X Close

UCL IRDR Blog

Home

UCL Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction

Menu

Archive for the 'Expert commentary' Category

The Value of Life and Disaster Risk Reduction

Myra Farooqi14 May 2021

Humanity proves time and again that one life is not always equal to another, ultimately devaluing us all.

 

1 – 1 = -2. Basic arithmetic would explain why this answer is incorrect, but the valuation of life is far from basic.

There have been many attempts at discovering the value of life, ranging from the economical for use in labor practices to the metaphysical to the biomedical to the religious. On an individual level, humans search for the answer as well — consciously or not.

Every day, we make choices that place value on the lives of ourselves and others, and this is at the core of every aspect of disaster risk reduction (DRR). Who we define as vulnerable, who we choose to abandon, and what we choose to protect are all questions of value, and that value has consequences as illustrated by the fact that “children from the poorest households die at twice the rate of their better-off peers” (UNICEF).

In her recent book, The Sum of Us, author and economist Heather McGhee argues that we have been taught that our value stems from the devaluation of others, and this belief “distorts our politics, drains our economy, and erodes everything…from our schools to our air to our infrastructure” (p.xxiii). McGhee specifically discusses the American experience, but this valuation process is applicable to almost every interaction in power dynamics.

For example, why do we use drone warfare? It allows us to protect our own people while fighting others. Why do we restrict access to elections? It allows us to protect our power from waning. Why do we engage in factory farming? It allows us to feed ourselves more easily.

These are simplifications of complex issues, but they do reflect our values in practice. Time after time, conflict after conflict, day after day, we (those with power) decide whose life is more important, and act accordingly. Unless we work to combat this inequality, incorporating DRR principles may never reduce our disasters of choice. At the end of the day, the unequal valuation of life will leave us all at a loss.

1 – 1 will equal -2.

 

Myra Farooqi is an MSc student at the IRDR, and can be contacted at myra.farooqi.20@ucl.ac.uk 

Stop The Disaster! IRDR Spring Academy 2021

Joshua Anthony28 April 2021

This article is a summation of points and questions raised by members of the Institute for Disaster Risk Reduction at the 2021 Spring Academy.

The mid-afternoon sunshine passes through my east-facing window and strikes my laptop screen, where the faces of the Institute for Disaster for Risk Reduction shine back at me. It is not mid-afternoon for all: for some, they gather for the annual Spring Academy as the same sun straddles a different horizon. Due to coronavirus restrictions, we gather online, tuning in from around the globe, demonstrating the department’s widespread influence. Through activities organised by both the PhD students and research staff, we are here to engage with the diverse range of expertise in our department.

What can floods tell us about covid-19? Can the unsettling rise of water on the doorsteps of schools and hospitals inform the decisions we make during a pandemic? Using the UNDRR game, Stop the Disaster, as an illustrative tool, Qiushuang Shi and Rob Davis lead us through the process of emergency planning and management to answer these questions.

While some of us struggle to allocate funding for flood defences and deliberate over where to build the hospital in our virtual disaster village, one cannot help noticing the people that populate the little green boxes of grass next to the blue pixels of seawater. How would they respond to an early warning system, and would it work if it were a virus and not flood water knocking at their door?

A snapshot of the UNDRR game Stop the Disaster.

Once the unfortunate villagers are subject to the 8-bit flood water, Rob and Qiushuang move us on to discuss what we have learnt. There is a consensus between us that communication is vital to affect successful disaster risk reduction—across all hazards. No early warning system or public health advice it worth it if the information is not widespread and consistent and the risks properly conveyed; or if there are significant economic, cultural, political or societal conditions—such as gender structures—that inhibit this process or adherence to it. Prior knowledge and experience of a hazard within a society (or lack thereof) is likely to alter the perception of, trust, and response to the message, not to mention the political will to support and fund emergency resources and planning initiatives, which could be assisted by media initiatives.

