Library and European Journal on Public Health.
The conference started with the Young Researchers Forum, where postgraduate students were able to present their recent work, followed by an exciting session on Missing Maps. This session, led by Katherine Roberts-Hill from the British Red Cross and Dr. Anwar Musah, and supported by Medicines Sans Frontiers, offered participants the opportunity to contribute to open-source maps that help geolocate women at risk of Female Genital Mutilation in Tanzania. A concurrent Missing Maps session was run at UCL for IRDR students by a guest lecturer at the Digital Heath module – real-time concurrent mapping in two countries – how more digital one can get? 😉
The conference also comprised of many exciting sessions, from talks on how technology can help achieve a healthy lifestyle, assessing food consumption behaviour using machine learning in order to advise patients with diabetes to the potential of AI and Big data in the health domain.
One of the peak moments of this event was represented by the 2019 Innovation Prize Pitches, where the teams pitched for the Best Data-Driven Innovation and the Best Partnership awards. On behalf of UCL, Dr. Caroline Wood presented as the Best Partnership program the GADSA project, a Gamified Antimicrobial Decision Support App that provides feedback to surgeons when prescribing surgical antibiotic prophylaxis. Georgiana Birjovanu pitched for the Best Data-Driven Innovation, presenting the ZIKA platform and mobile app, designed to help health agents in Brazil to gather environmental data and to predict the mosquito populations based on the data collected. Both presentations were awarded the Best Runner Up awards by the international jury.
The Digital Public Health Conference represented a great opportunity to meet experts from different areas within the public health domain – world-class researchers, World Health Organization representatives and small to medium-sized enterprises – it’s where the digital health minds meet. No wonder #DPH2019 hashtag was trending on Twitter all week.
Please click the link below to watch a video of photos showing the different conference events.
We look forward to DPH 2020 and hope to tempt more IRDR colleagues to attend this exciting event with us 🙂
UCL-ZIKA Mapathon: Mapping of Residential Areas for Mosquito Surveillance in Campina Grande, Northeast Brazil
By Anwar Musah, on 25 February 2020
On Tuesday, 28th of January, researchers from UCL IRDR Centre for Digital Public Health in Emergencies (dPHE) (Professor Patty Kostkova and Dr Anwar Musah), UCL Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis (CASA) (Dr Sarah Wise) and expert mappers from the British Red Cross (Katherine Roberts-Hill and Jiumei Gao) organised an interesting Mapathon session. Through crowd participation, the goal was to map out the entire residential areas of Campina Grande, Brazil.
Campina Grande is an interesting city with varied land-uses in the State of Paraiba. Unfortunately, it is one of many areas in the North Eastern region of Brazil that was hit by the Zika epidemic in 2014/15. UCL IRDR-dPHE alongside researchers from Federal University of Campina Grande and Environmental Health Surveillance agency are working closely to monitor potential mosquito population outbreaks through the development of mobile technologies and GIS. Unfortunately, this area remains unmapped and off-grid. Only scanned paper maps exist for the authorities at Campina Grande, there is presently no spatial data that can be used in a form of early warning detection for potential mosquito outbreaks nor observing the distribution of residential areas inhabited by mosquito breeding. This is where our collaborative research and mapathon comes into play to address such paucity of data.
Students from UCL (IRDR, CASA and Geography), LSHTM as well as external volunteers (GIS experts from London Borough offices, businesses and hikers) and The Red Cross came to this session to learn valuable cartographic skills for digitising scanned paper maps in QGIS. In return, they help us to digitise 47 scanned maps representing the residential areas for neighbourhoods in Campina Grande.
The result – we were able to complete 38 (out 47 neighbourhoods). This corresponds to a completion rate of 79.0% (3,781 out of 4,787) which represent the number of residential block areas that were digitised during the mapathon (see Figure 1). This is effort is extremely impressive! The event received many positive feedbacks from the participants, as well as the evening atmosphere was great and friendly – we all enjoyed drinks and munched on a tonne of delicious pizzas from Icco’s Pizza while mapping!
If you’re interested in attending a similar Mapathon event, follow @TheMissingMaps on Twitter.
By Xiao Han, on 13 February 2020
‘The greatest happiness of the greatest number is the only right and proper end of government’
Thursday, February 6, 2020, was another ordinary day in London. It was full of sunshine, comfortable and more humidity would be better. In China, however, it was another difficult day, not only in the Province of Wuhan, the epicentre of the pandemic but in every household in the homeland. The coronavirus has been spreading for more than 40 days. The situation, unfortunately, does not seem to get better as experts are still warning of further risk of pandemic expansion. The news on the lack and shortages of medical and personal protective equipment are adding more worries and fears among people, especially when their mobile devices are bombarded with such news in every single second.
