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UCL IRDR 11th Annual Conference: Why Warnings Matter, and the UCL Warning Research Centre Launch, Part One

By Joshua Anthony, on 3 November 2021

Following a challenging year of managing natural hazards, including COVID-19, this one-day online event provided thought-provoking talks, interactive discussions and online networking opportunities on why warnings matter. In addition, the UCL Warning Research Centre as part of the Department of Science and Technology Studies was launched. The event explored the role, design, use, and evaluation of warnings for different hazards from different stakeholder perspectives to examine how effective people-centered warning systems can be developed and help to be prepared for both the expected and unexpected. The event was hosted by the Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction and the Warning Research Centre.

On the 23rd of June, the UCL Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction welcomed researchers, students, practitioners, policymakers, the media and the general public to a day of thought-provoking discussions on why warnings matter, and how we can do better at warnings both prior and during crises for all hazard types. Our in-house and guest experts presented a global perspective on the latest research and analysis through talks, interactive discussions and in conversation. We explored multi-dimensional aspects of warnings, considering their physical, social, economic, environmental, institutional, political, cultural and gendered dimensions, and the challenges involved in making warnings successful to mitigate against losses.

This blog is part one of a series presenting the key findings from the conference proceedings. 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.


Part One.

Panel Discussion 1: Warning Systems ‒ Exceptional versus expected events


 

The presenters for this session were Dr. Mickey Glantz, University of Colorado, Dr. Daniel Straub, Technical University of Munich, and Rebekah Yore, UCL. The session was moderated by Dr. Joanna Faure Walker, UCL.

Summaries of each presenters’ arguments are as follows:

Mickey Glantz

Not everyone considers a warning a warning. There are 5 key factors to warning hesitancy: complacency, convenience, confidence, low levels of trust, calculation of individual engagement. We don’t research the risks, collective responsibility is lacking as people focus on themselves. Emotional responses are common, not rational. There are also two types of people in hazard scenarios: risk averse people and risk takers.

Early warning systems are a chain. To make them more effective the lead time needs more attention. We need to create more lead time in order to get the warning to people earlier and through the system quicker.

Forecast hesitancy also plays a key role in effective early warning systems. We discount previous disasters we don’t learn from them, therefore we reinstate old vulnerabilities.

Readiness is also missing, society doesn’t have resources for long term preparedness.

Daniel Straub

Calculating the effectiveness of warning systems. If people think it’s a false alarm they won’t comply. This then creates a child who cries wolf scenario for future hazard warnings. We must find the right balance between detection rate and false alarm rate.

It is challenging and near impossible to quantify effectiveness but can still help the study of warning systems.

Rebekah Yore

It is important to identify the vulnerable population when deploying early warning systems. Failure in one element of the warning system can cause failure for the entire system.

Her research focuses on 3 case studies, all islands that are used to hazards: Japan 2011- Tsunami, Philippines 2013- typhoon and Dominica 2017- Hurricane. In all case studies not one warning system reached everyone, therefore these places need multiple types of warning. Some of the issues with the current warning systems were that interestingly modern smartphone warnings did not reach people. There was also mixed messaging from different agencies and government sources leading to room for interpretation from locals. Furthermore, issues such as poverty were not taken into account.

Finally, it must be noted that Individual and group risk perceptions are always changing and are dynamic.

This discussion was then followed by an address to questions from the audience, which are summarised thus:

How do we deal with both false alarms but also misinformation particularly in the context of social media or governments giving misinformation? How can we include groups who are not familiar with local warning systems like tourists or newcomers?

Mickey Glantz

Tourists have never seen a false alarm so unlikely to be affected in the same way in a real event by locals who have faced false alarms. Use of drills is helpful because one of the issues that comes up in the social sciences is that we all recognise that warnings need to be built into our everyday lives. We need to practice them as a way of living rather than just facing them when a hazard approaches. What has become practice then takes over and people are able to respond really quite calmly and really quite cohesively as Mickey thinks drills are a really good mechanism for embedding some key practices that help to familiarise through everyday life with some lifesaving rules.

What can we do to protect assets and livelihoods in the context of warnings?

Rebekah Yore

It is something that requires more research. Preparation mechanisms such as micro insurance for example are very important. So it may be that a mechanism that allows people to put things out and places structures in place before it occurs can help to protect some of those assets and livelihoods. Whether this means the ability to be able to pack things up and leave a location, or ability to be able to move, or an ability to be able to put certain protective measures in place. Maybe not save everything but save something or save enough.

Mickey Glantz

We don’t understand probabilities. We don’t understand nature. Many people don’t really understand the risks in their area. These perceptions become reality, if our perceptions are wrong the actions we take based on them have real consequences. So we tend to look at disasters as in many cases one and done.  But that’s not reality.

In one sentence what change do you think needs to occur to help with warning for exceptional events in an environment that does have expected events?

Daniel Straub

Understanding things through quantification is also to make use of all the data that we can now collect. The social sciences have a better understanding and also have models of factors that make a difference, and it would be useful for social science to do more with quantification in their research.

Rebekah Yore

Addressing structural inequality and addressing why people are disadvantaged and why other people aren’t. I think let’s just put our money where our mouth is; preparation is key.

Mickey Glantz

We have to put more emphasis on readiness and preparedness. People can get ready more easily than they can get prepared because they don’t have the resources. So, warnings are very important to them, I feel we have to push readiness as tactical responses to warnings and threats, as well as long term preparedness which seems to fall to governments and larger organisations. Readiness is for me and preparedness is for the community to deal with.

Next up in this blog series will be notes on “Warnings and the launch of the Warning Research Centre”, keynote speech from Assistant Secretary-General and Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction in the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, Mami Mizutori.


Watch the full conference on youtube here!

Conference URL:

https://www.ucl.ac.uk/risk-disaster-reduction/events/2021/jun/ucl-irdr-11th-annual-conference-why-warnings-matter-and-ucl-warning-research-centre

Conference Rapporteurs: Simone Phillips and Calum Mackay

Conference Convener: Dr. Carina Fearnley


Please email us for any further information at IRDR-comms@ucl.ac.uk

Or check out our website: https://www.ucl.ac.uk/risk-disaster-reduction/

Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction (IRDR), University College London (UCL)

Gower Street, London WC1E 6BT, United Kingdom (UK)

The Martian Residual Crustal Magnetic Fields: A Mitigation Measure Against Space Radiation to Astronauts?

By Joshua Anthony, on 22 October 2021

Author: Shiba Rabiee, recent postgraduate student from IRDR, UCL. Shiba.rabiee.20@ucl.ac.uk | Linked In


Mars is approximately half of the size of Earth and is the fourth planet from the Sun. Due to its many similarities with Earth, Mars is argued to be the second most habitable planet in our solar system. The definitive goal has, therefore, always been a human exploration mission on Mars. After decades of research and space agencies working towards this goal, the founder of SpaceX, Elon Musk, announced in an interview that by 2026 they would be able to send astronauts to Mars in cooperation with NASA [1].

However, in deep space astronauts are exposed to dangerous levels of space radiation (i.e. Galactic Cosmic Radiation and Solar Energetic Particles), and Mars is no exception despite its similarities with Earth. In contrast to Earth’s dense atmosphere enabled by its global dipole magnetic field, Mars has residual crustal magnetic fields that cause a very thin atmosphere (~1% of Earth’s) [see Illustration 1] [2, 3]. This creates a highly radioactive and complex environment on Mars that has detrimental, and ultimately lethal, effects for astronaut’s health [3-5].

(Illustration 1. Source: Shiba Rabiee [panel a., created in Microsoft Word]; Kevin M. Gill [panel b., with modifications by Shiba Rabiee]. Cartoon illustrating the global dipole magnetic field of Earth (panel a.) and the residual crustal magnetic fields of Mars (panel b.)).

Throughout the years of sending astronauts into Low Earth Orbit (160-1000 km altitude above Earth), medical doctors and psychiatrists working with astronauts have noticed a decrease in their holistic health when operating a space mission [6, 7]. Space agencies have, therefore, several times encouraged engineers to develop mitigation measures for high radiation exposure but without much success. Shielding measures are essential, yet many issues arise with the creation of shielding such as high financial expense, how to transport the shielding to Mars, and how the material(s) will act in the Martian environment. Space radiation is, therefore, generally acknowledged as a potential barrier for human exploration missions both during Cruise-Phase and whilst on a planet or moon [8].

