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UCL Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction


Archive for October, 2020

Creating a relative suitability score for school buildings as evacuation shelters

By Joanna P Faure Walker, on 30 October 2020

A new paper published in Natural Hazards provides a method and worked case study from the Philippines for creating a relative suitability score of school buildings as use for evacuation shelters.

Tsioulou et  al., 2020, A method for determining the suitability of schools as evacuation shelters and aid distribution hubs following disasters: case study from Cagayan de Oro, Philippines

How can we make a decision based on multiple criteria?  How can we take qualitative expert opinions and create a quantitative comparison of the importance of different factors for decision-making?  What factors should be considered when evaluating the relative suitability of different buildings as evacuation shelters?  How can we identify which buildings could benefit most from cost-effective improvements? What do you think about whether school buildings should be used as evacuation shelters?

Alexandra Tsioulou (Willis Tower Watson, formerly UCL IRDR), Joanna Faure Walker (UCL IRDR), Dexter Sumaylo Lo (Xavier University, Cagayan de Oro) and Rebekah Yore (UCL IRDR and Rescue Global), as part of the PRISMH project, carried out expert opinion questionnaires and used the Analytical Hierarchy Process to create weightings of different criteria that should be considered when evaluating the relative suitability of different school buildings as evacuation shelters in Cagayan de Oro, the Philippines. Site surveys were carried out to evaluate the scores for each criteria and these were then combined to provide the relative suitabilities.  The paper provides an example methodology that can be applied elsewhere. The findings will be used to help make local recommendations.

Transforming my M.Sc. Dissertation into a Journal Article

By Saqar ' M Al Zaabi, on 2 October 2020

Written by Shamrita Zaman, UCL IRDR M.Sc. student 2018-19

A famous Latin phrase says ‘audentes Fortuna iuvat’. Its English translation is ‘Fortune favours the bold’. People who bravely go after what they want are more successful than those who try to live in the comfort zone. Believing this proverb, I have consistently taken steps towards fulfilling my dreams. A dream of mine was to complete post-graduation from a top-ranked university in the world and make myself presented to the research community. In 2019, I successfully graduated from the UCL Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction (IRDR) wining the Commonwealth Scholarship, funded by the UK Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office. One of my biggest achievements was my M.Sc. independent project that was later published in the prestigious peer-reviewed International Journal for Disaster Risk Reduction (IJDRR) (IF: 2.896).  Progress, however, was not so easy, and it would have been impossible to fulfil the cherished dream without a dedicated focus on the goal. In this blog, I will discuss how I converted my M.Sc. dissertation into a peer-reviewed article.

Author’s first day at UCL to attend the induction event

My journey with UCL-IRDR began on 26 September 2018 by attending the induction event. Classes, presentations, essay submissions, and attending monthly seminars – all in all, the UCL Journey was going great. From November, Professor Peter Sammonds, IRDR Director, started inviting us to attend the drop-in sessions to choose independent masters project. He was the module tutor for IRDR0012: Risk, Disaster and Resilience M.Sc. Independent Project. He provided a list of more than 50 project topics with potential supervisors. As I was convinced to make myself introduced to the research arena of UCL, I regularly attended his drop-ins and discussed explicitly my ideas with him. I found some thought-provoking topics on disaster and conflict based on the 2017 Rohingya refugee crisis in Bangladesh.

Rohingya refugee crisis was a contemporary topic and yet the most talked about and criticized disaster in the world. Sample descriptions of those topics gave a feeling like interested candidates will acquire a real-world experience on how conflict can make a community more vulnerable to disasters by trapping them in a specific risky area. I then searched the IRDR website and found two ongoing British Academy funded projects on the 2017 Rohingya crisis where Prof Peter was the principal investigator and Dr Bayes Ahmed, Lecturer at the IRDR, was the project manager. It seemed like my chosen M.Sc. topic might partially fulfil the project’s purpose. It is worth mentioning that by joining Professor Ilan Kelman’s module titled IRDR0006: Conflict, Humanitarianism and Disaster Risk Reduction gave me the basics on disaster risk reduction approach for conflict and humanitarian perspectives. Hence, I communicated with Prof Peter and expressed my ultimate impulse to work under his supervision on how Rohingyas are adapting with the shifting paradigm of risks due to natural hazards in the Cox’s Bazar refugee camp in Bangladesh.