Yes, technologies could have unintended consequences, but they have made it possible to communicate with the people who are stuck in their homes at the affected areas despite following a strict ‘self-isolation strategy’. For now, there is not another effective method to reduce the expansion of the pandemic better than ‘self-isolation’. We are glad that people’s livelihood is not fully interrupted by this pandemic, thanks to the modernised technologies and society. We, as students who have interests in disasters, find this pandemic a great opportunity to discuss and study. Our discussion here might be dogmatic and theoretical but at least we try to contribute to this issue based on our humble knowledge, background, and cognitive scope.
During these tough days, I invited current master students and alumni of IRDR who have interests in discussing this pandemic. Further, I have invited some scholars from other institutes and universities who work in DRR and emergency planning field. We discussed a number of ideas. They were all important, but I chose three aspects to illustrate in this blog.
The current situation in some cities
There are two scholars join this forum in distance via Skype. Dr. Barbara, who recently graduated from Coventry University and currently lived in Sichuan, and Miss Huiyan Kang, who possibility would join IRDR in this September as a Ph.D. student and currently located in Peking. There is not so much difference when local authorities propose to prevent the spread of coronavirus, according to their report from their place. All of the local authorities are following the strictest measures, which is the ‘isolation policy’. In fact, residents’ committees across the whole country are following this policy to prevent the spread of coronavirus. Accordingly, community securities and guards must close the gate of the community and strictly check every person entering the community. At the same time, people have been strongly advised to stay home and limit contact as much as possible, eliminating or reducing the pathway of the coronavirus infection.
From the report in Hankou, part of Wuhan, the environment is more horrific as the pandemic has covered people living in that city as a gigantic cloud. The alarm of the ambulance has become the symbol of fear, heard continuously from the streets. The hospital in Hankou is fully busy as people face death every single day. In addition, sunlight could not break through the cloud in the sky and a sunny day has become a luxury for the people in the Hankou.
People still believe the situation will be under control and that they will overcome the difficulties like they had already done for SARS. Most people had volunteered to stay home and report any suspicious symptoms of being infected. Although we have heard a lot of news about people being irresponsible and hiding the travel and contact history, the social responsibility and cooperation of the public emerged through this pandemic is fundamentally the larger norm. Every single event happening in our society is reminding us of the SARS nightmare, 17 years back, when people learned that good hygiene habits, isolation, social responsibility, and social solidarity are important factors to overcome this disaster too.
The argument of humanitarian aid
The second important aspect we discussed was the humanitarian logistics and aid. The humanitarian supply chain is challenged in this pandemic. The event is letting the public see how the charity organisations work in reality, rather than observing the armchair strategist and empty talk. Similar to bureaucratic systems, emergency response capacities in the provincial level are also being tested by this pandemic and the result is perceived barely satisfactory. The intervention from the central government was seen as necessary as poor planning and response strategies were found in provincial authorities in the early stage of the pandemic.
It is known that lack of adequate medical equipment has caused suffering among the nurses and doctors who are fighting the virus in the front line. The sudden increased demand for masks has caused a temporary shortage in the market and spiked prices. This has become a perfect time for speculators participating in the market and getting their ‘first bucket of gold’. Masks used to be medical protective equipment and now have become an absolute necessity. Fundraising for medical support has been initiated, the usual case when China and Chinese people are faced with a disaster. Chinese people from overseas give as much as they can to support.
But how this kind of generosity has been used in the epidemic area? Do the doctors, nurses and the public really and finally enjoy the contribution from their compatriots？ It seems that more transparency is needed for some specific humanitarian and charity agencies in China. Such rumours about the lack of efficiency, transparency, and supervision are more dreadful than the pandemic itself. Coronavirus breaks the organ of the human body, but rumours kill humanity and kindness in human nature.