As space agencies try to create innovative solutions for spacecrafts and crewmembers during Cruise-Phase for a Mars mission, bigger challenges await when arriving on the red planet. A mission to Mars would require astronauts to stay on the planet for several weeks due to the distance between Mars and Earth. In combination with the Martian environment, long-duration space exploration poses several risks and increases the vulnerability to multiple hazards amongst both crewmembers and spacecrafts. Thus, in order to ethically send astronauts to Mars, the radiation problem has to be solved. Research to investigate the mitigation of radiation exposure and associated risks is important to protect good health.

The complexity of creating and transporting affordable mitigation measures has left space agencies with the question of whether to use resources from the Martian environment. A promising mitigation measure currently being discussed is the use of the Martian regolith as a shielding measure by creating a habitat of tunnels beneath the surface of Mars. Yet, this will not provide shielding for astronauts undergoing an extravehicular mission (spacewalk). A human exploration mission will, however, demand exploration of the Martian environment outside the habitat. The need for further investigation and the development of additional mitigation measures, therefore, remains.

The objective of my thesis was to investigate the use of the residual crustal magnetic fields of Mars as a mitigation measure against space radiation exposure during e.g., extravehicular missions. Research on the magnetic fields have been previously conducted [8-16], wherefrom the general argument is that the Martian atmosphere and the magnetic fields provide an equal amount of shielding against space radiation [8] [16]. Yet, these were founded on hypotheses as the Martian atmosphere was not considered during the simulation models [8]. Thus, it was unknown whether the atmosphere could, in fact, provide corresponding shielding measures.

The Martian atmosphere has roughly two orders of magnitude smaller column density than that of Earths and comprises ~95.1% carbon dioxide [16-19]. This, in combination with continuing atmospheric escape, causes the Martian atmosphere to provide almost no shielding against space radiation. Depending on the solar cycle and the chosen location, the estimations conducted for the thesis does, however, imply a potential prolonged extravehicular mission of e.g., ~34 sec/day to ~74 min/day within a field strength of 14 nT [see magnetic fields strength map for the range of field strengths measured at 400 km altitude]. These estimates will increase with increasing field strengths, thus, indicating that the residual crustal magnetic fields can be used as a mitigation measure. Moreover, the estimates imply a significant difference between shielding provided by the atmosphere and the residual crustal magnetic fields.

(Illustration 2. Source: Shiba Rabiee. Data source: Planetary Geologic Mapping Program; The Planetary Data System; the ArcGIS ESRI geodatabase. Map presenting the residual crustal magnetic field strengths measured by Mars Global Surveyor at 400 km altitude).

This conclusion is founded on methods and various assumptions. To confirm the results presented, further investigation of the residual crustal magnetic fields needs to be completed. Suggestions for potential future missions and research has, therefore, additionally been presented and discussed in the thesis.

Mars has been argued to have looked very similar to Earth ~3.8 billion years ago [see Illustration 3] [20]. Further investigations of the residual crustal magnetic fields of Mars will not only enable an understanding of its potential to act as a shielding measure, but similarly to Mars, atmospheric escape can also be found on Earth. Yet, despite long investigations of Earth’s atmospheric escape many questions remain unanswered. A comprehensive investigation of the residual crustal magnetic fields and its relation to the Martian environment could, therefore, inform about the core of Mars and the planets atmospheric escape, consequently enabling an understanding of the atmospheric leakage on Earth. Research in this area may provide essential information of what could be the future of Earth.

(Illustration 3. Source: Kevin M. Gill [modifications by Shiba Rabiee]. Depiction of the evolution of Mars from ~3.8 billion years ago (left) to the Martian environment today (right)).


Shiba Rabiee is a recent postgraduate student from IRDR, UCL. Email at Shiba.rabiee.20@ucl.ac.uk| Linked In


References

[1] Wall, Mike (2020): SpaceX’s 1st crewed Mars mission could launch as early as 2024, Elon Musk says. SPACE.com. https://www.space.com/spacex-launch-astronauts-mars-2024 [Accessed 17.02.2021].

[2] Matthiä, Daniel; Hassler, Donald M.; Wouter de Wet; Ehresmann, Bent; Firan, Ana; Flores-McLaughlin, John; Guo, Jingnan; Heilbronn, Lawrence H.; Lee, Kerry; Ratliff, Hunter; Rios, Ryan R.; Slaba, Tony C.; Smith, Micheal; Stoffle, Nicholas N.; Townsend, Lawrence W.; Berger, Thomas; Reitz, Günther; Wimmer-Schweingruber, Robert F.; Zeitlin, Cary (2017): The radiation environment on the surface of Mars – Summary of model calculations and comparison to RAD data. Life Science in Space Research, Volume 14. pp. 18-19.

[3] Hassler, Donald M.; Zeitlin, Cary; Wimmer-Schweingruber, Robert F.; Ehresmann, Bent; Rafkin, Scot; Eigenbrode, Jennifer L.; Brinza, David E.; Weigle, Gerald; Böttcher, Stephan; Böhm, Eckart; Burmeister, Soenke; Guo, Jingnan; Köhler, Jan; Martin, Cesar; Reitz, Guenther; Cucinotta, Francis A.; Kim, Myung-Hee; Grinspoon, David; Bullock, Mark A.; Posner, Arik; Gómez-Elvira, Javier; Vasavada, Ashwin; Grotzinger , John P.; MSL Science Team (2014): Mars’ Surface Radiation Environment Measured with the Mars Science Laboratory’s Curiosity Rover. Science. Volume 343, Issue 6169, 1244797. pp. 1-6.

[4] National Aeronautics and Space Administration [NASA] (2020): What is space radiation?. NASA. https://srag.jsc.nasa.gov/spaceradiation/what/what.cfm [Accessed 08.08.2021].

[5] National Aeronautics and Space Administration [NASA] (2019): NASA’s MMS Finds Its 1st Interplanetary Shock. NASA. https://www.nasa.gov/feature/goddard/2019/nasa-s-mms-finds-first-interplanetary-shock  [Accessed 08.08.2021].

[7] Kennedy, Ann R. (2014): Biological effects of space radiation and development of effective countermeasures. Life Sciences in Space Research. Volume 1. DOI: 10.1016/j.lssr.2014.02.004. pp. 10-43.

[8] Durante, Marco (2014): Space radiation protection: Destination Mars. Life Sciences in Space Research. Volume 1. DOI: 10.1016/j.lssr.2014.01.002. pp. 2-9.

[9] Acuña, M.H.; Connerney, J.E.P.; Wasilewski, P.; Lin, R.P.; Anderson, K.A.; Carlson, C.W.; McFadden, J.; Curtis, D.W.; Mitchell, D.; Reme, H.; Mazelle, C.; Sauvaud, J.A.; d’Uston, C.; Cros, A.; Medale, J.L.; Bauer, S.J.; Cloutier, P.; Mayhew, M.; Winterhalter, D.; Ness, N.F. (1998): Magnetic Field and Plasma Observations at Mars: Initial Results of the Mars Global Surveyor Mission. Science. Volume 279, Issue 5357. DOI: 10.1126/science.279.5357.1676. pp. 1676-1680.

[10] Acuña, M. H.; Connerney, J.E.P.; Ness, N.F.; Réme, H.; Mazelle, C.; Vignes, D.; Lin, R.P.; Mitchell, D.L.; Cloutier, P.A. (1999): Global distribution of crustal magnetization discovered by the Mars Global Surveyor MAG/ER experiment.Science. Volume 284, Issue 5415. DOI: 10.1126/science.284.5415.790. pp. 790–793.

[11] Hiesinger, Harald; Head III, James W. (2002): Topography and morphology of the Argyre Basin, Mars: implications for its geologic and hydrologic history. Planetary and Space Science. Vol. 50, issues 10-11. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0032063302000545. pp. 939-981.

