By Swati Sharma, on 27 April 2022
The ongoing Russian-Ukraine war has triggered a string of economic sanctions against Russia, apparently intended to bring an end to the conflict. Let us understand the background and ramifications of sanctions.
Sanctions, in general, are a set of penal actions taken against an entity or entities, that could be adopted by courts, nations, or international bodies. Chapter VII of the UN Charter, through Article 41, also provides for non-military enforcement measures.
Ideally, preventing conflicts and enhancing international peace and security are considered a few of the prime objectives of sanctions. However, sanctions have also often been seen as political tools for settling diplomatic scores or achieving other desirable results, making their efficiency as a non-violent, diplomatic conflict resolution tool questionable.
In contrast, economic, humanitarian, and commercial sanctions typically worked better than any combination—Iran, 1979; Iraq, 1990; Haiti, 1991; and Yugoslavia, 1992, to name a few.
There are also instances aplenty when sanctions failed to accomplish their goal. In 2014, UN, EU, and US sanctions were imposed on Russia when it invaded Crimea, but still a war erupted in Ukraine. Despite UN sanctions, the Taliban strengthened and seized control of Afghanistan. Additionally, Iran, North Korea, and Cuba have all defied sanctions. Moreover, sanctions can risk spurring conflict, as in Rwanda, 1990, and Nicaragua, 1970.
In today’s age of globalisation, sanctions have become a double-edged sword. To impose effective sanctions, one must necessarily: (a) diagnose the causes of conflicts accurately; (b) design sanctions such that they decisively alter the balance of power, and (c) ensure political will among those imposing sanctions to sustain them. For, with the lapse of time, their—those sanctioning—will can be eroded, or new diplomatic factors may emerge. Therefore, it is time to reconsider the efficacy of sanctions as such and explore whether sanctions need to be supplemented by other measures to resolve conflict and reduce the risk of war.
Swati Sharma is a veteran of the Indian Army, and after successful completion of her tenure, joined the Rajasthan Home Guards Services. While she served as the Commandant, she got selected as a Chevening Scholar 2021-22. Presently, she is currently pursuing her Master’s in Risk, Disaster and Resilience at IRDR, UCL.
email@example.com | Twitter: @captswatis
By Joshua Anthony, on 1 April 2022
Author: Savin Bansal
The cataclysmic ‘Kedarnath tragedy’ of June 2013, triggered by overwhelming flash-floods and landslides in Uttarakhand, the Greater Himalayan State of India, instigated losses worth US$ 1billion, mortality at a gory high of 5000 and led to an equal number still being reported as missing. The destruction of critical infrastructure left several lakhs of pilgrims and tourists stranded for several weeks together.
The region has been long fraught with frequent, severe and uncertain onslaught of geophysical and hydrometeorological hazards, is seismically dynamic, afflicted with climatic extremes and is witness to the growing human-environment interactions. Though the moderate magnitude events probably have become a reality in the region, the 2013 hydrometeorological extreme remains unique in terms of the historic trends and exceedance probability.
The monsoon in June 2013 arrived almost two weeks earlier than expected. The torrential cloudbursts and massive Glacial Lake Outburst Floods (GLOF) resulted in a sudden swelling of the Mandakini, Alakananda, Bhagirathi and Kali river basins. Being a renowned pilgrimage and eco-tourism circuit in India, the region saw the disaster coinciding with the peak congregation, affecting more than 900,000 lives and precipitating grave infrastructure failure in just over three days. The towns of Kedarnath, Rambara and Gaurikund dotted along the Mandakini valley bore the maximum brunt.
The aftermath rendered the key public assets and critical infrastructure dysfunctional, and the exigent business processes compromised. The ravaged quintessential schools-hospitals, buckled highways and bridges, wrecked civic service delivery systems, snapped telecommunication networks, and incapacitated fire and emergency operation services only amplified the atrocious impacts. This not only compromised the relief-rescue operations but severely subdued the coping capacity of the community.
Chinks in the Armour
Many victims had misled themselves to cascading floods and landslips, several children and elderly to trauma and injuries, with others succumbing to lost will and hope. The disquieting spectacle of vanished settlements, frenzied victims and bewildered response put up a horrendous spectacle to behold. In retrospect, the delayed response and resource sub-optimization are attributed to the iniquitously deficient Risk Management framework detailed as:
Imperception of the significance the resilience holds for critical infrastructural systems:
The colossal impact was strikingly disproportionate to the infrastructure resilience levels, adaptation and coping capacities of the communities. Ironically, it took a catastrophe of such a stupendous magnitude to realise the growing reliance of society upon interconnected functional nodes and closely coupled systems. The setbacks on such systems empowered vulnerabilities to generate escalation points that spawned devastating cascades further to propagate through socio-economic systems.
Information asymmetry and risk communication deficit:
The small-scale pre-disaster (preparedness phase) knowledge sharing and generalized oblivion about risk perception and assessment among the emergency response agencies, media, volunteers, and local inhabitants denied the potential victims an opportunity to take informed decisions to protect themselves.
Inconsiderate of known-knowns:
Lack of preparedness, scenario planning, functional disaster management and resilience plans, decentralized resource inventories and inept Emergency Operation Centres accentuated the vulnerability and limited the Hazard risk-vulnerability-analysis (HRVA) capability. The underdeveloped forecasting and early warning systems subdued the evacuation mechanisms and alert protocols further.
Benighted and at odds with the idea of inter-agency coordination and collaboration:
The existence of multiple information flowlines and command structures only rendered the response entities confounded and aid agencies disoriented. It proliferated the unverifiable inputs and compromised priority sequencing. The squandering of initial golden hours of search-rescue owed itself substantially to this fallacy.
Joint Rapid Damage and Needs Assessment
The multi-sectoral damage and needs assessment carried out by the Government in collaboration with the multilateral development institutions (the World Bank and Asian Development Bank) laid the framework for stimulating major policy shift to proactive risk management besides sustainable recovery and reconstruction.