Ethic of the donation, brief thinking at the end
At the end of our discussion, there was a brief philosophy thought. The slogan that UCL Chinese Society used for fundraising: ‘20 pounds might be one meal for your daily life, nevertheless, it could protect 4-5 medical workers away from virus infection’. This slogan reminds me of the argument of the drowning child in the pond from Peter Singer. The only cost of saving the drowning child is staining your trousers by dirt, which is morally insignificant compared to saving a life. Similarly, the only cost of saving the medical staff from the risk is only the cost of a daily meal of an overseas student. With the support of modern technology and online banking systems, distance is no longer an obstacle for the realisation of maximum human utility and happiness. Moreover, recipients are psychologically more closed to donors. We do not know how much UCL Chinese Society received yet, how much lives will these funds save and how many will the kids of wealthy people donate instead of spending money on buying luxurious properties or clothing. Perhaps, they are not utilitarian and altruistic, or they have no idea about these ethical ideas. Such donation is volunteered, real saint and charity, but not an obligation or duty.
If it is in our power to prevent something very bad from happening, without thereby sacrificing anything morally significant, we ought, morally, to do it. The argument from Peter Singer about famine relief for the Bangel tragedy in the 1970s is renewing now. London is far from Wuhan, but we cannot deny the tragedy because we are far from the tragedy. This is a controversial debate, and sometimes it links to the topic of how to distinguish the duty and charity. In the daily life of human beings, the donation is supererogatory, but it is no wrong to do so. In the end, if I could refer a statement from the Decretum Gratiani:
‘The bread which you withhold belongs to the hungry; the clothing you shut away, to the naked; and the money you bury in the earth is the redemption and freedom of the penniless.’
Jeremy Bentham would be happy to see those words that have been written in the University College London.
Dr. Barbara (Coventry University)
Guangzhao LYU (Ph.D. candidate in CMII)
Huiyan KANG (IRDR alumna)
Lan LI (IRDR Master Student)
Xuanrong WANG (Ph.D. candidate in IRDR)
Xiao HAN (Ph.D. candidate in IRDR)
8/Feb/2019. UCL IRDR
By Jessica Field, on 19 August 2019
On 5 August 2019, the Government of India unilaterally reorganised Jammu and Kashmir state into two Union Territories – Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh – and revoked Article 370, which contained protected privileges for the disputed territory. Tens of thousands of soldiers have been deployed to the region, tens of thousands of tourists and workers have fled.
Since 4 August, Kashmir Valley has been on a communications blackout and curfew, which poses serious disaster risks for the population as well as everyday challenges, fear and fury.
Kashmir Valley and Ladakh are frequently lauded as two of the most beautiful parts of South Asia. The Valley is bounded by the Himalayan mountain range and has the nickname “paradise on earth”; Ladakh is high up in the desert mountains and often called “Little Tibet,” or the “Roof of the World”.[i] Their location and climates, however, make them incredibly hazard-exposed.[ii] Most of the Kashmir region falls under a seismic zone V (the highest earthquake risk category), and the entire erstwhile state is prone to a variety of hazards. During winter, intense snowfall can cut off large parts of the region for months. Avalanches and landslides are commonplace. From July to September, Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh are at particular risk of flooding – Kashmir from heavy rains, Ladakh from cloud bursts and Glacial Lake Outburst Floods. These risks are often exacerbated by poor city planning and illegal developments in flood plains.
As a result of a number of recent disasters,[iii] local government officials across Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh have been attempting to improve their Disaster Management planning – both in terms of Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) and emergency response. Ladakh began developing its own District Disaster Management Plan after severe floods in 2010 and since 2017 has been working to update it. Reacting to the devastating 2014 floods in Kashmir, the district administration moved to develop its own Disaster Management Plan shortly after.
These Disaster Management Plans are still under development and have a long way to go before they effectively incorporate inclusive and vulnerability-responsive DRR and plan for a more effective emergency response. The Government of India’s latest moves in the region have potentially pushed their development back several paces, and the the total security lockdown of Kashmir may significantly increase disaster risks for an already vulnerable population.
As Ilan Kelman and I have argued elsewhere, some of the weaknesses in effective emergency planning have long existed as a result of the protracted security environment in Kashmir and Ladakh, where hazard-centred and military-led responses have too often been prioritised over longer-term DRR or more inclusive emergency planning.
Since 5th August 2019, these challenges have multiplied.
In this current moment, residents of Kashmir are experiencing lockdown and a widespread communications blackout. For 12 days, mobile phones, landlines and internet services were entirely cut (with sporadic access only coming to some areas in recent days). A strict curfew has been imposed, and the Valley’s political leaders have been put under house arrest. People have not been able to access medical treatment, withdraw cash, or travel out of the area. In Ladakh, Kargil too has faced lockdown. These restrictions have serious disaster risk implications.