The visceral threat of quick onset hazards may put the screws on emergency fund release at showtime, but what of slower hazards for which there is ample time to plan? For some in the world, climate change is a distant reality, while for others it is an immediate threat. Uncertainty plays a key role in the way we respond to hazards—in scientific calculations (such as for early warning systems) or in individual perceptions and acceptance of risk.

We can see that, though the propagation and imagery of flood water and coronavirus—or any hazard, for that matter—may differ, there is an unavoidable factor underlying the multitude of research topics across the Institute of Risk and Disaster Reduction’s members: vulnerability. Indeed, the most contrarian of us posit that one could approach disaster risk reduction entirely from a vulnerability perspective. This notion hangs in the balance. We move on to the next stage of the session: multi- and cascading-hazard scenarios

There are places unfortunate enough to be subject to multi-hazard events. Even now, as we live through COVID-19, one member notes, the HIV and AIDs epidemic that gained notoriety in the 1980s still affects millions of people. As we have seen over the past year, floods, forest fires, earthquakes, disease outbreaks—you-name-it—do not rest for each other, and all the while the climate still changes. Mitigation, preparedness and response procedure efforts must consider multi-hazard scenarios, and not be subject to a “flavour-of-the-month” approach to disaster risk reduction. Critical infrastructure may be pliable up to a point and break beyond that threshold. Existing and dormant vulnerabilities may be triggered under cascading disaster scenarios—otherwise interpreted as cascading vulnerabilities—as seen in the infamous triple-front attack on Tohoku in 2011, which manifested in a combination of an earthquake, a tsunami and a nuclear meltdown. The complexities of multi- and cascading-hazard scenarios are vast; one must look for interconnected and parallel vulnerabilities that transect all hazards in order to tackle the challenges. The importance of transdisciplinary research and collaboration of individual expertise are highlighted further by these situations.

Even when two hazards do not strike in unison, emergency planners must consider the impacts of a prior hazard on material and human resources for the next one. Under a changing climate, goalposts shift; resource allocation and size may change, funding options may have to be reconsidered. An example of a way to make use of existing resources in a multi-hazard scenario is suggested in adapting training facilities for one type of hazard to accommodate multiple. As we consider the way planning and management needs are altered in response to multi-hazard and cascading scenarios, one asks a question that should follow all disasters: has the learning come through? In other words, are we more or less resilient now we have experienced the crisis? This is a question one can imagine asking as we optimistically search for a light at the end of the tunnel after over a year of COVID. The darkness associated with the proverbial tunnel is often oversimplified to a period of turmoil before the promise of the light, but one overlooks its poignancy in portraying the struggle that one experiences while operating within the shadow of uncertainty.

As we close the session, the faces of IRDR, hailing from a wide array of different disciplines, stare back expectedly at me for a summary of the session proceedings. Well, here they are. However, it’s made evident—as I scrabble to collate my mish-mash of notes—that one voice solely is not enough to tackle the challenges we attempt to understand here at the IRDR.

Happy (mostly) Faces of IRDR

WHO Classification for Emergency Medical Teams: A Step in the Wrong Direction?

Navonel Glick20 April 2021

National/international medical professionals working together at a clinic in Ormoc, Philippines – a model that is no longer allowed by the current WHO EMT guidelines. Photo Credit: Boaz Arad/IsraAID (2013)

In 2013, Typhoon Haiyan devastated the Philippines and galvanised the international community. Organisations, like the American Red Cross, sent full-scale field hospitals. Others, like IsraAID, despatched medical personnel and supplies, providing surge capacity to local clinics.

Integrating external resources into existing healthcare systems is an effective strategy, with potential long-term benefits. Yet, while such activities may be a model for integrating disaster risk reduction into response, World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines do not permit them.

The WHO classification system was created to counter the variation “in capacities, competencies and adherence to professional ethics” amongst Emergency Medical Teams (EMTs). Each of the three approved EMT types must operate independently and be self-sufficient for 2–4 weeks. This emphasis on independence avoids ‘burdening’ affected populations, but it leaves no room for interventions to support national/local healthcare institutions.