Massive investment mix in the form of IDA (International Development Assistance) and federal assistance were deployed for Risk Reduction Investments in (i) multi-hazard resilient assets such as strategic roads and bridges, public schools, and hospitals, (ii) augmenting emergency response capacities through provisioning of modern search-rescue equipment and training, (iii) bolstering hydro-meteorological network and Early Warning Systems (EWS), (iv) establishment of a risk assessment-modelling framework and a geospatial decision support system, (v) and institutionalising the Uttarakhand State Disaster Management Authority (USDMA) to operate and function in conformance with the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (2015-30).
Eventually, taking the event in its stride, the State has literally risen from the ashes by drawing on the lessons learned in its wake. The pace of recovery and policy instruments deployed have been exemplary. The Risk Management framework developed is espoused as a best-practice model and now serves as a blueprint for other state entities and the neighbouring Himalayan nations.
Being at the core of economy, critical infrastructure was duly recognised as the central factor in enabling labour productivity, redistributive justice and serving our most basic needs to assuring a decent quality of life. Any disruptions therein are a drag on economies that disconcert communities through denting households’ consumption, well-being, and the productivity.
Hence, the formal mechanisms to appraise the cost-benefit ratio of ex-ante policy measures do exist now insomuch as critical asset resilience is concerned. This assumes substance in the context of minimizing the recurrent disruptive shocks on infrastructure and livelihoods, and averting the prohibitively high ex-post reconstruction cost. A pre-emptive investment in more resilient infrastructure is clearly a cost-effective and robust choice, the net result of which is a $4 in benefit for each dollar invested in resilience.
Furthermore, the policy commitments for increased resource allocation towards disaster-climate risk mitigation, reinforced multi-hazard Early Warning Systems, fully equipped District Emergency Operation centres and risk informed development planning are a reality of the day.
In addition, Incident Response System (IRS), a structured framework that enhances interoperability and behaviour coordination under multi-layered team settings is integrated well into the Emergency Response model of the State. It has proved to be critical in stimulating calibrated response to critical events all this while by bringing the disparate units together to share resources, authority and knowledge.
Overall, every time such low probability tail events fleet past us, they never fail to encourage adopting a paradigm shift in the ways we perceive, respond and live through the hazards. Parting ways with the reactive emergency response regime shall require mainstreaming the Disaster-Risk Reduction into development plans, policy and investments. The bottom line is that the victims endangered by life threatening exigencies don’t deserve such gratuitous procrastination and inefficiencies.
Savin Bansal is an Indian civil servant (Indian Administrative Service) and presently pursuing a Master’s degree in Risk, Disaster and Resilience at IRDR, University College London. Serving the Government of Uttarakhand, India, as an administrator and public policy practitioner, he has an extensive experience in Disaster-Climate risk management domain as a decision-maker and leading multilateral development projects.
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Disclaimer: The views and perceptions expressed are in personal capacity and can’t in anyway be construed as that of the Government of Uttarakhand, Government of India or the University College London.
By David Alexander, on 17 March 2022
By convention, when we study disasters we exclude warfare. It is not easy to find a completely logical reason for this. It is more a matter of convenience and a feeling that to conflate the two phenomena would lead to problems because not all generalisations about the one are applicable to the other. At the same time, there is always the basic truth that war is a disaster in its own right because of the casualties, suffering and destruction that it causes. Moreover, as we are seeing in Ukraine and surrounding countries, it is all too often accompanied by a major humanitarian emergency.
In recent years there has been increasing interest in trying to understand the intersectionality between war and other forms of disaster. The other forms are natural hazard impacts (please do not call them ‘natural disasters’ as they, too, are largely the result of human agency), technological failures, social movements (riots, crowd crushes, unplanned mass migrations, etc.), intentional disasters (essentially terrorism) and composite events. Such is the complexity of modern life that the last of these categories predominates. We live in networked societies and disasters tend to be events with cascading consequences.
In recent days, vast numbers of women, children and the elderly have crossed international boundaries as they have fled the fighting in Ukraine in what has become Europe’s fastest mass migration since the 1940s. As a result, we have a humanitarian emergency that encompasses primarily Ukraine itself and six countries on its western borders but potentially the whole of Europe. In Ukraine the challenge is to provide basic necessities under highly dangerous conditions and via an infrastructure that is becoming more and more damaged and fragmentary. Outside Ukraine it is a matter of accommodating hundreds of thousands of refugees, most of whom come from families that have been split up by the war.
Gone are the times when war was fought on a battlefield between assembled armies. There is no room any more for a Napoleon or a Wellington. In modern warfare everyone and everything is a target. Grain, fertiliser, gas, oil and minerals are casualties as well as people, and so are those who depend on these commodities and are deprived by shortage or rising prices from accessing them.
In a world that faces grim challenges in dealing with climate change, ecological catastrophe, loss of the carrying capacity of the land and problems with the vulnerability of technology, the last thing we need is a major war. Nothing can compensate for the loss of life and destruction of people’s living conditions that it causes, but it may yet accelerate the transition towards more sustainable consumption and more rational ways of living. Amid the lies and manipulations that lie behind the aggression, there is also solidarity and rationality. Let us hope that in spite of everything these admirable qualities will prevail. We need them so that we can confront the next disaster.
David Alexander is Professor in UCL’s Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction. He is a citizen of Britain and Italy.
By Joshua Anthony, on 10 March 2022
Written by Dr Louisa Acciari and Mônica Ribeiro.
This is the worst tragedy lived by Petrópolis to date, even though floods and landslides are nothing new to this region. According to Agencia Brasil, so far, the Civil Defence was able to count 232 deaths, while over 1,000 people were made homeless. Among the victims, the gender gap is quite expressive: 138 women compared to 94 men. This means that, as of today, about 60% of the victims are women. Similar catastrophic events have hit the city before; in 1988, floods led to 134 deaths, and in 2011, landslides – also provoked by heavy rains – led to 73 fatalities. This comes on top of the on-going pandemic crisis, with a current weekly rate of 5,000 infections and around 70 deaths in the state of Rio de Janeiro. Despite the unprecedented scale of the event, the mechanisms are well-known and this disaster could have been prevented.