[12] Mitchell, D.L.; Lillis, R.J.; Lin, R.P.; Connerney, J.E.P.; Acuña, M.H. (2007): A global map of Mars’ crustal magnetic field based on electron reflectometry. Journal of Geophysical Research 2007. Vol. 112, EO1002. Doi: 10.1029/2005JE002564. pp. 1-9.

[13] Dartnell, L.R.; Desorgher, L.; Ward, J.M.; Coates, A.J. (2007): Martian sub-surface ionizing radiation: biosignatures and geology. Biogeosciences. Volume 4, Issue 4. DOI: https://doi.org/10.5194/bg-4-545-2007. pp. 545-558.

[14] Lesur, V., Hamoudi, M., Choi, Y., Dyment, J., & Thébault, E. (2016). Building the second version of the World Digital Magnetic Anomaly Map (WDMAM). Earth Planets Space, 68, 27. https://doi.org/10.1186/s40623-016-0404-6. pp. 1-13.

[15] Langlais, Benoit; Thébault, Erwan; Houliez, Aymeic; Purucker, Micheal E.; Lillis, Robert J. (2019): A New Model of the Crustal Magnetic Field of Mars Using MGS and MAVEN. Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets. Volume 124. DOI: https://doi. org/10.1029/2018JE005854. pp. 1542-1569.

[16] Carr, M.H. (1996): Water on Mars. Oxford University Press. Environmental Science, Physics Bulletin. Volume 38. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1088/0031-9112%2F38%2F10%2F017. pp. 374-375.

[17] Jakosky, B.M.; Slipski, M.; Benna, M.; Mahaffy, P.; Elrod, M.; Yelle, R.; Stone, S.; Alsaeed, N. (2017): Mars’ atmospheric history derived from upper-atmosphere measurements of 38Ar/36Ar. Science. Volume 355, Issue 6332. DOI: 10.1126/science.aai7721. pp. 1408-1410.

[18] Nier, A.O.; Hanson, W.B.; Seiff, A.; McElroy, M.B.; Spencer, N.W.; Duckett, R.J.; Knight, T.C.D.; Cook, W.S. (1976): Composition and Structure of the Martian Atmosphere: Preliminary Results from Viking 1. Science. Volume 193, Issue 4255. DOI: 10.1126/science.193.4255.786. pp. 786-788.

[19] Nier, A.O.; McElroy, M.B. (1977): Composition and Structure of Mars’ Upper Atmosphere: Results From the Neutral Mass Spectrometers on Viking 1 and 2. AGU. Journal of Geophysical Research. Volume 82, Issue 28. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1029/JS082i028p04341. pp. 4341-4349.

[20] National Aeronautics and Space Administration [NASA] (2017): The Look of a Young Mars. NASA.https://www.nasa.gov/content/goddard/the-look-of-a-young-mars-3 [Accessed 25.08.2021].

Illustrations and Map

Gill, Kevin M. [modified by Shiba Rabiee] (2015): Mars. Flickr. https://www.flickr.com/photos/53460575@N03/16716283421 [Accessed 13.10.2021].

ArcGIS: ESRI geodatabase – ESTRI_ASTRO. https://www.arcgis.com/home/user.html?user=esri_astro [Accessed: 10.05.2021].

NASA: Planetary Data System. https://pds-ppi.igpp.ucla.edu/search/?t=Mars&facet=TARGET_NAME [Accessed: 27.05.2021].

USGS; NASA: The Planetary Geologic Mapping Program. https://planetarymapping.wr.usgs.gov [Accessed: 04.05.2021].

Gill, Kevin M. [modified by Shiba Rabiee] (2015): Evolution of Mars. Flickr. https://www.flickr.com/photos/53460575@N03/17234143751 [Accessed 14.10.2021].

Are Rohingyas protected in countries that did not sign the 1951 refugee convention?

By Bayes Ahmed, on 5 October 2021

Rohingyas are a predominantly Muslim minority from the Rakhine State (former Arakan) of Myanmar (former Burma). Since they are not recognised as citizens by the Myanmar authority, Rohingyas have faced widespread discrimination forcing more than one million of them to flee their country since 1970. The United Nations (UN) labelled the Rohingyas as the “world’s most persecuted minority“. In August 2017, killings, rape, torture and other massive human rights violations resulted in ethnic cleansing, which forcibly displaced Rohingyas, mainly to South and Southeast Asian countries. The case is currently under investigation by the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the International Court of Justice (ICJ) (The Gambia v. Myanmar on violations of the Convention against Genocide)

In September 2021, over 900,000 Rohingyas were registered with United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and living in camps in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. There were also some Rohingyas living in Saudi Arabia, India and Malaysia. However, the exact numbers of displaced Rohingyas worldwide are uncertain since many are not registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Moreover, none of these host countries is signatories of the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (1951) nor have national asylum legislations. Consequently, the Rohingya – stateless people who enter these countries mostly undocumented – are classified as irregular migrants under their migration legislation. In this blog post, we discuss how Rohingyas are protected in these countries, considering the role of  UNHCR and new developments in the global asylum regime with the Global Compact on Refugees (GCR) and the Global Refugee Forum (GRF) framework. The military coup in Myanmar on February 01, 2021, may initiate a new influx of Rohingya (and other) refugees to these host countries and prevent future possibilities of their safe and voluntary return to Myanmar.

UNHCR and the protection of Rohingyas in national cases

Bangladesh is the country most affected by the latest Rohingya exodus. The country shelters Rohingya refugees in camps in Cox’s Bazar in south-eastern Bangladesh. UNHCR, together with other UN agencies, international non-governmental organisations (NGO) and local organisations, have provided relief and services to this refugee population. While the Government of Bangladesh has recognised Rohingyas as prima facie refugees in previous influxes like 1991-1992, Rohingyas that entered the country after 2017 are classified as Forcibly Displaced Myanmar Nationals (FDMN). Bangladesh is granting physical protection for Rohingyas. They have access to medical care, shelter, education, food and essential supplies. However, Rohingyas have no right to work and free movement inside Bangladesh. The right to higher education is also limited in the camps. The support to the Rohingya population is highly dependent on international aid, which makes the current situation in Bangladesh unsustainable in the long term. The ongoing pandemic could also affect the funding to the Rohingya response in Bangladesh. 

In Saudi Arabia, India, and Malaysia, UNHCR registers refugees and conducts refugee status determination following its mandate to identify people in need of international protection. UNHCR identification cards allow refugees to stay in these countries, which prevents the risk of refoulement. However, being recognised as refugees by UNHCR does not grant them access to fundamental rights available to nationals such as education, healthcare, work and free movement. UNHCR Help webpage of Saudi Arabia recalls that “Registering with UNHCR, even if recognised as a refugee, does not give the applicant any special status […] Registration with UNHCR does not mean the applicant will have the right to public healthcare, education, and employment“. In some countries, such as India, refugee children between 6 and 14 years old have access to education. All refugees have access to healthcare. In Malaysia, Rohingya children cannot access the local educational system because UNHCR refugee cards are not recognised as identification documents. Refugees pay higher fees than nationals to access healthcare but have a discount of 50% because of a partnership with UNHCR

UNHCR registered refugees have access to UNHCR services (e.g., learning centres in Malaysia) and partnerships. However, they are not legally allowed to work in any of these countries. Unlike the situation in Bangladesh, most Rohingya refugees are not in refugee camps and in receipt of aid to meet their basic needs in these countries. They have to work to survive, and they do so in the same way as irregular migrants. This situation puts them at risk of detention and even deportation. There were cases of detention of Rohingyas in Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, and India. 

Since these countries are not part of the 1951 Refugee Convention, they can adopt ad hoc approaches in recognising some groups of people based on their national interests. For example, Saudi Arabia granted residency to Rohingya refugees who arrived before 2011. However, those that arrived after that faced detention and are considered irregular migrants. This approach of providing protection and rights to some groups or nationalities put the Rohingyas in an unstable situation. Furthermore, agreements with the UNHCR and the current approach of protection may change at any time depending on the political will of the national governments, which may result in forced return and refoulement of Rohingyas to Myanmar.