In fact, the WHO’s 91-page document outlining EMT minimum standards contains no reference to existing healthcare systems, let alone strategies for cooperation. This omission perpetuates the myth that ‘helpless’ disaster-affected people need international organisations to ‘save them’, instead of recognising that disaster response is often locally driven. Further, EMTs acting alone face avoidable linguistic, cultural, and logistic obstacles that hamper the quality of care provided. Setting up alternative healthcare locations, pathways, and practices may also sow confusion, thus increasing long-term vulnerability by undermining trust in the healthcare system.

Efforts to standardise EMTs and rout out malpractice and disaster tourism are welcome. But the WHO guidelines sadly disregard successful integrated models, like IsraAID’s, instead promoting foreign intervention over local capacity and prevention. If only the WHO abided by their own Health Emergency and Disaster Risk Management framework.

Mountains Matter

Myles Harris1 December 2020

Mountains are often described as harsh, desolate environments that few people choose to venture to. Yet since 2003, 11th December is the United Nations International Mountain Day. This raised the question, why do mountains warrant a day of recognition? Perhaps it is because 27% of the Earth’s land surface is mountainous, which is home to approximately 1.1 billion people and that more than half of the fresh water humankind is dependent on is from a mountain source [1]. With this in mind, it is clear mountains are integral to our life on Earth, but is there much life in the mountains?

Mountain range sunsetThe remoteness of mountain regions enable ecosystems to develop in isolation and the variety of micro-environments on each mountain (altitude, topography and weather) enrich the life that thrives there [2]. Despite low levels of oxygen, challenging terrain and exposure to extreme weather, the biodiversity of mountains includes mammals, birds, insects, not to mention unique plants, vegetation and crops, all of which is in balance with human life at ground level [3]. International Mountain Day is about celebrating the importance of mountains and this year the spotlight is on mountain biodiversity. However, International Mountain Day 2020 is also about creating awareness of how mountain biodiversity requires protection.

The impact of climate change and unsustainable living reaches even the remotest mountain environments and is causing significant damage to their ecosystems [4]. Physically, glaciers are melting and landslides are more common, which is contributing to the loss of biodiversity. The deterioration of biodiversity in the mountains has negative consequences for the life that has existed there for millennia and the local communities who depend on it. As a result, the United Nations sustainable development goal 15 (target 1) concentrates on the sustainable management and conservation of mountain biodiversity [5]. International strategy and cooperation is a positive step forward, but more research is needed to understand and inform disaster risk reduction for the protection of mountain biodiversity. A recent example is COVID19 – lockdowns were predicted to have positive effects on the climate; however, greenhouse gases have continued to rise [6] which accelerates biodiversity damage in the mountains.

Research of mountain-related phenomena can involve going into mountain environments and visiting communities who live there. Each mountain environment is unique, therefore a localised-approach to research reduces the risk of local communities and ecosystems being overlooked [7]. However, mountain conditions are dynamic and unpredictable. Providing healthcare to researchers and local communities in these circumstances is extremely challenging. Figure 1 is photo of a medical tent on an expedition in a remote region of the Nepalese Himalayas, with the Doctor (right) and Nurse (left) who provided healthcare to a team of 15 (including themselves). With limited resources and environmental challenges, healthcare providers require the capability of acute emergency interventions (if needed) and prolonged field care (healthcare).

A doctor and nurse standing on a mountain, with a medic-tent in the background.

Figure 1.

Prolonged field care is a newly recognised area of clinical practice and can be described as the provision of healthcare beyond expected duration and with limited resources to mitigate the risk of patient morbidity and mortality [8]. Military healthcare systems have been developing this concept during the past few years due to the paradigm shift in military deployment and healthcare provision [9]. However, civilian services are beginning to develop this area of practice too. Remote Area Risk International ® have developed a civilian prolonged field care course, which is relevant to expedition, wilderness and mountain medicine [10]. Training and research of prolonged field care contributes to disaster risk reduction in mountainous environments,which promotes the health of researchers and local communities.