An avoidable disaster
Investments, containment, and protection projects cannot be treated as a surprise or an emergency when rains are forecasted for every beginning of the year. Nature is implacable: it does not wait for political election or the end of the sanitary crisis. Yet, the state’s responsibility is huge. If local powers were used to invoke the lack of economic resources for structural protection, now, the bill will be higher: we need new houses, new streets, new plans, indemnities, sanitary adjustments, investment in public health. This comes along with mourning and suffering in the face of loss of human life. Numerous testimonies of families affected by the tragedy are being published. Those are people who lost their spouse, children, grandparents… as well as their homes and living environment.
The areas impacted by the landslides are known to be risky: the 2007 Municipal Risk Reduction Plan indicated the ‘high’ and ‘very high risk’ areas, which were precisely those affected in the city of Petrópolis. Despite the existence of such a plan, persistent problems of land tenure, irregular occupation, increasingly intense rain and lack of proper urban planning, keep putting vulnerable populations at risk in the region. Specifically, in the Morro da Oficina, more than 700 houses were in danger, with more than 240 identified at the highest risk level. Those are the houses of low-income families who are left with little alternatives.
In a text published in 2013, Eduardo Antonio Licco already pointed out the deficiencies in urban planning and early warning systems in Petrópolis. For instance, interviews with victims of the 2011 floods reveal that the noise of the rain covered that of the alert sirens, and that people did not how to proceed in this type of situation. In the face of existing evidence, one could expect that local and federal authorities would have taken more robust actions to protect the inhabitants of Petrópolis.
The politics of death
This tragedy comes at a time where the Brazilian government is already being accused of crimes against humanity for its bad management of the Covid-19 crisis. For so many of us, it feels like human life does not matter to decision-makers. Scholars and social movements alike have referred to the concept of necropolitics, coined by the African author, Achille Mbembe (2003), which describes the politics of death organized by the state. According Mbembe, in exceptional situations, the state would have an illegitimate use of force to determine who should live and who should die. The abandonment by the Brazilian state of the most vulnerable sections of the population in the face of Covid-19, and now with the landslides in Petrópolis, can be understood as a way of organizing the death of the poorest.
According to mapping conducted by the journal UOL on the Portal of Transparency of the municipality of Petrópolis, in 2021, 2 million BRL (approximately 290,000 GBP) were reserved – but not actually spent – for works of prevention of landslides. In contrast, the marketing and Christmas lighting budget amounted to 5.5 million BRL (approximately 800,000 GBP); twice the budget for disaster prevention. The amount allocated to “scenic, ornamental and decorative lighting for Imperial Christmas 2021” exceeds the resources for containment works in the 1st District – the most affected by the rains – as indicated in the mapping carried out by the Municipal Risk Reduction Plan.
Gender and intersecting inequalities
Finally, we can notice the higher death rate for women; out of the 232 fatalities, 138 were women and 94 men. Although it is way too soon to draw definitive conclusions, and keeping in mind that this proportion may change, we can try to suggest some possible explanations.
Many studies show that women are more vulnerable to disasters, because of a combination of factors such as their social roles, lack of access to resources or political marginalisation. Research on floods points to the fact that women tend to feel more responsible for their families, making them less likely to evacuate the affected-area on time, and that once in a shelter, they will take on all the reproductive and caring tasks to keep their families alive (see for instance Siena & Valencio, 2009).
An exemplary case of these gendered-dynamics is women affected by dams, as in the city of Morada Nova de Minas. Since 1960, with the construction of the Três Marias dam, forced migration and reduced income have affected the population, especially women. In 2019, after the rupture of the Brumadinho dam and speculation of water contamination, it was noticed that despite the loss of work and reduced income, women stayed and resisted on their lands, often mentioning their support network, bonds of affection, and cultural connection.
The burden of care work has been widely debated in the context of the pandemic crisis, and existing data show that women have absorbed the core needs of their households during the lockdown period, often at the detriment of their own remunerated job and well-being. In Brazil, a survey conducted by the feminist organisation SOF shows that 50% of women started taking care of someone during the pandemic, while 40% said that the situation of social isolation put the sustainability of their household at risk. Thus, we could imagine that many women, mothers, and spouses, were at home taking care of the house or of someone else.
While rescue services are still working to save lives and identify the names of those missing, we can reflect on the state of public policies in Brazil. Rains are nothing new and they will certainly happen again, so it is time that our elected representative make the right decisions and investments, and start valuing human lives. Local plans for risk reduction and emergency response already exist; all it takes is adequate resources to make them effective. How many more tragedies do we need for governments to take action?
If you read these lines and want to support the victims, here is a link with a list of local actors that are accepting donations: https://www.cnnbrasil.com.br/nacional/saiba-como-ajudar-as-vitimas-das-chuvas-em-petropolis-rj/.
Dr Louisa Acciari is Research Fellow and Co-director of the Centre for Gender and Disaster at the University College London (UK), and Research Associate of the Núcleo de Estudos em Sexualidade e Gênero (NESEG) at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro. Louisa is also the Global Network Coordinator for GRRIPP.
Recent publications: Pinto, C., Acciari, L., Brites, J. et al. (2021) Os sindicatos das trabalhadoras domésticas em tempos de pandemia: memórias da resistência, FACOS-UFSM: https://www.ufsm.br/editoras/facos/os-sindicatos-das-trabalhadoras-domesticas-em-tempos-de-pandemia-memorias-da-resistencia/
Acciari, L., del Carmen Britez, J., & del Carmen Morales Pérez, A. (2021). Right to health, right to live: domestic workers facing the COVID-19 crisis in Latin America. Gender & Development, 29(1), 11-33.
Mônica Ribeiro is a doctoral student at the Graduate Program in Sociology and Anthropology at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, researcher at the Núcleo de Estudos em Sexualidade e Gênero (NESEG). Mônica is Professor of Scientific Methodology at the Instituto de Ensino Superior Planalto – IESPLAN and Coordinator of the Scientific Journal of the Institution.
Recent publications: Ribeiro, M.T.S. (2021) Vozes Submersas: Políticas Públicas, desenvolvimento e resistência lá na Morada. Belo Horizonte: Editora Dialética.