Firstly, effective disaster management and emergency responses require active and accessible communication: i.e. operational early warning systems, communication infrastructure that connects residents to each other as well as their government, and access to information (reports suggest that some Kashmiris didn’t know why they were under lockdown several days after the constitutional change, let alone what they should do in a hazard scenario). Worryingly, communication blackouts are not tools deployed in extraordinary circumstances in Kashmir – they are a regular occurrence, with 54 internet shutdowns in 2019 alone.
Effective disaster management and emergency responses also require mobility and access to healthcare services: i.e. the possibility to visit hospitals when required (and for those hospitals to be stocked with sufficient supplies); the possibility to evacuate to a safer location in the event of a hazard; the ability to visit and check on vulnerable family members, or get personal supplies from stores.
Importantly, effective disaster management and emergency responses require trust. You need responsible and accountable individuals in charge of planning, monitoring and emergency responses (not locked up under house arrest in Kashmir, or feigning ‘peaceful’ stability from Delhi). The Government of India should recall its record of centre-led disaster relief in the Valley is not such a good one. Its failure to effectively respond, compensate and rehabilitate survivors of the 2014 floods in Jammu and Kashmir fomented a sense of disaffection that fed into the 2016 violence in the Valley.[iv]
Beyond the immediate challenges, in the medium term the existing Disaster Management Plans currently held by Srinagar and Leh administrations may well have to be completely redrawn, as protocols for coordination and resources will likely be redundant now the state has been broken into two Union Territories. These drastic governance changes were literally brought in overnight without warning, preventing any Disaster Management transition. All of this has occurred at a time of year when flood risks are typically high.
For residents in Kashmir and Kargil, who are parlty or wholly cut off from the outside world and held under a military curfew, the basic needs of the present are the most urgent. But the lockdown is significantly increasing their vulnerability to hazards, too. The government needs to seriously consider their responsibility in this regard as they have created this situation. Moreover, effective disaster risk reduction and emergency response plans are highly sensitive to the surrounding context and do not simply materialise when a hazard strikes.
[i] J. H. Fewkes, Trade and Contemporary Society Along the Silk Road: An entho-history of Ladakh, London: Routledge, 2009, p.19.
[ii] Kshitij Gupta, ‘Long Term Disaster Recovery in Kashmir’, in Long Term Disaster Recovery in Kashmir, Southasiadisasters.net, AIDMI, Issue no. 163, (October 2017): 13-14; Mihir R. Bhatt, ‘Risks in High Altitudes: How to Think About Action?’ in Community Managed Disaster Risk Reduction in High Altitude Areas,Southasiadisasters.net, AIDMI, Issue no. 85, (June 2012): 3-4.
[iii] On 6 August 2010, Ladakh experienced a cloudburst and severe flooding, which killed over 200 people and devastated Leh city and nearby villages. In September 2014, the wider Kashmir region in both Pakistan and India saw the worst floods it had experienced in decades, killing over 400 and displacing almost a million. In August last year, flash floods caused serious damage across Jammu and Kashmir.
[iv] F. Espada, ‘On Authority and Trust: A reflection on the effectiveness of disaster management in Bangladesh, India and Nepal’, in ed. Espada, F. (London: Save the Children & HCRI, 2016): 123-155. Available: http://humanitarianeffectivenessproject.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/South-Asia_Fernando_Espada_HAT.pdf
By Joanna P Faure Walker, on 16 August 2019
Dr Zoe Mildon, former IRDR PhD student and now lecturer at University of Plymouth, together with Dr Joanna Faure Walker (UCL IRDR), Prof Gerald Roberts (Birkbeck) and Prof Shinji Toda (Tohoku University IRIDeS), have published a paper in Nature Communications showing we are a step closer in understanding which faults could rupture in the next earthquake:
In this paper, we use long-term stress loading on faults in the central Apennines, Italy, together with stress loading from historical earthquakes in the region to test whether we can identify faults which have a positive stress and hence are ripe for rupture. We found that 97% large earthquakes within the central Italian Apennines from 1703-2006 occurred on positively stressed faults. Therefore, we can use our modelling to calculate which faults are currently positively stressed and hence help us to determine which faults could rupture in the future. This is not the same as earthquake prediction – saying exactly when and where an earthquake will occur, but it is a step closer to better seismic hazard assessments and understanding why, how and when earthquakes occur.