It is clear that although mountains appear to be everlasting, the impact of climate change and unsustainable living is damaging. However, the protection of all mountains and their biodiversity, informed by valid and reliable research, will enhance their resilience and contribute to sustainable development for all. #MountainsMatter 

References

[1] Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. (2019) Mountains matter. [online]. Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Available at: http://www.fao.org/3/ca6779en/ca6779en.pdf [Accessed 10 November 2020].

[2] United Nations. (2020) International mountain day 11 December. [online]. New York: United Nations. Available at: https://www.un.org/en/observances/mountain-day [Accessed 10 November 2020].

[3] Mountain Partnership. (2015) Mountain biodiversity. [online]. London: Mountain Partnership. Available at: http://www.fao.org/mountain-partnership/our-work/focusareas/biodiversity/en/ [Accessed 10 November 2020].

[4] World Meteorological Organization. (2019) Avoiding the impending crisis in mountain weather, climate, snow, ice and water: pathways to a sustainable global future. [online]. Geneva: World Meteorological Organization. Available at: http://www.fao.org/mountain-partnership/publications/publication-detail/en/c/1253730/ [Accessed 11 November 2020].

[5] United Nations. (2015) Protect, restore and remote sustainable se of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reserve land degradation and halt biodiversity loss: mountains. [online]. New York: United Nations. Available at: https://sdgs.un.org/topics/mountains. [Accessed 11 November 2020].

[6] World Meteorological Organization. (2020) United in science 2020: a multi-organization high-level compilation of the latest climate science information. [online]. Geneva: World Meteorological Organization. Available at: https://public.wmo.int/en/resources/united_in_science [Accessed 11 November 2020].

[7] Mountain Research Initiative. (2018) Leaving no one in mountains behind: localising the SDGs for resilience of mountain people and ecosystems. [online]. Bern: Mountain Research Initiative. Available at: https://www.mountainresearchinitiative.org/images/MRI_Publications/Issue_Brief_Leaving_No_One_in_Mountains_Behind.pdf [Accessed 11 November 2020].

[8] Keenan, S. (2015) Deconstructing the definition of prolonged field care, Journal of Special Operations Medicine, 15 (4), p. 125.

[9] Smith, M. and Withnall, R. (2017) Developing prolonged field care for contingency operations, Trauma, 20 (2), pp. 108-112.

[10] Remote Area Risk International. (2020) Prolonged field care – welcome to the home of civilian PFC in the UK. [online]. Wirral: Remote Area Risk International. Available at: https://www.r2rinternational.com/prolongedfieldcareuk [Accessed 12 November 2020].

Kashmir’s lockdown increases disaster risk

Jessica Field19 August 2019

On 5 August 2019, the Government of India unilaterally reorganised Jammu and Kashmir state into two Union Territories – Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh – and revoked Article 370, which contained protected privileges for the disputed territory. Tens of thousands of soldiers have been deployed to the region, tens of thousands of tourists and workers have fled

Since 4 August, Kashmir Valley has been on a communications blackout and curfew, which poses serious disaster risks for the population as well as everyday challenges, fear and fury.

Kashmir Valley and Ladakh are frequently lauded as two of the most beautiful parts of South Asia. The Valley is bounded by the Himalayan mountain range and has the nickname “paradise on earth”; Ladakh is high up in the desert mountains and often called “Little Tibet,” or the “Roof of the World”.[i] Their location and climates, however, make them incredibly hazard-exposed.[ii] Most of the Kashmir region falls under a seismic zone V (the highest earthquake risk category), and the entire erstwhile state is prone to a variety of hazards. During winter, intense snowfall can cut off large parts of the region for months. Avalanches and landslides are commonplace. From July to September, Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh are at particular risk of flooding – Kashmir from heavy rains, Ladakh from cloud bursts and Glacial Lake Outburst Floods. These risks are often exacerbated by poor city planning and illegal developments in flood plains.