Ribeiro, M. T. S; Collares, I. Z.; Calazans, D.R.N de S. et al (2021): The construction of the Três Marias dam and the absence of public policies for the arrival of the waters in the municipality of Morada Nova de Minas in Brazil. Edward Elgar Publishing:
By Olivia Walmsley, on 8 March 2022
Written by Olivia Walmsley and Virginie Le Masson
Yesterday, on the 7th of March, the IRDR Centre for Gender and Disaster celebrated its fourth anniversary, providing a multi-disciplinary space for connecting researchers, students, policy makers, NGOs and anyone who shares a desire to work collaboratively to answer difficult questions that relate to gender (in)equality. This year, the theme is #BreakTheBias.
A gender equal world is one free of bias, discrimination, and stereotypes; three issues that we choose to challenge in academia and in our research practice. With gender equality being the central pillar of the centre, our work, particularly through the GRRIPP project connects existing networks of scholars, policy makers, and practitioners to support the integration of gender and intersectionality in research and development approaches. GRRIPP supports 22 projects across Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC), and South Asia, that tackle gender inequality and bias head-on through a multitude of lenses such as documenting systems of care during the Covid-19 pandemic; bringing intersectionality in university curricula on Disaster Risk Reduction; or piloting women-based and low-carbon transport solutions in the context of climate change.
GRRIPP was recently host to an exploratory set of virtual events on the ‘Feminist City’. Featuring a diverse group of speakers from all geographical regions, debates focused on such questions as: “what is a feminist city?” and “what does feminism and the city mean in practice?” All five sessions are available for viewing here.
To find out more about these projects, head to the GRRIPP website and register to receive monthly newsletters which include project updates and information about the team and upcoming events.
The centre is involved in several projects that bring a gender perspective to different sectors:
- Health: Who Cares? Rebuilding Care in a Post-Pandemic World (funded by ESRC). We support a deeper understanding of the care economy after the Covid-19 pandemic revealed the disproportionately negative impacts on women, particularly women of colour, migrants, and refugees, both as essential care workers and as recipients of care.
- Disaster Risk Reduction: RiskPACC (funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020) to facilitate interaction between citizens and Civil Protection Authorities to jointly identify needs and develop solutions to build enhanced disaster resilience, based on new forms of digital, community-centred and gender-responsive data.
In addition to the exciting work happening through these various projects, our team has also been tackling gender bias through the collection of references as part of the Gender and Disaster Reference Guide Series. The bibliography series (now available as a database) compiles journal articles, blogs, reports etc. that cover themes in disaster-related research with a gender perspective. The next volume will prioritise references written in various languages, other than English, to diversify sources of knowledge and perspectives.
To find out more on the Centre’s research interests and current activities, please visit our webpages and do not hesitate to contact us to share interests and ideas for collaboration.
Twitter: @UCL_GD | @grripp
The Centre for Gender and Disaster based in the Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction at UCL, aims to develop awareness of, and responsiveness to, gender considerations in the contexts of risks, disasters and conflicts, through excellence in research and teaching.
By Joshua Anthony, on 23 February 2022
If you missed it, last summer UCL Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction (IRDR) and the Warning Research Centre hosted an online conference exploring Why Warnings Matter. A varied day’s activities full of stimulating discussion with questions from the audience, the IRDR’s 11th Annual Conference has left much to be reflected upon—as well as launching the UCL Warning Research Centre.
This blog is part three of a series presenting the key findings from the conference proceedings. Today we get a glimpse of Dr Oliver Morgan and Dr Gail Carson in conversation with Andrew Revkin, discussing global public health in the COVID-19 pandemic.
The rapporteurs whose notes form this material are Calum MacKay and Simone Phillips, who are both from the University of Glasgow on the MSc Earth Futures Programme. Any mistakes or misrepresentation of the participants’ words are the author’s own.
with Dr Oliver Morgan, WHO, Dr Gail Carson, GOARN,
and Andrew Revkin
Oliver Morgan is the Director of the Health Emergency Information and Risk Assessment Department in the WHO Health Emergencies Program.
Gail Carson is Director of Network Development at the International Severe Acute Respiratory and Emerging Infection Consortium.
Andrew Revkin, moderating this session, is an environmental journalist and is the founding director of the Initiative on Communication and Sustainability at Columbia University’s Earth Institute.
Key points of the session
The session started off with a question being posed to the presenters that asked what was keeping them up at night that was a threat or opportunity that was not being assessed properly. Their main fears were seeing high proportions of disease and death in children alongside the manifestation of under-resourced countries being last in dealing with major risks. The key example of this would be vaccine disparity. A pattern that is consistent across the globe with systems having bias to those who are more capable. Communities that are affected by infectious diseases and other events are often the poorest and most disadvantaged, so they therefore struggle to recover, the impact is long lasting and generational. With COVID-19 we are going to see this in a societal and educational context. Another main challenge is to keep up with a lot of the information that’s been being generated. So, the more we learn, the more interconnected we are, the more information there is about what’s happening in the world. However, in many ways we can get overloaded with that information, and it’s circulating in different media through different communications channels. From this we have to determine what information is of major concern and how to effectively deal with it.
There are so many competing priorities it’s incredibly hard to prioritise action. We need international networks to collaborate effectively so we can be effective at the ground level and listen to local people’s priorities, needs and frustrations to build trust and capacity to recover from events. When working at ground level it is also vital to have teams with people from multiple disciplinary backgrounds. This allows us to take into account all aspects of a community’s needs and generate successful collaboration and coordination.
To achieve this, we also must invest in infrastructure that facilitates transdisciplinary work. Pandemic responses are always difficult as they are typically controlled at a community level all of which are incredibly unique and variable. We must recognise and embrace the diversity of information and peoples’ different circumstances that is gathered from unique public health systems. By combining this information with the use of our social media channels we can shift public health away from an era of traditional surveillance to one that uses and embraces collaborative intelligence. This is where we take information from different parts of our society and different levels of science, to understand what the risks are, and to assess them. By having that engagement upfront, you have a much better way of interacting with your communities when you need to. The lack of community engagement was a huge issue in the UK in its response to COVID-19.