These countries do not recognise local integration as a durable solution to the Rohingya refugees. Host governments fear that granting rights would allow refugees’ local integration and could attract more Rohingyas to their territories. Besides that, some of these host countries are categorised as least developed or developing countries facing internal struggles such as persistent poverty, illiteracy and inequality. Bangladesh – the country sheltering most Rohingya refugees globally (> 95%) – is the least-developed country facing environmental, economic and social challenges. Bangladesh does not have the means to guarantee local integration as a sustainable solution for hundreds of thousands of Rohingyas living in one of its poorest regions. Resettlement is an option only for Rohingyas registered with UNHCR in Malaysia.

Nevertheless, the number of refugees worldwide and Rohingyas in need of protection in a third country is larger than the resettlement quotas of receiving countries. Consequently, the Rohingyas’ host countries advocate returning to Myanmar as the only possible solution for this population. While this is also the preferable solution for Rohingyas, they wish to return to a place where their safety and rights will be guaranteed. Rohingyas need to be recognised as citizens by the Myanmar government and have access to rights, safety and security. Perpetrators of crimes against Rohingyas need to be held accountable too. Other human right treaties (Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment in the case of Bangladesh and Saudi Arabia, and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in the case of Bangladesh and India) forbid host governments to return Rohingyas to a place where they may be subjected to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Protection of Rohingya refugees and new multilateral developments on Asylum

On December 17, 2018, the Global Compact on Refugees (GCR) was approved after a process of two years of consultations with different stakeholders (states, NGOs, individuals) coordinated by the UNHCR. As this organisation recalls, the GCR is a non-binding framework that does not substitute for the 1951 Refugee Convention and its protocol but builds on them to foster responsibility-sharing and international cooperation. Some Rohingya host countries like Bangladesh, India, and Saudi Arabia provided written contributions to draft this document. Although the GCR is not mandatory and does not mention specifically the situation of Rohingyas, it is an important protection tool for refugees in general with a clear mechanism of regular revisions that considers the situation of stateless people and discusses possibilities of international and regional cooperation to address forced displacement and durable solutions. 

Besides that, the GCR created the framework for the organisation of the Global Refugee Forum in 2019 when states, organisations, universities and individuals presented voluntary pledges and contributions regarding forced displacement worldwide. The pledges directed to the Rohingya situation involve: guaranteeing protection, safe childhoods and child-sensitive services with no discrimination (education, child protection, healthcare, and mental health and psychosocial support) for Rohingya children and host communities’ children; empowering refugee children through sports in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh; providing funding to UNHCR to respond to the Rohingya crisis; creating a working group on education involving actors in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh and Rakhine, Myanmar; expanding livelihood opportunities and empowerment for Rohingyas and host communities; improving the environment for Rohingyas including psychological support; granting funding to playful learning for refugee children; providing support to survivors of sexual violence; implementing a joint approach with the World Bank and the Government of Bangladesh to support refugees and host communities medical, nutritional and educational needs; advocating child-rights based solutions and the inclusion of refugees in national educational systems. 

Bangladesh presented one pledge to design innovative refugee solutions. India presented two pledges: committing to build capacities of states – including beyond neighbourhood (e.g., Africa) and reaffirming its commitment to building solutions together. Malaysia also submitted one pledge to promote the objectives of the GCR and the 2030 Agenda. Saudi Arabia pledged $1 million to implement the GCR on Yemen. Moreover, other States in the world did not present any specific pledges about Rohingya refugees to fulfil the GCR’ objectives of “easing the pressures on host countries” and “expanding access to third-country solutions”.

While these actions are essential for the immediate protection of Rohingya refugees, they do not guarantee the long-term protection of this population (against refoulement or forced return as previously discussed) or durable solutions. Besides that, the central host countries of the Rohingyas presented only broad pledges regarding the implementation of the GCR with no specific guarantee of rights or protection to Rohingya refugees. None of the host countries presented any pledges to become parts of the 1951 Refugee Convention and its protocol or create national asylum systems to protect refugees.

Recommendations 

Rohingya refugees are physically protected in non-signatory countries that are not currently returning them to Myanmar. Nevertheless, while Rohingyas may be recognised as refugees under the UNHCR mandate, they are treated as irregular migrants. At the same time, host countries perceive their return as the only possible solution, and their agreements with UNHCR may change according to their national interests, which put Rohingyas at risk of unsustainable repatriation. Besides that, while host countries were part of the Global Compact on Refugees, host countries did not present specific pledges on protecting the Rohingya population. Considering this, we propose two primary recommendations to protect the Rohingyas:

  1. The protection of Rohingya refugees is a responsibility of the international community and not only the host countries. The international community should pressure Myanmar to stop persecuting this minority and guarantee their safe and voluntary return as their preferable durable solution.
  2. If their safe and voluntary return is not possible (especially considering the February 2021 coup in Myanmar), the international community should follow the principle of responsibility sharing and implement other solutions to Rohingyas, such as the design of specific resettlement programs for this population and the adoption of complementary pathways for admission to third countries as described in the GCR including family reunification, humanitarian visas and corridors, educational opportunities and private and community-based sponsorship programmes.

Authors

Patrícia Nabuco Martuscelli, Social Science Research Fellow in Conflict and Migration, Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction, University College London (UCL).

* Bayes Ahmed, Lecturer in Risk and Disaster Science, Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction, University College London (UCL); Corresponding author: bayes.ahmed@ucl.ac.uk

Peter Sammonds, Director, Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction, University College London (UCL).

** The reflections are part of the “Resilient Futures for the Rohingya Refugees” and “Rohingya Journeys of Violence and Resilience in Bangladesh and its Neighbours” projects developed at the Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction, University College London (UCL). We thank the funding of the Royal Society (Royal Society Award Reference: CHL\R1\180288) and the British Academy (British Academy Award Reference: SDP2\100094). 

Rohingya crisis anniversary: four years of genocide in Myanmar, four years of protection failures in India

By Jessica Field, on 26 August 2021


Yesterday – 25 August 2021 – marked four years since the start of a brutal military assault against the Rohingya population in Myanmar, which forced three quarters of a million Rohingyas to flee over the country’s borders. The deliberate, systematic, and extreme violence used by the Myanmar military to kill, sexually assault, and displace Rohingyas from their homelands and out of the country has rightly been documented as genocidal – i.e. violence ‘committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group’. Though this date isn’t the start of the persecution faced by Rohingyas in Myanmar (which has been ongoing for several decades), it was certainly one of the largest and most systematic of the assaults against the community in recent years.

August 2017 also marks an anniversary date for the deliberate scaling back of humanitarian protections in many neighbouring countries.

Over a million Rohingya refugees are living in increasingly challenging conditions in countries across Southeast and South Asia – denied rights, denied mobility, marginalised and – in several high-profile cases – refouled back to Myanmar, or prevented from making a safe landing to seek refuge. I have spent the last five years researching the humanitarian context for Rohingya refugees in India, and those years have been marked by a drastic breakdown of protection and basic humanitarian assistance.

Prior to 2017, Rohingya refugees in India – who number in the low tens of thousands – were able to register with the UNHCR India, receive refugee cards and visas, and were able to try to make lives for themselves while awaiting the opportunity for safe return to Myanmar. Then, in early August 2017, just a few weeks before the Myanmar military launched its latest large-scale assault on the community in Rakhine state, the Indian government declared Rohingya refugees within its own territory to be “illegal migrants”. This marked the start of a rapid deterioration of protection.

Image: The charred remains of schoolbooks. An entire Rohingya refugee settlement in Delhi burnt to the ground in June 2021. Photo credit: ROHRIngya June 2021.

 

India’s failure to protect and attempts to deport

In a recent Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion (ISI) briefing I co-wrote with Rohingya activist Maung Thein Shwe and ISI’s Natalie Brinham, we documented that, since the beginning of August 2017, Rohingyas in India have faced:

  • refusals to renew or issue immigration documentation
  • exclusion from national ID cards that are essential for accessing basic services like health, education, and banking
  • discrimination in schools and healthcare facilities
  • denial from Covid-19 relief packages and vaccine drives
  • arbitrary dismissal from work and the withholding of pay
  • sustained hate campaigns from vocal sections of the media
  • discriminatory and inflammatory anti-Rohingya language by prominent politicians
  • precarious living conditions, including fires that have destroyed entire settlements
  • and a significant spike in documentation “verification” exercises and arbitrary detentions.