Dal Lake, Srinagar. Photo: J. Field

As a result of a number of recent disasters,[iii] local government officials across Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh have been attempting to improve their Disaster Management planning – both in terms of Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) and emergency response. Ladakh began developing its own District Disaster Management Plan after severe floods in 2010 and since 2017 has been working to update it. Reacting to the devastating 2014 floods in Kashmir, the district administration moved to develop its own Disaster Management Plan shortly after.

These Disaster Management Plans are still under development and have a long way to go before they effectively incorporate inclusive and vulnerability-responsive DRR and plan for a more effective emergency response. The Government of India’s latest moves in the region have potentially pushed their development back several paces, and the the total security lockdown of Kashmir may significantly increase disaster risks for an already vulnerable population.

As Ilan Kelman and I have argued elsewhere, some of the weaknesses in effective emergency planning have long existed as a result of the protracted security environment in Kashmir and Ladakh, where hazard-centred and military-led responses have too often been prioritised over longer-term DRR or more inclusive emergency planning.

Since 5th August 2019, these challenges have multiplied.

In this current moment, residents of Kashmir are experiencing lockdown and a widespread communications blackout. For 12 days, mobile phones, landlines and internet services were entirely cut (with sporadic access only coming to some areas in recent days). A strict curfew has been imposed, and the Valley’s political leaders have been put under house arrest. People have not been able to access medical treatment, withdraw cash, or travel out of the area. In Ladakh, Kargil too has faced lockdown. These restrictions have serious disaster risk implications.

Firstly, effective disaster management and emergency responses require active and accessible communication: i.e. operational early warning systems, communication infrastructure that connects residents to each other as well as their government, and access to information (reports suggest that some Kashmiris didn’t know why they were under lockdown several days after the constitutional change, let alone what they should do in a hazard scenario). Worryingly, communication blackouts are not tools deployed in extraordinary circumstances in Kashmir – they are a regular occurrence, with 54 internet shutdowns in 2019 alone.

Effective disaster management and emergency responses also require mobility and access to healthcare services: i.e. the possibility to visit hospitals when required (and for those hospitals to be stocked with sufficient supplies); the possibility to evacuate to a safer location in the event of a hazard; the ability to visit and check on vulnerable family members, or get personal supplies from stores.

Importantly, effective disaster management and emergency responses require trust. You need responsible and accountable individuals in charge of planning, monitoring and emergency responses (not locked up under house arrest in Kashmir, or feigning ‘peaceful’ stability from Delhi). The Government of India should recall its record of centre-led disaster relief in the Valley is not such a good one. Its failure to effectively respond, compensate and rehabilitate survivors of the 2014 floods in Jammu and Kashmir fomented a sense of disaffection that fed into the 2016 violence in the Valley.[iv]

Beyond the immediate challenges, in the medium term the existing Disaster Management Plans currently held by Srinagar and Leh administrations may well have to be completely redrawn, as protocols for coordination and resources will likely be redundant now the state has been broken into two Union Territories. These drastic governance changes were literally brought in overnight without warning, preventing any Disaster Management transition. All of this has occurred at a time of year when flood risks are typically high.

For residents in Kashmir and Kargil, who are parlty or wholly cut off from the outside world and held under a military curfew, the basic needs of the present are the most urgent. But the lockdown is significantly increasing their vulnerability to hazards, too. The government needs to seriously consider their responsibility in this regard as they have created this situation. Moreover, effective disaster risk reduction and emergency response plans are highly sensitive to the surrounding context and do not simply materialise when a hazard strikes.

Tuturk in Nubra Valley, Ladakh. Photo: J. Field

Dr Jessica Field is an Associate Professor of International Affairs at O.P. Jindal Global University, India, and a Research Associate at IRDR, UCL. Her research interests are in the history and politcs of humanitarianism and disaster management.
Jessica has been a Researcher/Co-Investigator on two of IRDR’s recent research projects: Increasing Resilience to Environmental Hazards in Border Conflict Zones, and Rohingya Journeys of Violence and Resilience in Bangladesh and its Neighbours. On these projects, Jessica has led field research in Ladakh, Hyderabad and Calcutta, undertaking interviews with crisis-affected communities and archival research on the wider context of disasters and displacements.