If we’re taking a much more expansive and holistic approach to understanding risk, then our workforce needs to change. We need to value different skill sets, whether they’re from the more community-based skill sets, sciences with a more community-based focus, or whether they’re data science skill sets. One of the grand challenges, therefore, that we now face in public health is that in the contemporary, larger, and interconnected world, we don’t have a contemporary workforce that successfully interacts with all of those different parts of our society. With COVID-19 we can learn some of these lessons, make those investments, and communicate with our governments about what those investments should be. We must think about younger people who are coming into their professional lives, and we need to have a much more broader approach to public health.
We have become sideloaded into specialties in our work. We need to have an interdisciplinary conversation. Collaboration is vital—working together and listening to each other. We need to be better organised to enhance communication and that organisation must be bottom up, middle, and top down. Citizen engagement is therefore key to all of this.
Questions and Answers
If you had an unlimited budget, what two things would you spend on to make things better?
The more open we are with communication and passing information, the more benefits there are. That’s what I would change. I think those benefits far outweigh any perceived disbenefits from open information and I think that it’s not a financial thing, it’s more of a change in our collective mindset that is actually for our collective benefit. Whether that’s in environmental space, or health space or any other space, in the longer term this is going to be much more beneficial for all of us. The global-good view on public health is something that we should really embrace coming out of the pandemic.
I would probably try and pull in the experience on IP [intellectual property] and data rights. Not just IP, but the associated data rights. It would help to make sure that those who are less fortunate than some of us in the West can have access to supplies and treatments. Whether it’s accessing therapeutics or vaccines etc. a lot quicker. Obviously, there are issues with the manufacturing capability and all the supply chain issues that have to go with that. But if I was to choose one thing it would be for the lower middle income countries securing IP and data rights.
Are you guys excited about the future of public health due to the increased interest from governments due to COVID-19 or do you think it’s a false dawn?
It is hugely exciting and very promising looking forward. There has been a huge increase in public health literacy. Citizen science is a vital positive step, that pushes all of us to engage in issues in a much better way.
Next up and the final blog of this series is the second panel discussion from the conference proceedings: Warnings for Organisations. Subscribe to be in the know!
Don’t forget, last time we presented the keynote speech from Mami Mizutori, the Assistant Secretary-General and Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction, United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR).
Watch the full conference on youtube here!
Conference Rapporteurs: Simone Phillips and Calum Mackay
Conference Convener: Dr. Carina Fearnley
Please email us for any further information at IRDRemail@example.com
Or check out our website: https://www.ucl.ac.uk/risk-disaster-reduction/
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By firstname.lastname@example.org, on 18 January 2022
Earthquake-induced direct and indirect losses tend to be high in highly populated earthquake-prone areas, especially in countries where most of the existing buildings and infrastructure are designed or built according to pre-seismic codes (if any). Therefore, there is a dire need to develop holistic strategies for mitigating and managing seismic risk. On the one hand, this involves risk understanding and quantification (e.g., risk/loss assessment methodologies). On the other hand, there is a crucial need to develop and implement strategies and techniques for repairing and retrofitting existing structures, which should be structurally effective, easy to apply, cost-effective, possibly reversible, and respectful of the architectural, heritage and cultural conservation requirements.
Both in the “diagnosis” and the “prognosis” phases, procedures to assess the structural performance under earthquake loads are paramount. Among many possibilities within the literature, choosing an appropriate assessment procedure depends on a simplicity vs accuracy trade-off governed by technical, economical, and time constraints. Moreover, various stakeholders have different needs on this matter: private owners likely need a detailed assessment focused on individual buildings or small portfolios, while government agencies or (re)insurance companies might look at large portfolios tolerating a lower refinement level and accepting higher uncertainties.
It is fundamental to select a procedure that can highlight the structural weaknesses of the considered structural system, so that it is possible to design retrofit solutions to specifically fix those. One procedure complying with this requirement, while being easy to apply, is SLaMA – Simple Lateral Mechanism Analysis.
Although SLaMA is normally applied using spreadsheets, it allows for defining the nonlinear force-displacement capacity and the sequence of local and global mechanisms of a building. It was introduced for the 1st time in the 2006 version of the New Zealand Society of Earthquake Engineering, NZSEE, Guidelines for the “Assessment and Improvement of the Performance of buildings in earthquakes” (NZSEE 2006), and revamped in the 2017 version (NZSEE 2017), after a substantial amount of research (Gentile 2017, Pampanin 2017; Del Vecchio et al. 2018; Gentile et al. 2019; Gentile et al. 2019a; 2019b; 2019c; Bianchi et al. 2019). SLaMA is essentially mandatory in New Zealand, since it is required as an essential step before any other seismic numerical analysis is carried out. Its scope, however, is geographically much larger: more than 15 world-class companies (in New Zealand, Italy, Netherlands, UK) are using this method.
“SLaMA Solver Frame” is a free Windows/MacOS app created to enable engineers applying SLaMA using a graphical user interface, and without the need to create ad hoc spreadsheets. This app refers to reinforced concrete frame buildings, which constitute a substantial portion of the building stock in many countries around the world.
As shown in the tutorial video below, SLaMA Solver Frame is completely standalone (i.e., it does not require any other software to be run). It provides a “type and check” environment, in which every time the user inputs a parameter, the app automatically updates specific plots, therefore allowing for continuous cross checks and minimising input error. For each beam and column, SLaMA solver Frame provides their expected failure mode (flexure, bar buckling, shear, lap splice). For each beam column joint sub-assembly within the frame, the app determines its hierarchy of strength, indicating the member-level mechanism that causes its failure. Finally, by composing the results of each sub-assembly, SLaMA solver Frame provides an estimation of the plastic mechanism and the non-linear force-displacement curve.
SLaMA Solver Frame can be downloaded for free (for Windows and MacOS) at https://www.robertogentile.org/en/slamaf/. If you find any bugs, or you have any suggestions/comments, please feel free to report them dropping an email to email@example.com.