Also in August 2017, the Indian Government issued an order to authorities to identify Rohingya refugees in the country, and ready for their rounding up and deportation to Myanmar. Then, in late 2018 and early 2019, the Indian government deported a total of 12 Rohingyas back to the country, all of whom were denied access to UNHCR. In March this year, authorities in Jammu rounded up at least 150 Rohingyas for “verification” and to initiate deportation procedures. Then, in April, the government made a failed attempt to deport an unaccompanied 14-year-old Rohingya girl across the border.

Forced deportation of refugees to a country where they are experiencing an ongoing threat of genocide is an egregious breach of human and humanitarian rights that flouts not just customary international law, but protections enshrined within the India’s own constitution. Moreover, Myanmar has got more, not less, dangerous over recent months. The country experienced a violent coup d’état on 1 February 2021, and is now headed by the very military that have committed repeated atrocities against Rohingyas in Rakhine state over decades.

Parallel legal proceedings

Cases have been filed against Myanmar for the crime of genocide – The Gambia v. Myanmar – in the International Court of Justice (ICJ); for atrocity crimes in Argentina (under “universal jurisdiction”); and the International Criminal Court has authorised full investigations into crimes committed against the Rohingya that fall within the Court’s jurisdiction (i.e. genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and aggression).

Cases have also been filed in the Supreme Court of India to block the Indian government’s attempted refoulement of Rohingya refugees to Myanmar. However, progress has been slow, with many worrying statements littering its progression. During a recent hearing, the then-Chief Justice of India stated that “possibly that is the fear that if they go back to Myanmar they will be slaughtered. But we cannot control all that”. This statement wilfully ignores the role that India’s deportations play in enabling atrocities.

Advocates working on behalf of the Rohingya community in India have also filed petitions to try and force the Indian authorities to provide the basics amenities that any human (let alone a refugee fleeing persecution) should be entitled to expect: e.g. access to running water, access to health and education services, basic public health facilities, and safe accommodation. Just as with The Gambia vs. Myanmar genocide case in the ICJ, these cases in the Indian Supreme Court are ongoing, and Rohingya safety and wellbeing in India continue to hang in the balance.

It is no coincidence that genocide in Myanmar and persecution and humanitarian failures in India are running in tandem. Amal de Chickera – co-founder and co-director of the Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion – remarked in a recent webinar that “this is a moment of impending crisis… the marginalisation of Rohingya is part of a deeper, longer term erosion of the democratic rule of law in India and elsewhere in the world”.

Rohingya refugees are being deliberately marginalised through hate speech and discrimination, and then that marginalisation is used to frame this refugee group as a security threat and justify repressive actions – eroding the rule of law in the process. Relatedly, humanitarian assistance and the provision of safe refuge are presented as “gifts” to be enjoyed by select communities on the basis of (often discriminatory) conditions, rather than as basic rights rooted in a shared humanity.

Recognising all aspects of violence

The 25 August 2017 commemoration date must serve as a marker for all aspects of the violence faced by Rohingyas. It must continue to draw international attention to the persecution and suffering of Rohingyas by the Myanmar state as well as the Rohingya community’s need for justice, for citizenship in Myanmar, and for safe living conditions in their own country. This anniversary must also draw international attention to the huge humanitarian and protection failures of refugee host countries like India, where state-supported marginalisation, intolerance and anti-Rohingya hate speech are creating punishing living conditions and risk further facilitating genocide.


This blog is an adapted version of Jessica Field’s presentation at the 4th Rohingya Genocide Anniversary Commemoration event, hosted by Restless Beings on 25th August 2021 in London. 

For further reading, see briefs published by the Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion:

Tutorials

By David Alexander, on 16 August 2021

Professor David Alexander looks back on his experiences of tutorials in the 1970s.

 

The tutorial has a long history in education. In one sense it probably dates back to the days of Plato in the 400s and 300s BC and the schola, a semi-circular seat where, at the centre, the master would hold audience surrounded by the best of his pupils.

Weekly tutorials and consultations were a constant feature of my university education in the 1970s. As a new undergraduate, my first tutor was a Senior Lecturer who was nicknamed “Auntie Evelyn”. Tutorials involved a great deal of squirming, looking out the window and suppressing yawns. As soon as Margaret Thatcher’s university ‘reforms’ came into effect, she was pensioned off and disappeared into the mists of the Scottish Highlands, never to be seen again. My second-year tutor was the redoubtable Dr John B. Thornes variously of the LSE and King’s College London. For our first meeting he told us to report to the basement laboratory (we were three students of rather diverse backgrounds). We walked down the steps and found him bending over the mudflow experiment. His tie had become trapped in the mud churner and it was dragging him into the mud bucket by his neck. He extracted himself, squeezed the mud out of his tie, glared at us and shouted by way of greeting, “Take down this essay question: discuss the meaning of the following terms: shear strength, Bagnold’s dispersive stress, and modulus of elasticity.” As a tough, intellectual Yorkshireman, Dr Thornes could make his views known in no uncertain manner, but he loved to be contradicted as it led to the kind of sincere debate in which he revelled. In the second tutorial, he taught us to change THORNES to THOSNER using entropy modelling. Student’s tended to be terrified by his tutorials, although I gradually came to have great affection for him and profound respect for his insights.

Years later as a postdoctoral fellow I ended up doing tutorials myself at Fitzwilliam College Cambridge for two, three or four students at a time. This gave some leeway for experimentation. In some cases it was a matter of working out how to get them to say something – anything. In other instances, it was more a matter of how to shut them up. Often, one had to work hard to encourage them to think, or at least to articulate their ideas. It had to be done in a friendly, non-threatening way. One of my tricks was to give them a stone, a heavy, rounded piece of gneiss which I had picked up from a stream bed. I would ask them to describe it. It is remarkable what could be deduced from this smooth, grey bit of rock.

I found that the optimum size of face-to-face tutorials was three students. It was common to have one who was more articulate than the other two, but there were enough opportunities to divert the conversation to the others. I hope they learned something useful from me, but I certainly learned from them.

All in all, the tutorial has survived all manner of vicissitudes. In the 16th century a monk who taught at Salamanca University in Spain was arrested while in the midst of a discussion with his students. The Inquisition flung him into prison and there he remained for eight years. No doubt he was tortured and fed on gruel. Once released, he returned to the classroom, gathered his few remaining students together and started again with the words “As I was saying when I was so rudely interrupted…”

 

Science Fiction and Disaster Risk Reduction

By Joshua Anthony, on 29 July 2021

Author: Nigel Furlong


I have been a fan of science fiction literature, TV shows and movies for as long as I can remember. I have worked in emergency management and planning for over 20 years and over the years I have found science fiction has been a useful tool in my critical thinking. It’s also supported my skill set. Who knew playing wargames and role-playing games such as Dungeons & Dragons and Twilight 2000 would enable me to deliver tabletop and seminar exercises later in my career!

Before I go into this blog, I do wish to caveat that some of the works, authors and screenwriters are products of their time and by today’s standards may at best be considered twee and at worst misogynistic and racist. I do not endorse any political and social statements. They are used as examples no more, no less.

In the early 1990’s I attended a church service marking Remembrance Day at a small church in Greasby, Wirral. This was at the time that the country of Yugoslavia was imploding into civil war and the local army regiment, The Cheshire Regiment were deploying with the United Nations to Bosnia. The vicar gave his sermon which was very much about the war in Yugoslavia, and he said as part of his sermon (I am paraphrasing): “history is a hilltop in which we can look back but also look at the present and future”. It struck me then that science fiction can do the same. Some authors extrapolate trends, others create societies and ecologies and then add plots and story twists etc. This phenomenoncan be seen in the works of the author Robert Heinlein. He is accredited amongst other authors in inspiring a generation to become scientists and engineers who went onto work on the US space programme and various spinoff industries such as computing. Heinlein’s short stories and juvenile novels were heavy on engineering and science solutions. Some of his early works in the early 1940’s were classified and only released years after the end of World War 2 as they discussed atomic physics and the development of nuclear facilities and weapons. He saw the use of irradiated materials such as powder being used as a weapon – the dirty bomb.