Notes

[i] J. H. Fewkes, Trade and Contemporary Society Along the Silk Road: An entho-history of Ladakh, London: Routledge, 2009, p.19.

[ii] Kshitij Gupta, ‘Long Term Disaster Recovery in Kashmir’, in Long Term Disaster Recovery in Kashmir, Southasiadisasters.net, AIDMI, Issue no. 163, (October 2017): 13-14; Mihir R. Bhatt, ‘Risks in High Altitudes: How to Think About Action?’ in Community Managed Disaster Risk Reduction in High Altitude Areas,Southasiadisasters.net, AIDMI, Issue no. 85, (June 2012): 3-4.

[iii] On 6 August 2010, Ladakh experienced a cloudburst and severe flooding, which killed over 200 people and devastated Leh city and nearby villages. In September 2014, the wider Kashmir region in both Pakistan and India saw the worst floods it had experienced in decades, killing over 400 and displacing almost a million. In August last year, flash floods caused serious damage across Jammu and Kashmir.

[iv] F. Espada, ‘On Authority and Trust: A reflection on the effectiveness of disaster management in Bangladesh, India and Nepal’, in ed. Espada, F. (London: Save the Children & HCRI, 2016): 123-155. Available: http://humanitarianeffectivenessproject.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/South-Asia_Fernando_Espada_HAT.pdf

Panel discussion on working in challenging environments & conflict zones at the 2019 UCL Humanitarian Summit

ucfausa3 July 2019

When embarking on fieldwork research in an area that is classed as high risk, it is essential for academics and experts from Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to come prepared; especially when entering into a setting that is characterised by kidnappings, violence, conflicts (or civil crisis), disease outbreak, political instability and/or faced with international sanctions.

On the 19th of June, Dr James Hammond (Reader in Geophysics, Birkbeck), Dr Ahmed Bayes (Lecturer in Risk & Disaster Science, UCL) and Liz Harding (Humanitarian Representative, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)) delivered a series of intriguing talks and an engaging panel discussion about their personal experiences of Working in Challenging Environments and Conflict (& Post-conflict) Zones at the 2019 Humanitarian Summit in UCL, on a panel chaired by Dr Marie Aronsson-Storrier (Lecturer in Global Law and Disasters, University of Reading and member of UCL IRDR Board).

Image 1: Dr James Hammond spoke about his experience and difficulty of doing collaborative research with North Korean scientists. UN sanctions and politics made it increasingly difficult for the teams to work.

The session was kick-off by Dr James Hammond who spoke of his experience and difficulty getting access to do research in North Korea. He worked on a collaborative project with physical scientists from North Korea – the research focusses on volcanic activity and deriving geophysical imaging of the magma plumbing systems that’s beneath Mountain Paektu. He states:

Most scientists from North Korea, and especially researchers from his field of expertise are very keen for international collaboration and support shared knowledge”.

He adds:

However, external factors such as North Korea’s closedness to outsiders and geopolitical influence and international sanctions from the United Nations has made it increasingly difficult for us to conduct their fieldwork activities at Mountain Paektu”.

He quotes a sanction imposed on North Korea which effectively puts his team’s work to a halt: “Suspend all technical and scientific cooperation with North Korea”. Fortunately, he was able to overcome this issue by getting the UK government involved, and through diplomacy and science, they were allowed to continue their research.

Image 2: Dr Bayes Ahmed speaks of his incredible experiences and shares harrowing stories of how three of his research team members were kidnapped in Bangladesh.

The second speaker, Dr Bayes Ahmed, shares his harrowing experience in Bangladesh and how he dealt with three of his research team members being kidnapped. He states:

… before doing fieldwork research which involve humans in the context of conflict or displacement. It is strictly important for academics to comply with all conventional fieldwork procedures such as risk assessments, receiving ethical approval, health insurance etc.