Disclaimer for SLaMA Solver Frame
SLaMA Solver Frame is provided by Dr Roberto Gentile under the Creative Commons “Attribution-No Derivatives 4.0 International” License. The purpose of SLaMA solver Frame is to cross-check by hand or spreadsheet calculations. This software is supplied “AS IS” without any warranties and support. The Author assumes no responsibility or liability for the use of the software. The Author reserves the right to make changes in the software without notification. The Author also make no representation or warranty that such application will be suitable for the use selected by the user without further calculations and/or checks.
Roberto Gentile is a Lecturer in Crisis and Catastrophe Modelling at IRDR.
Bianchi, Ciurlanti, and Pampanin. (2019). A SLaMA-Based Analytical Procedure for the Cost/Performance-Based Evaluation of Buildings. In COMPDYN 2019 – 7th ECCOMAS Thematic Conference on Computational Methods in Structural Dynamics and Earthquake Engineering. Crete Island, Greece.
Del Vecchio, Gentile, Di Ludovico, Uva, and Pampanin. (2018). Implementation and Validation of the Simple Lateral Mechanism Analysis (SLaMA) for the Seismic Performance Assessment of a Damaged Case Study Building [Open Access]. Journal of Earthquake Engineering 24 (11): 1771–1802. https://doi.org/10.1080/13632469.2018.1483278.
Gentile (2017). Extension, refinement and validation of the Simple Lateral Mechanism Analysis (SLaMA) for the seismic assessment of RC structures. PhD thesis. Polytechnic university of Bari, Italy.
Gentile, Pampanin, Raffaele, and Uva. (2019). Analytical Seismic Assessment of RC Dual Wall/Frame Systems Using SLaMA: Proposal and Validation [Open Access]. Engineering Structures 188: 493–505. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.engstruct.2019.03.029.
Gentile, Pampanin, Raffaele, and Uva. (2019). Non-Linear Analysis of RC Masonry-Infilled Frames Using the SLaMA Method: Part 1—Mechanical Interpretation of the Infill/Frame Interaction and Formulation of the Procedure [Open Access]. Bulletin of Earthquake Engineering 17 (6): 3283–3304. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10518-019-00580-w.
Gentile, Pampanin, Raffaele, and Uva. (2019). Non-Linear Analysis of RC Masonry-Infilled Frames Using the SLaMA Method: Part 2—Parametric Analysis and Validation of the Procedure [Open Access]. Bulletin of Earthquake Engineering 17 (6): 3305–26. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10518-019-00584-6.
Gentile, Del Vecchio, Pampanin, Raffaele, and Uva. (2019). Refinement and Validation of the Simple Lateral Mechanism Analysis (SLaMA) Procedure for RC Frames [Open Access]. Journal of Earthquake Engineering. https://doi.org/10.1080/13632469.2018.1560377.
New Zealand Society for Earthquake Engineering (NZSEE). (2006). Assessment and improvement of the structural performance of buildings in earthquakes. Wellington, New Zealand.
New Zealand Society for Earthquake Engineering (NZSEE). (2017). The Seismic Assessment of Existing Buildings – Technical Guidelines for Engineering Assessments. Wellington, New Zealand.
Pampanin. (2017). Towards the Practical Implementation of Performance-Based Assessment and Retrofit Strategies for RC Buildings: Challenges and Solutions. In SMAR2017- Fourth Conference on Smart Monitoring, Assessment and Rehabilitation of Structures. 13-15 March 2017. Zurich, Switzerland.
By David Alexander, on 10 January 2022
There are two things we don’t teach our students but we should: to see and to listen. They are virtues–and skills–that are at least as important as writing and speaking. Some would argue that they are even more important. Pierre Bonnard, the great post-Impressionist painter, said that “many people look, but few see”. How very true! It is one thing to receive a visual impression and quite another to interpret it.
For those of us who are in London, a good exercise is to catch the no. 9 bus at Aldwych, go upstairs (it is a double-decker) and travel at least as far as Knightsbridge, if not all the way to Hammersmith. Try it and look up: on the buildings of London there is a wealth of detail that is hard, and sometimes impossible, to see from ground level. There is an astonishing variety of statuary and ornamentation. It is part of the language of architecture through the ages, and its vocabulary is very rich indeed.
It is estimated that, thanks to electronic media, we come into contact with up to 70,000 images a day. Most of them are seen only fleetingly and few of them convey their full message to us. These days it is impossible not to be blasé about imagery. Contrast that with the situation in past ages, when people would travel long distances to view and marvel over a single image. In Florence in 1504, when Michelangelo Buonarroti finished his statue of David, he had it hauled into Piazza della Signoria and left in front of the city hall, Palazzo Vecchio. People came from far and wide to attach the Renaissance equivalent of ‘Post-It’ notes to the pedestal to express what they thought of the work (Forcellino 2009, p. 60). Despite the immense outpouring of creativity in Florence in that period, people were not satiated with images. They had time to weigh up and discuss each one.
Spending many hours each day staring at a small screen we run the risk of suffering from visual illiteracy. Under the constant bombardment of imagery, attention spans easily diminish. More does not mean better. Who now has time to acquire the skills to interpret images? Who now reads, for example, On Growth and Form, or The Story of Art, or The Four Books of Architecture?
To hear a recording of Artur Rubinstein (1887-1982) playing Robert Schumann’s Carnaval is to experience the perfect balance between precision and expression, for Rubinstein was one of the greatest pianists ever. It needs intense self-discipline to acquire that experience: absolute freedom from distraction, even breathing, stillness, perfectly maintained attentiveness. Only then does Rubinstein’s magic work its full wonders. None of these qualities is encouraged by electronic media; indeed, quite the reverse.
We who work or study in universities have one great mission: to interpret the human condition and communicate our findings. This is the acquisition of wisdom, which the OED defines, succinctly, as “soundness of judgement”. Hence, by definition wisdom is the opposite of superficiality. It follows that the quality of the output–shared wisdom–is a function of the quality of the input, the experience and interpretation of knowledge. Fuelling this are the impressions we receive as we live our lives, study and work.