The paper is available through open access: Mildon et al. (2019)
An article was written about the paper in the Daily Mail
The original press release is available here.
This work is part of the IRDR’s continuing collaboration with Tohoku University, IRIDeS (International Research Institute for Disaster Science). Our collaboration has led to papers including topics such as earthquake stress transfer (Mildon et al., 2016), disaster fatalities (Suppasri et al., 2016), and temporary housing (e.g. Naylor et al., 2018).
Panel discussion on working in challenging environments & conflict zones at the 2019 UCL Humanitarian Summit
By Anwar Musah, on 3 July 2019
When embarking on fieldwork research in an area that is classed as high risk, it is essential for academics and experts from Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to come prepared; especially when entering into a setting that is characterised by kidnappings, violence, conflicts (or civil crisis), disease outbreak, political instability and/or faced with international sanctions.
On the 19th of June, Dr James Hammond (Reader in Geophysics, Birkbeck), Dr Ahmed Bayes (Lecturer in Risk & Disaster Science, UCL) and Liz Harding (Humanitarian Representative, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)) delivered a series of intriguing talks and an engaging panel discussion about their personal experiences of Working in Challenging Environments and Conflict (& Post-conflict) Zones at the 2019 Humanitarian Summit in UCL, on a panel chaired by Dr Marie Aronsson-Storrier (Lecturer in Global Law and Disasters, University of Reading and member of UCL IRDR Board).
The session was kick-off by Dr James Hammond who spoke of his experience and difficulty getting access to do research in North Korea. He worked on a collaborative project with physical scientists from North Korea – the research focusses on volcanic activity and deriving geophysical imaging of the magma plumbing systems that’s beneath Mountain Paektu. He states:
“Most scientists from North Korea, and especially researchers from his field of expertise are very keen for international collaboration and support shared knowledge”.
“However, external factors such as North Korea’s closedness to outsiders and geopolitical influence and international sanctions from the United Nations has made it increasingly difficult for us to conduct their fieldwork activities at Mountain Paektu”.
He quotes a sanction imposed on North Korea which effectively puts his team’s work to a halt: “Suspend all technical and scientific cooperation with North Korea”. Fortunately, he was able to overcome this issue by getting the UK government involved, and through diplomacy and science, they were allowed to continue their research.
The second speaker, Dr Bayes Ahmed, shares his harrowing experience in Bangladesh and how he dealt with three of his research team members being kidnapped. He states:
“… before doing fieldwork research which involve humans in the context of conflict or displacement. It is strictly important for academics to comply with all conventional fieldwork procedures such as risk assessments, receiving ethical approval, health insurance etc.
He also states the following:
“… it is equally important to know that while the above is all ‘pen and paper’; however, the fieldwork context is completely different and anything can happen.”
He provides an example of visiting local communities situated in remote areas of Chittagong (Bangladesh) and how being adventurous was risky behaviour. He narrates how himself and his team mates were taking pictures and video footages of hill cutters who were building apartments along the hills in Chittagong. He was warned by the local villagers to put their cameras away and not to take pictures lest the people may think they are journalists. He was also warned not to sightsee or venture further from their position as certain areas in their community are dangerous. Unfortunately, he and his team did not take the advice of the local villagers – of course, this resulted in three of his colleagues being held captive by kidnappers. Fortunately, Dr Bayes was able to resolve the situation – he had strong connections with politicians and local members with strong influence in Chittagong who intervened. The captives were released within 30 minutes of negotiations.
The last speaker, Liz Harding, shared her incredible fieldwork experiences in high risk areas as a humanitarian representative working for MSF. She spoke about her everyday experiences and risks when working – these ranged from getting access to affected areas, being accepted by the local communities and bureaucracy (i.e. work permits, official documents etc).
Liz Harding gave example of situations where her team have to make really tough decisions – she spoke of how they had to abandon their search and rescue missions of migrants crossing the Mediterranean Basin because the issue became so politically charged in Europe. In South Sudan, she narrates how her medical team had to relocate all medical activities to smaller mobile clinics because their hospital in which they were present was attacked four times.
Personally, for Liz Harding, the toughest part of her work is taking hardest decisions for her team and asking the question of ‘can or should we stay?’. Abandoning a mission or evacuation is based on the following conditions – she states:
“… if there’s no more need for our presence; or if the risks are too high for the team.”
In addition, she adds:
“… or if the government authorities forcefully inform the team to leave the country etc., or if our presence poses a significant risk to the local population”.