After a series of discussions, we decided to go for a structured questionnaire surveying. After two months of non-stop working, the questionnaire was finalized in the last week of March 2019. After pilot testing in the camps, the final survey was conducted in May 2019. Dr Taifur Rahman from HMBD Foundation, a local NGO, assisted and monitored the fieldwork. I prepared the full database and used SPSS software to run statistical analysis (the research methods were taught at IRDR). In the meanwhile, I presented the work in the third annual conference of UK Alliance for Disaster Research (UKADR) at Northumbria University, Newcastle in July 2019. Finally, with some interesting results, I produced the project report and got a distinction in my independent MSc project.

(a) Author presented her poster at the IRDR poster presentation session. (b) Author presented abstract in UKADR conference at Northumbria University.

To satisfy the conditions of the Commonwealth Scholarship, I had to return to my home country after the successful completion of my M.Sc. degree. However, it was easy for me to stop there but I did not. I wholeheartedly believed that the message of this work should reach the scientific community, and publication of this work in a peer-reviewed journal is the best way to do so. I expressed my thoughts to Prof Peter and Dr Bayes, and they were delighted, knowing my interest. Consequently, I was advised to select a best-suited journal for this work and was told to rearrange write-ups as per the journal format. Though my UCL studentship got expired, Prof Peter and Dr Bayes did not stop guiding me, rather their motivational guiding principles are still encouraging me for conducting better works. The article was submitted in IJDRR in December 2019. We were requested for revisions from reviewers in February 2020. At this stage, the work volume increased even more. One of the major revisions was to address refugees’ perceptions applying qualitative research methods. To address this comment, two focus group discussions were conducted in the refugee camp in February 2020, with the presence of Dr Bayes. Rigorous attempts were made to respond to each point raised by the reviewers. Finally, the paper got accepted and published on 22 May 2020.

From M.Sc. project proposal writing to journal publication, the journey was long but enjoyable and memorable. In my case, it took almost one and half year to publish the work which requires an extreme level of patience, planning, self-commitment and continuous guidance. Finally, my realization is that success is only possible if you have the precise mindset to stick behind your goal despite having so many failures and frustrations.

Thanks to UCL IRDR for making this dream comes true!

Imagined ‘Belongingness’ through Culture: Rohingya Journeys of Resilience and Survival in India

By Saqar ' M Al Zaabi, on 1 October 2020

Written by Minakshi Rajdev, PhD Candidate at the Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, India, and Research Assistant on IRDR’s British Academy funded project: “Rohingya Journeys of Violence and Resilience in Bangladesh and its Neighbours

 Arar vatansonaliArakan Ohsunomusalman arar vatansonaliarakan

(Our homeland is the golden Arakan Oh listen Muslims, our homeland is the golden Arakan)

The violent displacement of the Rohingya Muslims from the land of ‘Arakan’ (Rakhine State) in Myanmar engendered their exodus to the neighbouring countries of South Asia, and then to the other parts of the world, often without families. It is in these host environments that survival and resilience-building become a priority, shaped by the shared experiences of pain and violence suffered at the hands of state-sponsored mass persecution and genocide.

What can bolster the spirit of life and humanity amidst traumas of displacement is a sense of imagined ‘belongingness’ to the host country, emanating from shared histories and cultures.

The Rohingya sense of belongingness in India comes from a mix of cultural signifiers, like Urdu (a language of Islam in Myanmar), Sufi heritage, Qawwali and tarana (song) melodies. But also, significantly, Bollywood movies and Hindi songs. Moreover, the presence of a sizeable Muslim population in India, syncretic religious practices, and the democratic set up of the country, evoke a cultural association with India, which can scaffold coping mechanisms for one of the most persecuted minorities of the world.

Rohingya taranas offer opportunities for the refugees to reminisce about their native lands of betel leaves and paddy farms. Moreover, Sufi poetry, widely celebrated in India, has close affinities with the spiritual Rohingya taranas—consolidating the fragments of belongingness between the cultural landscapes of India and Rakhine State.

Abdul1 a 70-year-old refugee who croons spiritual taranas several times a day, shares that he finds solace in the Sufi shrine of Muinuddin Chisti (1143-1236 CE), situated in Ajmer, Rajasthan. When asked about his fondness for taranas, he informed:

Abdul: Yes we had a group in Burma with whom I used to sit and sing taranas in remembrance of Allah.

Interviewer: Do you miss them?