Such is the cacophony of modern life that it may well be true that there is greater virtue in listening than in speaking. It is never too late to learn to see and hear, to interpret space, form, sound and nuance. Nonetheless, we go to conferences to speak, not to listen. We tap away at the keyboard to write, not to read. This is perhaps not surprising given that the amount of material available to us to absorb is simply overwhelming. The Information Technology Age is of course still very young and it remains to be seen how humanity will cope with it and reach some kind of reconciliation. But as we make our uneasy progress through the ICT revolution, it is time to return to the old skills and develop our ability to understand the many languages of the visual and audible world around us.
Forcellino, Antonio 2009. Michelangelo: A Tormented Life. Polity Press, Cambridge UK, 344 pp.
Gombrich, Sir Ernst Hans Josef 1950. The Story of Art. Phaidon Press, London, 688 pp.
Palladio, Andrea 2000. The Four Books of Architecture (I quattro libri dell’architettura, 1570). Dover Press, New York, 110 pp.
Thompson, D’Arcy Wentworth 1942. On Growth and Form (2nd edition). Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1116 pp.
Rubinstein, Artur, 2016. Schumann: Carnaval, Op. 9 & Fantasiestücke, Op. 12. RCA, New York (CD).
David Alexander is Professor of Risk and Disaster Reduction at IRDR.
By David Alexander, on 23 December 2021
In 1980, as Christmas approached in the Southern Apennines, the temperature fell and it began to snow. December 23rd dawned with a leaden grey sky and frost everywhere. I was getting used to being evacuated and nominally homeless. The magnitude 6.8 earthquake that had occurred exactly one month earlier had taken the roof off the house in which I had been living. I had moved in with a family on the sixth floor of an apartment block. It was not a happy place to be when aftershocks came along and the whole building swayed back and forth.
I decided to go and see for myself what the situation was in upper Basilicata region. I drove along deserted roads and then up into the highlands towards San Fele, a town in splendid isolation at the end of 20km of typically winding mountain roads. Liquefaction and seismically-induced landslides had bent the highway into some very odd contortions, but it was just about passable.
At a certain point, far from the nearest town, an extraordinary sight met my eyes. There in front of me was a farmhouse. It had been a traditional stone building, rather than a modern ferro-concrete one, but the earthquake had reduced it to large pile of rubble. As the courtyard outside the building was full of people and animals, it appeared that those who lived there had survived. In the corner there was an olive-green tent supplied by the army. In the middle there was an enormous bonfire that seemed to consist of the furniture that had been salvaged from the house. The fire was crackling away and flames were roaring up into the sky, while flakes of snow gently fell on the scene. In a circle around the fire there were the farmer, his wife, his children, an elderly couple, cats, dogs, geese, chickens, cows, sheep and goats. They were all staring moodily into the flames, desperate for some warmth.
Disaster specialists tend to photograph everything they see when they are out in the field, but this time I had not got the heart to point my camera at this extraordinary tableau.
San Fele and the other towns–Bella, Muro Lucano, Balvano, Ruvo del Monte–were silent and deserted. Their streets were full of a mixture of rubble, wooden buttressing and elaborate meshes of steel scaffolding. As the weather was worsening and night was beginning to fall, I beat a hasty retreat for fear of being trapped by snow and ice on the roads.
It was a hard winter and a sombre Christmas for the 280,000 people who had lost their homes in the earthquake. Snow and ice were followed as soon as the temperature rose by rain and mud. But there were some inspiring moments. Night-time journeys on the train that wound its way along the deep crevice of the Basento Valley revealed some extraordinary sights. One that I particularly remember was a field of olive trees. The field was white with a thick covering of snow and the trees glinted and sparkled as the moonlight reflected off the frost that covered them and icicles that hung from their branches. It was nevertheless a relief when Spring brought kinder weather to the survivors’ camps.
David Alexander is Professor of Risk and Disaster Reduction at IRDR.
By Joshua Anthony, on 14 December 2021
Scenario building is a useful exercise for exploring the avenues down which an emergency may proceed and therefore can help form the responses to it (Alexander, 2015). Therefore, this study employs standard scenario building methodology to explore potential risks associated with a not-so-Merry Crisis. A range of potential scenarios and shocks are presented as an exercise to explore options for reducing the risk of a Christmas disaster.
Auntie Karen has forgotten to defrost the turkey. This is the third year in a row this has happened, and family tensions are already at a breaking point. Under Grandma Esther’s orders, everyone has skipped breakfast in order to make room for the sizeable Christmas lunch that was promised. Uncle Albert, on an empty stomach, has cracked open the emergency alcohol cupboard and is swilling his whiskey dangerously close to the overloaded plug socket which is powering seven different trails of flashing Christmas lights. The digital speaker has malfunctioned and has been able to blast only Michael Bublé’s No.1 Christmas album on repeat for the past three hours. Despite growing protests from the next-door neighbours, Grandma Esther refuses to unplug the Bublé. The children are screaming and shouting, demanding that the game of Monopoly from Christmas Eve resumes immediately. Milo, the golden Labrador has become overexcited by the commotion and has mistaken the Christmas tree as his favourite outdoor territory.
Objective of Scenario: Save Christmas
Event trigger: Auntie Karen has forgotten to defrost the turkey.
Location: Grandma Esther’s galley kitchen.
Timing: 12pm, 25th December 2021.
Stakeholders: family members, next-door neighbours, an overexcited Labrador, the Christmas spirit.
Hazards: Food poisoning, unspoken family tensions, flammable Christmas tree, an overexcited Labrador.
Impacts: hungry family members; irritated neighbours, a whiskey-glazed Uncle; increased tensions at obligatory Christmas boardgame.
Cascading Events: The Queen’s speech is on at 3pm, which Grandma Esther refuses to miss, stepping out from her watch of the Christmas turkey, which has finally made it into the oven.
Having experienced a merry crisis like this before, you immediately pull out your emergency plan. An emergency plan is “the instrument by which urgent needs are matched with the resources available to satisfy them” (Alexander, 2013). In this document lies the instructions for saving Christmas. The first step of an emergency plan is research.