An interactive panel discussion was held and the floor was opened for the audience to ask interesting questions.
The 2019 UCL Humanitarian Summit took place on Tuesday 18thJune, and the UCL IRDR 9thAnnual Conference was on Wednesday 19thJune. Selected sessions were live streamed, and these videos are available on our YouTube channel- remember to hit the like button and subscribe to the channel at IRDR UCL.
Follow the Humanitarian Institute on Twitter on @UCLHI
Concerning all photographs used in this blog. All credit goes to the rightful owner and photographer: Professor Ilan Kelman (IRDR, UCL)
In-conversation – Drones for health emergencies: friend or foe? @ the UCL IRDR 9th Annual Conference
By Anwar Musah, on 3 July 2019
On the 19thof June, Professor Patty Kostkova (UCL IRDR and Director of the UCL IRDR Centre for Digital Public Health in Emergencies) chaired an intriguing panel discussion with invited speaker Jorieke Vyncke (Coordinator of the Missing Maps Activities, Médecins San Frontières (MSF)) on the use Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) (or drones) in low income and low resource settings for health emergencies especially in the context of sub-Saharan Africa.
Jorieke Vyncke coordinates the Missing maps project and was involved in using drone technology in several MSF missions. In collaboration with organisations as the American and British Red Cross and the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team, the Missing Maps project wants to map the entire world so as to provide baseline data of all locations including villages and important buildings in remote areas. The session was kick-off with Jorieke Vyncke giving the audience an interactive walkthrough with the various model types of UAVs (or drones) used in operations in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia with MSF.
She spoke of the day-to-day application of drone technologies to address some of the world’s humanitarian crisis and gives an example – she says:
‘… drones were used by the International Organisation of Migration (IOM) to take direct satellite images for the geospatial triangulation of Rohingya refugee settlements in and around Balukhali in Bangladesh during and after the exodus of Rohingya out of Myanmar in 2017”
She shown remarkable drone images of how the settlements have expanded over time and narrates how the MSF team collaborated with the international Organisation for Migration (IOM), who were given a permission to fly drones over refugee camp, to understand the growing settlement patterns of the Rohingyas to address the issue of displacement.
Professor Kostkova asked whether they have ever used such technology to deliver goods to affected areas to which Jorieke explains:
“Yes, our teams have used drones in Papua New Guinea to transport TB sputum samples to a hospital from health centres in remote villages.”
Difficult questions regarding drone regulation were asked – unlike the Global North where laws are stricter against drone usage in public spaces. In the Global South – unfortunately, this is not the case. Jorieke agreed that in countries like Malawi there were no strict regulation concerning drones in 2017 when the MSF team, lead by Raphael Brechard, used them for mapping the flooded area. She mentioned that at the time:
“…you can become a user without a license”.
She adds the following:
“…while there’s less regulations, MSF tries to maximise good-use of drones [not to compromise people’s privacy]. We try to collaborate with government and local institutions and community leaders before we deploy our drone activities. We also make sure to have strong local knowledge and close ties with the community involved to get their participation and acceptance”.
An interactive panel discussion was held and the floor was opened for the audience to ask interesting questions. Of course, for more interesting details you can watch all live streamed videos on YouTube – remember to hit the like button and subscribe to the channel at UCL IRDR.
Concerning all photographs used in this blog. All credit goes to the rightful owner and photographer: Professor Ilan Kelman (IRDR, UCL)
By Joanna P Faure Walker, on 19 June 2019
Francesco Iezzi (PhD student, Birkbeck) together with Prof Gerald Roberts (Birkbeck), Dr Joanna Faure Walker (IRDR) and Ioannis Papanikolaou (Agricultural University of Athens) have published a detailed study of the long-term displacements across the fault responsible for the 2009 L’Aquila Earthquake, Italy, and the surrounding faults. This reveals that the different faults are behaving together so that the displacement across the system of faults looks similar to if it were one larger fault on ten thousand and million year timescales. This finding can help provide clues regarding the relative local seismic hazard between the different fault segments. The study also provides evidence that the vertical displacement (throw) across a fault increases across fault bends, a result that has been demonstrated in previous papers by the research group (e.g. Faure Walker et al., 2009; Wilkinson et al., 2015, Iezzi et al., 2018). The Iezzi et al. (2019) paper discusses the synchronised and geometrically controlled activity rates on the studied faults in terms of the propensity for floating earthquakes, multi-fault earthquakes, and seismic hazard.