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UCL Humanitarian Institute Masterclass: Earth Observation and Natural Hazards

Saqar ' M Al Zaabi5 March 2020

Written by Dr Akhtar Alam, Research Fellow at UCL IRDR

A masterclass was organised by UCL Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction (IRDR) on February 20, 2020. Attended by twenty-five researchers, practitioners and students from different institutions, the event included lectures, proactive sessions and a laboratory exercise.

The morning session started with a lecture on the application of Earth Observation (EO) technology in monitoring and mitigating natural hazards, delivered by Aisha Aldosery, a PhD student at UCL IRDR. She presented an overview of the fundamental principles of remote sensing, data products and space programmes. She also discussed the applications of this technology to collect information on various natural hazards.

The second lecture was an illustration of a case study – “Cyclone risk assessment of the Cox’s Bazar district (CBD) in SE Bangladesh”, delivered by Dr Akhtar Alam, Research Fellow at UCL IRDR. He demonstrated the use of EO data, statistical methods and GIS for simulating risk scenarios at varied spatial scales of the study area. He also discussed the issues concerning the availability and selection of the data, uncertainties and limitations of the procedures, and validation of the results in the risk assessment process.

In addition to the conceptual discussions, the participants were given an exercise on risk mapping. The objective was to simulate the spatial patterns of risk with a manual procedure. It imitated the complementary use of EO technology, Geographic Information System (GIS) and Analytic Hierarchy Process (AHP) for mapping the risk. This was an exciting session where participants were divided into groups and engaged in the activity. At the end of the session, they were given a chance to express their views and present the results of the exercise.

The afternoon session was devoted to a GIS exercise in the laboratory.  Original raster data layers were provided to the participants to perform a landslide hazard analysis. The learning outcomes included visualization, interpretation and integration of the standardized raster data layers for weighted overlay analysis in ArcGIS, deriving weights of different parameters and checking the consistency of the weighting process using AHP, and developing a landslide hazard map of the study area from the given data layers.

The participants expressed positive feedback about the event.

Natural Hazards, Conflicts and Disasters in the Himalayan Region

Saqar ' M Al Zaabi3 March 2020

Written by IRDR Master’s student Ronja Lutz

The UCL Humanitarian Institute evening conference, held on 19 February 2020 and chaired by Prof Peter Sammonds, presented a panel of four speakers giving diverse perspectives on disaster relief in the Himalayan region.

Dr Jessica Field from Brunel University gave the first talk. She introduced the history of disaster relief in India in order to zoom in on the situation in Ladakh. She characterised disaster governance in this region of Northern India as focused on top-down security and military interventions, relief practices as centred on hazards, and being reactive rather than proactive. Of particular interest was her analysis of relief work in the context of different actors, governmental and non-governmental, competing for legitimacy.

The second talk, by Sultan Bhat of Kashmir University, was focusing on factors that make the Kashmir valley vulnerable to hazards such as floods. He then highlighted changes due to tourism, such as deforestation, expanding settlements, that lead to increased vulnerability. In a long-term overview spanning several centuries, he was able to show that not only vulnerability but also the occurrence of floods in the Kashmir valley has increased.

Third up was Dr Punam Yadav from UCL’s Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction (IRDR), presenting on the conflict in Nepal and its effects on women. She gave an overview of Nepal’s Civil War 1996–2006, in the wake of which around 70,000 people are still displaced. Despite the numerous negative effects of conflict, Dr Yadav pointed out how conflict can create spaces for women. For example, the political representation of women has increased from 6% to 33% after the introduction of a quota in 2007, and 20% of combatant roles in the military are now reserved, arguably due to women’s involvement in civil war combat.

The final talk by IRDR’s Akhtar Alam gave a broader overview of the challenges to disaster risk reduction in the Himalayas in the future. After surveying the numerous natural hazards in the region, including earthquakes, flash floods, and landslides, he pointed out that despite a high occurrence of hazards across the whole region, the vulnerability of certain regions is what ultimately determines fatality rates. For example, Myanmar and Bangladesh saw relatively few incidents compared to other regions, but a very high death toll. Consequently, he urged for increasing resilience to natural hazards, for example by improving and enforcing building standards in the face of earthquake risks. Similar to Dr Field, he cited a focus on response instead of prevention and a neglect of community involvement as obstacles to preventing disasters in the Himalayan region.

The event was live-streamed and you still can watch the video on the Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction YouTube channel: https://youtu.be/dhYU0MuJf3g