A study of last year’s Christmas shows that the early provisions of Buck’s fizz had allowed Uncle Albert to slip more champagne to himself under the guise of a sobering fruit juice, thus exacerbating the risk of a Christmas tree-related fire hazard. The plan states that early mitigation of ethanol consumption can significantly reduce this risk. Three options are available:
- Discreetly replace the champagne with an identical-looking low-alcohol alternative
- Supply early, preventative provisions of an alcohol-absorbent panettone (a gift from the neighbours)
- Lock Uncle Albert in the utility cupboard until he acknowledges his problem
In an attempt to utilise resources as efficiently as possible, you choose option b., recognising that the soft, sweet Italian bread can act doubly as a mitigation measure for reducing the angry hunger pangs of family members who are becoming increasingly impatient with the delayed Christmas lunch. While Grandma Esther fumbles with the buttons on the CD player, trying to increase the volume of Michael Bublé Christmas Classics and cranking open the neighbour-facing kitchen window, you slip out a large plate of panettone and place it on the low coffee table in the centre of the living room.
Cascading effect: a secondary event occurs
Not able to distinguish the difference between dog and human food, Milo, the golden Labrador, has scoffed the entire plate of panettone and is now running rampant around the room. In a textbook display of the zoomies, Milo knocks into the Christmas tree and sends it toppling over into the bowl of Uncle Albert’s “Special Christmas” punch. The subsequent short circuiting of Christmas lights plunges the house into darkness as the electricity board trips. A candle-sized flame and a curl of smoke emerge from where the tree once shone. “FIRE!” screams Auntie Karen. “Is that the panettone?” asks Grandma Esther.
It seems worse is coming to worst; a failing in planning and preparedness has led to a vulnerability in Grandma Esther’s electrical infrastructure. In other words, Uncle Albert has not renewed the wiring in the fuse box as was detailed in the emergency plan, and now a separate, independent disaster is unfolding. You have read about this phenomenon: a cascading disaster. Pescaroli and Alexander (2015) state that “cascading effects are the dynamics present in disasters, in which the impact of a physical event or the development of an initial technological or human failure generates a sequence of events in human subsystems that result in physical, social or economic disruption”. You consult the emergency plan; however, under fire-inducing dangerous substances, Special Christmas punch is not listed. As with all crises, unexpected turns of events are likely to occur; not every eventuality can be planned for and thus a degree of improvisation is necessary. You assess the available options:
- Find a wet towel to cover the fire
- Attempt to extinguish the fire with the flagon of beer in Uncle Albert’s hand
- Let the tree burn out, along with your Christmas spirit
As option c. is the easiest and most desirable, you begin your exit. However, before you can locate the door in the darkness, an impassioned Grandma Esther busts back into the room with a piping bag full of baking soda and, with the ferocity of a pump-action shotgun, fires it at the flames. A lifelong cultural heritage of baking has given Grandma Esther the learned disaster risk reduction knowledge that, when heated, baking soda releases carbon dioxide, thus suffocating the fire. Improvisational baking methods are employed: a secondary crisis is averted.
Disasters have a tendency to expose existing vulnerabilities within a society or community—vulnerabilities which should be resolved ideally prior to an emergency, or at worst during the recovery phase, when damage is assessed, repairs are made, and conditions are ideally returned to a state better than before the disaster.
Finally, electricity is restored. Auntie Karen is beside herself because the turkey, which was warming in the oven all the while through the commotion, has burnt to a stygian black. This is what is known as a black turkey event: an unexpected and unpredictable event that can have severe consequences. The turkey is unusable, the vegetables are raw, it is now 3pm; on the television, Queen Elizabeth II has begun Her Majesty’s Most Gracious Speech. The initial damage has been done; we are now firmly within the recovery phase.
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) define disasters as “serious disruption to the functioning of a community that exceed its capacity to cope using its own resources”. Noting that your family has rarely ever been able to manage situations using their own resources, you decide to request emergency outside-support from your neighbours. Despite a history of political tensions between the two households, the neighbours in a gesture of mutual aid agree to provide an emergency supply of vegetables and cook-from-frozen meats.
However, as the kindly Mr Robinson follows you across the lawn with one of the supply trays, Uncle Albert leans out of the window and begins launching a barrage of spoon-catapulted goose fat at Mr Robinson. Under fire, he slips on the snow and an entire tray of frozen sausages (bacon-wrapped) cascades down upon him. The efforts of mutual aid are brought to a halt as Mr Robinson backs out of the trade agreement. Dejectedly, you trudge back inside.
This exercise explored a range of scenarios that could be used to plan and reduce the risk of a Not-So-Merry Crisis. Poor preparedness and a failure to learn from last year’s mistakes were shown to increase this risk. A potential picture of the outcomes associated with these risks can thus be drawn:
The children are feeding pieces of Monopoly to the dog, Auntie Karen is applying bronze concealer to the turkey and taking misleading photographs; while Uncle Albert cackles and slings goose fat at the Queen’s face, Grandma has found his secret whisky and is screaming Hark the Herald Angels Sing.
However, when considering the outfall of the risk outcomes elucidated by this study, the researchers feel a responsibility to raise the question of whether this constitutes a real disaster. Isn’t this just Christmas? Nevertheless, some results are consistent with the literature i.e., don’t mess with Uncle Albert when he’s been drinking.
External Validity of this Scenario
The researchers acknowledge that the findings from this exploratory exercise may apply to working-to-middle-class misfit English families and conclusions in other settings must be met with caution.
Alexander, D. (2016). How to Write an Emergency Plan – 2.2 Civil Contingencies and Resilience. Dunedin Academic Press.
Gibeault, S. (2019). Zoomies: Why Your Dog Gets Hyper & Runs in Circles. From URL: https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/lifestyle/what-are-zoomies/ [accessed 13/12/21].
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC). What is a Disaster? URL: https://www.ifrc.org/what-disaster [accessed 13/12/21].
Pescaroli, Gianluca, and David Alexander. A definition of cascading disasters and cascading effects: Going beyond the “toppling dominos” metaphor. Planet@ risk 3.1 (2015): 58-67.
Joshua Anthony is a PhD student and Blog Editor at the Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction (IRDR).