Abdul: Yes. We have similar people in Ajmer (at the shrine of Sufi saint Moinuddin Chishti). I have been to the graves of several revered Sufi saints in India; I visited Ajmer Sharif Dargah, graves of Nizamuddin Aulia, Qutubuddin Bakhityar Kaki, and many other similar Sufi shrines situated in Delhi. [2]

When asked about taranas, his tearful eyes brightened with happiness, and he could not help spontaneously singing a few lines in his strong but melodious voice:

‘ore zaiverhota tutu mohononnai

Oh andergororhota re mohononnai

Ore asamaileazaralaishe tore naikulnivaallai

Zaiver re hota re tutu mohononnai

Oho hoborhota re mohononnai, asamaileazaralaishe…’ [3]

If I have come to the world, I have to leave it one day as well,

Oh god! I don’t know the way that comes to you,

Oh! sometime Azrael [an angel who takes lives] will come to take my life to you,

Oh god! I have come to the world and one day I will come to you,

Now I can’t wait, sometime Azrael will come to take me to you

The Rohingya enjoyment of Indian movies and Bollywood Hindi music carves a sense of esoteric conviviality that ‘India’ offers to them. Hindi singers like Mohammad Rafi, Kishore Kumar, S D Burman, Lata Mangeshkar, are equally exalted by Rohingyas and Indians alike. Similarly, the younger generations that grew up watching Bollywood Hindi movies and idolizing Indian actors picked up a sense of humanity through Bollywood movies, creating an imagined endearment for a land they have never been to. Fayyad, a young Rohingya who ran a studio that screened Bollywood movies in Myanmar, said:

“I have seen in the films that military people help civilians. I have seen humanity through Hindi movies only… I have not seen such things happening in Burma. Military should protect us but instead of that they want to kill us all.” [4]

The young Rohingya generation brought up in turmoil and the under an atmosphere of fear and violence really relate to meanings of humanity and equality from Bollywood cinema. When asked about the reason to come to India as a refugee, Fayyad continued:

“I believed India would be a nice country. I have seen India through Bollywood Cinema, and it inspired my thoughts of coming to India. I knew all the religions are treated equally in this country.” [5]

Many Rohingyas visualise their stay in India as an opportunity to learn Hindi music, which is viewed by them as relatively modern compared to Rohingya music – some learn it with a hope to take the craft back to Rakhine when it is safe to return home. As language is intrinsic to the expression of a culture, Hindi music provides comfort to the refugees; its closeness to Urdu aids the process of coping. When Ali was asked about his preference for singing, he informed:

“Now I have decided to sing Hindi songs. I think Rohingya songs would not work here, and those who know Hindi would like to listen to Hindi songs, even our Maulanas like Hindi songs because they respect Urdu as the language of our faith and Hindi is much closer to it.” [6]

Rohingya attempts at cultural exploration and efforts to make India their home for the time being are reflected in the synchronisation of Rohingya taranas with Hindi Bollywood music—creating a piece of art that has the soul of Rakhine in the body of India. Efforts to remember more than journeys of violence, pain and displacement are audible in these poetic and musical creations, as they express longing for the native land, yet are sung in the language of the host country. For instance, Rohingya performer Jafar Kawish expressed longing for his Rakhine homeland in an Urdu-Hindi song with a composition inspired from old Hindi songs:

Ye jahaan dojakh hai goya, tu hai jannat ai vatan

Hosh udd jata hai mera, Muh ko ata hai jigar

Yaad jab aati hai teri mujh ko surat-i-vatan

 This world [host country] is like hell and you [homeland, Rakhine] are the heaven, oh my beloved country,

I feel shell shocked, and my heart comes to my mouth

Whenever I remember condition of my country [7]

 ‘Imagined belongingness’ became a challenge for many Rohingyas once they reached India, as they have had to grapple with exclusions of the state rather than an abstract idea of belongingness. But the religious commonalities with communities in India, people’s trust in their faith, rhythmic expression of survival in the form of Rohingya taranas and Urdu nazm (a genre of Urdu poetry), Sufi heritage, Bollywood cinema, and shared cultural values have emerged as tenets of resilience through which Rohingya continue to hope for a better future.


[1] All names have been changed to protect participants.

[2] Personal Interview, Abdul, Mewat, 10.12.2019

[3] Ibid.

[4] Personal Interview, Fayyad, Hyderabad, 08.08.2018

[5] Ibid.

[6] Personal Interview, Ali, Hyderabad, 08.08.2019

[7] Jafar Kawish, Urdu Rohingya Tarana: tuja haan me hai hamara raz-i-izzat  i vatan(You are our honour, oh my country),music is inspired from Hindi songs. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rj1sG3KTpWg (accessed on 13 September 2020)