The COVID-19 pandemic has created a lot of discussion over the movie’s “Outbreak”, “Contagion” and “I am Legend”, but the works of John Christopher are potentially more interesting as “Empty World” seemed a bit too close for home at one point in the early days of the pandemic. Christopher wrote a number of disaster novels, “A Wrinkle in the Skin”, “The Death of Grass”. The TV show “Survivors” both the 1970s and reboot 2008 Series took viewers through a pandemic and its aftermath. I find it fascinating to consider analysing the various pandemic disease disaster and post-apocalyptic novels and how they attempted to mitigate and control the pandemic and compare against real world actions!

Isaac Asimov is credited with creating the 3 rules of robotics, yet his Foundation Series of novels are a superb discussion of business continuity. William Gibson’s 1980s cyberpunk novels such as “Neuromancer” gave us the language used today in cyber security and some of the concepts as well.

Jerry Pournelle is another author who blended science and engineering onto novels. However, his novels include “Oath to Fealty” which is a great read and although set in Los Angeles has parallels with the Shard building in London. His series of novels and short stories about Falkenberg’s Legion focused on colonial era type military operations in far off solar systems by a mercenary force of soldiers. They have become required reading in the US military as they placed the protagonists in situations similar to Somalia, Iraq and Afghanistan type situations and operations. The books were written in the 1980s and 90’s.

Science Fiction covers many disaster scenarios: asteroid impacts, space weather, environmental/ecological collapse, Global Warming, global war, nuclear war and aftermath, social collapse, post disaster survival, Terrorist use of Weapons of Mass Destruction/CBRN. A particular theme to acknowledge is the “Zombie Apocalypse”. So popular is this theme, the Centre for Disease Control in the US produced a “Zombie Preparedness” plan to engage new audiences with the concepts of “All Hazards emergency preparedness”. This has been emulated multiple times including by Bristol City Council who produced a contingency plan for handling zombie outbreaks in Bristol.

History may be a hilltop, but science fiction allows us to identify potential events and play out the outcomes to gain insight into what could be probable, plausible, possible or a wild card!


Nigel Furlong is a Business Resilience Manager and Senior Security Advisor with the UK Atomic Energy Authority

Climate Hazards in the Northern Bolivian Altiplano

By Bayes Ahmed, on 14 July 2021

Written by Dr. Ximena Flores-Palacios, a Bolivian independent researcher and practitioner in sustainable development.

Tuni Condoriri Glacier. Photo: Leny Chuquimia, Página Siete.

The Northern Bolivian Altiplano is one of the most affected areas to the impacts of climate change and disasters. Vulnerable groups such as indigenous communities are the ones most at risk from climate hazards and are, in many cases, marginalized from socioeconomic progress. In order to prevent climate change and disasters from having further devastating impacts, it is necessary to close the development gaps that leave communities at risk. Without urgent action, climate change and disasters may push people deeper into poverty.

This region is located to the West of the Department of La Paz and covers an area of approximately 20,000 km² with a population of 2.5 million people (including the cities of La Paz and El Alto). A large part of this region is influenced by the presence of Lake Titicaca and the glaciers of the Cordillera Real mountain range. The altitude of the region ranges from 3,000 metres above sea level in the inter-Andean valleys to almost 6,500 metres above sea level in the peaks of the Cordillera Real, which is home to most of Bolivia’s glaciers.

The Northern Altiplano is particularly vulnerable to climate variability and the adverse impacts of climate hazards that threaten communities and ecosystems. The region is already experiencing not only increases in temperatures but also changes in rainfall patterns and the water cycle. This, in turn, will have consequences for biodiversity and high-altitude wetlands. Besides, the region is exposed to different threats such as changes in the precipitation regime, frequent droughts, hailstorms, frosts, and snowfalls.

The most visible impact of climate change in high mountain regions is glacier retreat. The IPCC reports that Andean inter-tropical glaciers are very likely to disappear in the coming decades, which will negatively impact water availability in the region. In addition to global increases in temperature, the greater frequency of El Niño in recent decades has contributed to rapid glacial retreat.

Pressure on water resources in the region is already high, with an increasing demand for domestic consumption, agriculture, and dams. Therefore any future changes in the hydrological cycle will have significant implications in the region. This aspect is crucial as the cities of La Paz and El Alto draw on water from several surrounding glaciers, and together these cities form a fast-growing metropolitan area that is home to more than two million people.

Aymara people have adapted to climatic variability and changes in their environment over centuries. In the process, they have developed essential knowledge about the local climate and the environment, and they have domesticated numerous crops that are vital to ensure food security around the world. People have lived subsistence lifestyles for a long time, and for them, there is nothing new about adapting to harsh conditions. What is new, however, is the extent of the changes and the effect these changes are having on an increasing number of people. Even though families have had generations of experience in creating mechanisms to cope with such variability, the impacts of these climate hazards are affecting them disproportionally and threatening their culture.

Rural people in this region rely on natural resource-based livelihoods. They are engaged in high-altitude agriculture and livestock, and the communities around Lake Titicaca also partake in small-scale fishing. Families keep and store a part of their production for their own consumption and sell the rest. However, frequently and due to poverty-related causes, farmers have to sell their produce which in some cases affects their food security. Non-farming activities and migration are risk management strategies that also help to diversify income.  Human mobility due to climate change has been rising in the last decades, as some people move in anticipation or adaptation to environmental and climate impacts, and others are displaced due to extreme events. 

Rural livelihoods are highly vulnerable to climate change and disasters in terms of agriculture and food security, water supply, biological diversity, the environment, health, and infrastructure. This vulnerability is worsened by (i) very low levels of investment in climate-responsive agriculture, (ii) inequalities in land tenure, with the exacerbation of smallholdings as land continues to be divided resulting in the overexploitation of soils and vegetation, (iii) high dependence on climatic variables in agricultural production, with the majority of farmers without irrigation systems, who depend on rainfall, and are highly susceptible to hailstorms, frost and snowfalls; (iv) accelerated agro-ecosystem degradation processes, and (v) water pollution by mining, industry, and solid waste.

Despite the enormous challenges associated with poverty, environmental degradation, climate change, disasters, and now the effects of COVID-19, people in the region are making every effort to thrive in their own environment, and to build the resilience of their communities to climate and other shocks. For these people, resilience is rooted in traditional knowledge, as their capacity to adapt to climate change and disasters is based on an in-depth understanding of the environment, social organizations and networks, and cultural values and attitudes.

Rural people are responding to climate change and disasters in unique ways:

  • To cope with climatic variations, people change and adjust their livelihoods. They diversify productive activities and continue to improve plant varieties and animal breeds, which provide a buffer against risks in uncertain environments. The ability to access multiple resources and rely on different land-use patterns contribute to their capacities to manage climate change at the local level. However, farming practices may also be forced to change as a result of reductions in water availability due to less rainfall and melting glaciers.
  • Traditional weather and climate forecasting are still used by Andean communities to make decisions on the management of their farming system and climate change adaptation. However, the intensity, frequency, and extent of climate impacts are challenging people’s traditional knowledge. It is necessary to promote community disaster risk management and early warning systems to mitigate the negative effect of climate change.
  • Traditional systems of governance and social structures are in place, and strong community networks are crucial for community resilience to climate changeLocal organizations together with municipal governments are central actors in territorial development. Public policies must ensure that climate action is designed in a participatory manner that enables the participation of indigenous communities and other marginalized groups. 
  • People are using migration as an adaptation strategy. There are high levels of internal migration from rural to urban areas of the country and international migration, especially among men and youth. Rural areas are populated by women and older adults who face difficulties in terms of access to land, reduced productivity, fragmentation of land tenure, and the effects of climate change, further increasing vulnerability. Although migration is now a new phenomenon in the area, climate change seems likely to become a major force for future population movements, probably mostly through internal migration, but also to some extent through international migration.

Although Bolivia is making progress towards sustainable development, the impacts of climate change and disasters remain serious problems. In order to address these challenges, it is necessary to deepen understanding of climate change vulnerability, adaptation, and mitigation in the Northern Altiplano and to enhance the adaptive capacity of Andean communities.

Leveraging traditional knowledge in climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction policies is not only essential, but it is key to increasing the resilience of communities facing the impacts of natural hazards and environmental change.

In addition to health impacts, COVID-19 threatens to further affect the livelihoods of Andean communities dependent on agriculture. Investment in rural agriculture is needed to help people become more self-reliant, mitigate the impact of severe events and increase the resilience of communities.

Acknowledgement: This blog article is part of the project “Climate change and migration in times of COVID-19 in Bolivia” supported by UCL Global Engagement Funds 2020-21. Special thanks to Alejandro Mamani and Cloe Barbera, the research assistants of this study. 

The double affliction: conflict and natural hazard – the importance of tackling disaster risk amidst insecurity.

By Mark Weegmann, on 28 June 2021

This blog is also posted on The Anticipation Hub.


In January 2015, Storm Huda brought heavy snow, torrential downpours, and strong wind across the Levant. For Gaza and the West Bank in occupied Palestinian territories this resulted in the death of three children and one adult, almost 2,000 households newly evacuated or displaced, and extensive damage to fields, greenhouses, and livestock affecting 9,000 farmers (IFCR, 2015). It triggered a state of emergency and an international response effort. Whilst localised damage was reported in Israel, having similar exposure, the scale and impact were not comparable.

Storm water fills the streets of Shati’ Refugee Camp (Beach Camp) in Gaza, where 82,000 refugees are living. (© ICRC / il-e-01841, 2010)

Disasters and conflict

An unhappy confluence exists between states experiencing fragility, conflict, and violence suffering heightened disaster risks from natural hazards. Disaster deaths are 40% higher in these settings (Marktanner, et al., 2015) and they disproportionately rank ‘highly at risk’ to disasters and crises (EC, 2021). This is not surprising given our understanding of the social conditions that contribute to transforming hazard into disaster. Evidence demonstrates how conflict exasperates vulnerabilities, undermines resilience and coping capacities, increases exposure through displacement, and can even heighten hazard risk through environmental degradation (Harris, et al., 2013). The result of this compounding conflict and disaster risk is a concentration and exasperation of human suffering.

By the time Storm Huda reached Palestinian territories, there were still 100,000 people displaced and 18,000 homes destroyed or severely damaged from the outbreak of fighting in Gaza Strip the previous summer (ICRC, 2015). Damage to the energy, water, and sanitation infrastructure meant that much of the area had only partial running water and electricity for parts of the day. When a second winter cold wave hit in February, this had deadly consequences. The use of unsafe heating to stay warm, like open fires or electric heaters, caused a 16-month-old child in Northern Gaza, a 22-year-old mother and her 2-month-old baby in Nablus, and three children of the same family, aged 3, 4 and 15, to die from fires breaking out in residential homes and temporary shelters (UNICEF, 2015).

When an estimated 1.5 billion people today live in fragile and conflict-affected states (EC, n.d.), and 80% of total international humanitarian needs are focused in these areas (World Bank, 2021), disaster research and disaster risk reduction (DRR) efforts must account for this confluence if our efforts towards the sustainable development goals (notable SDG 11) are to be realised. DRR is, however, notably absent in these contexts ($1.30 spent on DRR for every $100 spent on response (Peters & Budimir, 2016)). There is a moral imperative to reduce suffering, operational advantage to decrease costly humanitarian interventions, and practical benefit lessening the humanitarian burden, to develop effective approaches and tools to change this.

Acting early: reducing disaster impacts

Anticipatory Action approaches – defined as “a set of actions taken to prevent or mitigate potential disaster impacts before a shock or before acute impacts are felt. The actions are carried out in anticipation of a hazard impact and based on a prediction of how the event will unfold” (IFRC, 2020. p. 351) – can provide one such tool. It can be useful because it is implemented through humanitarian actors who are already operational within these contexts, target vulnerabilities which are shown to have been exasperated by conflict, and the short lead times of the intervention enable a highly targeted response that alleviate specific needs that have a high probability of occurring (Wagner & Jaime, 2020). Yet, despite some initial pilots, Anticipatory Action is not fully functional in conflict situations yet. Evidence in non-conflict settings demonstrate Anticipatory Action’s ability to reduce operational costs, improve project design, and reduce negative disaster outcomes for affected communities (Weingärtner & Wilkinson, 2019).

Given the low baseline for DRR – including Anticipatory Action – in conflict-affected contexts, there is need to invest in understanding the unique and contextual interactions between disaster and conflict risks, how these inter-relate, and what the consequences are. A key component for implementing Anticipatory Action interventions is to understand not only what the weather will be, but what the weather will do to at-risk communities (Harrowsmith, et al., 2020). This is understanding how hazard, exposure, and vulnerability affect people living in conflict, and in what way the conflict compounds these disaster risks. With this, building blocks for appropriate interventions can be built.

For example, in the West Bank, houses close to the separation wall have experienced frequent flooding during heavy rain due to the wall impeding the proper flow and drainage of the rain. Drainage pipes running under the wall often get blocked but clearing them is often challenging due to access constraints. With advanced forecasts of rainfall, pre-positioning water pumps in these localities could prevent rainwater accumulating and flooding the surrounding homes.

Niger Red Cross implementing early action protocol to successfully reinforce part of the embankment holding back the flooded River Niger (CRN / Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre, 2020)

Scaling up Anticipatory Action to conflict-contexts

Understanding these risks exacerbated by conflict is therefore crucial for Anticipatory Action. This research aims to build on the evidence base around the impacts that the double vulnerability has on populations affected by armed conflict (Peters, et al., 2019) by conducting a comprehensive historical review of disaster impacts in conflict affected settings. This is focused on the Palestine and Darfur regions & the three protocol areas of Sudan as case studies. It builds on the ICRC and The Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre’s research agenda of Climate and Conflict 2020, and particularly key research questions about Anticipatory Action in situations of conflict (IFRC, 2020).

It seeks to establish a database of the impacts that disasters caused by hydro-meteorological hazards have had in Palestine and Sudan since 2010, understanding 1) who were affected, 2) how they were affected, and 3) in what way the conflict context relates to the disaster impact. This impact analysis is conducted through collating ‘grey literature’ (needs assessments, situational reports, operational updates of humanitarian organisations) supplemented by academic research.

Generating a picture of historical disaster impacts is critical for exploring which Anticipatory Action interventions can reduce the impacts of future disasters. The output will be used to present a scenario of the types of disaster profiles – and their impacts – that these case studies are likely to experience in the future. For this, a review of potential actions will demonstrate how and why certain activities might be relevant. Interviews with practitioners holding expert academic, sectoral, or contextual experience will provide field-based insights. Combined, the challenges of Anticipatory Action in conflict-affected contexts will be explored, along with their opportunities to provide a practical analysis aimed ultimately at improving DRR in states affected by conflict and instability.

This research will feed into wider work being done aimed at reducing disaster risks by using Anticipatory Action in conflict-affected areas. In Palestine, this could mean that the cold waves and heavy rainfall that struck six out of the past ten years, do not consistently result in mass displacement, shelter destruction, injury, and fatality. With three days advanced warning of extreme low-temperatures, the Palestinian Red Crescent Society could distribute winterisation items – like blankets and safe heaters – along with information & educations campaigns as to how to safely heat household to those living in tents and unprotected shelters. As a result, further loss of life could be prevented. Given the recent flare up in violence – damaging an additional 17,000 shelters (2,000 extensively) (OCHA, 2021) – reducing disaster risks remains an imperative.

Palestinian Red Crescent Soceity distributing NFIs to Beouins close to Ramallah (PRCS / IFRC, 2015)


This study is conducted as a Master’s Thesis for the MSc Risk and Disaster Science course at the Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction, University College London (supervised by Prof Ilan Kelman). It is done in collaboration with the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre (supervised by Catalina Jaime, Climate and Conflict Manager), as a contribution to their work on scaling up Anticipatory Action in conflict-affected contexts. For more information, you can contact Mark Weegmann, graduate student an UCL and Junior Research at the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre.

This work is supported by the Danish Red Cross with funds from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Denmark.

Ahead of the G7 and COP26 “Global Britain” reneges on humanitarian commitments, costing lives

By Jessica Field, on 11 June 2021

Ahead of the G7 and COP26 “Global Britain” reneges on humanitarian commitments, costing lives


Authored by: Jessica Field


The IRDR annual Humanitarian Summit is almost upon us. After the developments of the last few months, there’ll certainly be a lot to discuss next Wednesday.

Today, leaders of the world’s seven largest ‘advanced economies’ will descend on Cornwall for a G7 meeting to discuss pressing issues, not least COVID-19 recovery and strengthening of the world’s health systems. While ‘Global Britain’ is celebrating its leading role as host for this important event (and the upcoming COP26 in Glasgow), its recent actions instead show a retraction from global leadership and responsibility – particularly around humanitarian action.

In September 2020 (which seems like a lifetime ago in these stretched-out pandemic months), the UK’s Department for International Development was merged with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to create the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office – a vehicle for apparently more aligned development and diplomacy. Commentators were worried about what this would mean for the UK’s world-leading role in overseas development assistance. And they were right to be.

Sign for the new Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office. Photo: FCDO/2020, Creative Commons Licence. Available on FCDO Flickr.

 

Just two month later, in November 2020, Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced that the UK government was going to renege on its global commitment – and legal obligation – to spend 0.7% of gross national income on overseas development assistance (ODA). The new 0.5% amount means a £4.5 billion ‘black hole’ in the humanitarian and development budget compared with 2019 figures. The effects of this have been immediate and catastrophic for many essential programmes across the world, and will have damaging ripple effects for many years to come.

Devex’s Will Worley has been tracking the cuts in a handy timeline. Seeing them listed one after the other, week after week, exposes the huge scale of the UK’s retraction from its obligations. Some of the more devastating include a 60% reduction in funding to Yemen, which is seeing one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises as a result of conflict, mass displacement and famine-like conditions. After announcing this cut in March, the UK government admitted “we haven’t done an impact assessment”, putting millions of lives at risk as well as completely undermining its credibility as a donor.

That same month, the UK slashed its Global Challenges Research Fund almost in half, leaving a £120 million gap. This meant dozens of research projects and programmes (which were years in the making and based on long-standing partnerships) were decimated or closed, virtually overnight, rendering people jobless and halting research previously deemed essential for tackling the climate crisis, displacement, human rights violations and other global challenges. Again, with no impact assessment. Even basic communications about the cuts were incoherent, lacked basic guidance and were branded “a shambles” by those affected.

A Rohingya woman pictured at a World Food Programme food distribution supported by UK aid in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, October 2017. Photo: DFID/Anna Dubuis, Creative Commons license, DFID Flickr, 2017.

 

In May, the UK announced it would cut its contributions to the Rohingya crisis response by 42%, reducing its £47.5 million pledge from 2020 to £26.7 million this year. Aid organisations working with Rohingyas – in what is the world’s largest refugee crisis – have described the consequences as “catastrophic”, and expect Rohingya children to be particularly affected.

The list goes on.

But there has been a fight back – from within the ranks of the Tory Party, as well as humanitarian and climate crisis advocates.

This reduction in 0.7% spending was not debated or approved in Parliament, and Boris Johnson has faced a rebellion about it among his own MPs. In recent weeks, a group of Conservative MPs have been vocal about the damage the government was doing to vital programmes overseas, as well as the UK’s reputation as a world leader in ODA. On Tuesday, Tory rebels tried to secure a vote on the aid cuts – convinced that if a vote was allowed, the government would be defeated. These efforts failed on this occasion, and the Prime Minister reasserted that there was no plan for reversal, nor to give MPs a vote on the matter.

These rebel Conservative MPs have plans to force the government’s hand in other ways, and it remains to be seen whether they’ll make much headway. Nonetheless, as this national debate collides with the G7 summit today and preparations for COP26 – censure might come from other ‘world leaders’ and global organisations, too.

Whatever happens, these issues will make for lively debate at next Wednesday’s IRDR Humanitarian Summit. One of our timely panels is on the different risks and challenges facing the humanitarian sector and humanitarian studies – political and financial, as well as from conflict and COVID-19. Join us and contribute to discussions. Sign up here: https://www.ucl.ac.uk/risk-disaster-reduction/events/2021/jun/irdr-humanitarian-summit-2021-interrogating-changing-risks


Jessica Field is a Lecturer in Humanitarian Studies at the Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction.

 

A Short Collection of IRDR MSc Student Research Previews

By Joshua Anthony, on 1 June 2021

A Short Collection of IRDR MSc Research Previews

This article is a short collection of ideas, inspirations and plans for a research thesis as summarised by IRDR Master’s students.


Joshua Wilson — Environmental Risk in Seaweed farms, Kwale County, Kenya

Kwale County, Kenya, is not somewhere I had heard of this time last year but I’m now in the early stages of in-depth study into the seaweed farms within the region. Following communication with Plan International UK, facilitated by the IRDR, I learnt of their recent work promoting the practice in order to empower local women, both socially and economically. This effort fits within Plan’s larger goal of addressing the ‘triple jeopardy’ of poverty, climate change and nature in the region where they have also focused on mangrove planting, responsible fishing and awareness raising within schools.

Changing environmental conditions due to climate change has negatively impacted seaweed production in some areas through heavy rainfall and storm surges. Using knowledge gained from Geographic Information System (GIS) analysis and key informant interviews, I will attempt to assess the environmental risks at current seaweed farms whilst looking for suitable sites for relocation. I also aim to explore the socio-political factors that shape the site selection of seaweed farms. Through this research I hope to contribute to supporting the sustainable practice of seaweed farming in the long-term, promoting women’s inclusion and agency whilst encouraging pro-poor responsible value chains [1].

[1] Ambrosino, C., Hufton, B., Nyawade, B.O., Osimbo, H. and Owiti, P. (2020) Integrating Climate Adaptation, Poverty Reduction, and Environmental Conservation in Kwale County, Kenya. African Handbook of Climate Change Adaptation, pp.1-18.

Joshua Wilson | joshua.wilson.20@ucl.ac.uk


Kleoniki Theodoridou — Flood Risk in Mandra, Greece

As a geologist, I have always been intrigued by the occurrence of extreme natural phenomena worldwide, let alone in Greece, which is one of the most geologically active countries in Europe. Since, the devastating flash flood that occurred in the region of West Attica, in the town of Mandra, in 2017 led to the tragic loss of 24 people. This flood was one of the deadliest in the country; however, the flood prevention work is still incomplete due to bureaucratic issues. This means that the area is at high risk of a similar event in the future, and that could jeopardize many lives.

For that reason, I was genuinely interested to investigate and assess the potential flood risk in this particular region using the Copula theory, which is a multivariate statistical method. In that way, we could understand the probability that a flood event of a particular intensity will occur over an extended period, and thus, make the right decisions to protect the public from an imminent disaster; considering that, prevention is better than cure.

Kleoniki Theodoridou | kleoniki.theodoridou.20@ucl.ac.uk


Lydia Brown — The compound impacts of hazardous events and COVID-19

Covid-19 has brought new challenges to the disaster context, with disaster managers having to consider the combined impact of a global pandemic and hazardous events (storm surges, tropical cyclones, tsunamis etc). Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) must now incorporate activities which minimize the risk of the virus transmission.

This includes establishing safe work protocols and re-designing activities considering “social distancing”. This is particularly important in emergency shelters, where a large number of residents gather in a confined space which only aids the spread of COVID-19.

Disaster first-responders have been collaborating and coordinating in order to share lessons and be best placed to help people in need. However, efforts are futile if residents perceive the risk of contracting Covid-19 too high to evacuate to emergency shelters.

My dissertation will entail understanding how evacuation behaviour and decision to evacuate is affected by the fear of contracting COVID-19. To understand evacuation behaviour is essential as any person that does not heed the warning poses a perennial problem; these people sustain severe preventable injuries, put the rescuers unnecessarily at risk, and fill hospital beds at medical centres. The primary concern is that fear of contracting COVID-19 during the disaster response phase will cause an increase in the number of residents staying in their homes and being exposed to injuries and hazards.

Lydia Brown | lydia.brown.20@ucl.ac.uk


The IRDR Master’s Programmes facilitate research in a wide variety of topics.

Thank you to our student contributors,

Joshua Anthony, Editor at IRDR blog.

Joshua.anthony.19@ucl.ac.uk | Please get in contact if you would like to contribute to this blog.