 He also states the following:

 “… it is equally important to know that while the above is all ‘pen and paper’; however, the fieldwork context is completely different and anything can happen.

He provides an example of visiting local communities situated in remote areas of Chittagong (Bangladesh) and how being adventurous was risky behaviour. He narrates how himself and his team mates were taking pictures and video footages of hill cutters who were building apartments along the hills in Chittagong. He was warned by the local villagers to put their cameras away and not to take pictures lest the people may think they are journalists. He was also warned not to sightsee or venture further from their position as certain areas in their community are dangerous. Unfortunately, he and his team did not take the advice of the local villagers – of course, this resulted in three of his colleagues being held captive by kidnappers. Fortunately, Dr Bayes was able to resolve the situation – he had strong connections with politicians and local members with strong influence in Chittagong who intervened. The captives were released within 30 minutes of negotiations.

The last speaker, Liz Harding, shared her incredible fieldwork experiences in high risk areas as a humanitarian representative working for MSF. She spoke about her everyday experiences and risks when working – these ranged from getting access to affected areas, being accepted by the local communities and bureaucracy (i.e. work permits, official documents etc).

Image 3: Liz Harding shares with us her incredible fieldwork experiences in high risk areas as a humanitarian representative working for MSF

Liz Harding gave example of situations where her team have to make really tough decisions – she spoke of how they had to abandon their search and rescue missions of migrants crossing the Mediterranean Basin because the issue became so politically charged in Europe. In South Sudan, she narrates how her medical team had to relocate all medical activities to smaller mobile clinics because their hospital in which they were present was attacked four times.

Personally, for Liz Harding, the toughest part of her work is taking hardest decisions for her team and asking the question of ‘can or should we stay?’. Abandoning a mission or evacuation is based on the following conditions – she states:

… if there’s no more need for our presence; or if the risks are too high for the team.

In addition, she adds:

… or if the government authorities forcefully inform the team to leave the country etc., or if our presence poses a significant risk to the local population”.

An interactive panel discussion was held and the floor was opened for the audience to ask interesting questions.

Image 4: Our three guests with Dr Marie Aronsson-Storrier (far left) chairing the panel discussion. From second left – Dr James Hammond, Dr Ahmed Bayes & Liz Harding.

The 2019 UCL Humanitarian Summit took place on Tuesday 18thJune, and the UCL IRDR 9thAnnual Conference was on Wednesday 19thJune. Selected sessions were live streamed, and these videos are available on our YouTube channel- remember to hit the like button and subscribe to the channel at IRDR UCL.

Follow the Humanitarian Institute on Twitter on @UCLHI

Concerning all photographs used in this blog. All credit goes to the rightful owner and photographer: Professor Ilan Kelman (IRDR, UCL)

In-conversation – Drones for health emergencies: friend or foe? @ the UCL IRDR 9th Annual Conference

ucfausa3 July 2019

On the 19thof June, Professor Patty Kostkova (UCL IRDR and Director of the UCL IRDR Centre for Digital Public Health in Emergencies) chaired an intriguing panel discussion with invited speaker Jorieke Vyncke (Coordinator of the Missing Maps Activities, Médecins San Frontières (MSF)) on the use Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) (or drones) in low income and low resource settings for health emergencies especially in the context of sub-Saharan Africa.

Image 1: Seated is our panel guest Jorieke Vyncke (left). The session was chaired by Professor Patty Kostkova (right)

Jorieke Vyncke coordinates the Missing maps project and was involved in using drone technology in several MSF missions. In collaboration with organisations as the American and British Red Cross and the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team, the Missing Maps project wants to map the entire world so as to provide baseline data of all locations including villages and important buildings in remote areas. The session was kick-off with Jorieke Vyncke giving the audience an interactive walkthrough with the various model types of UAVs (or drones) used in operations in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia with MSF.

Image 2: Jorieke does a walkthrough of the various drone models used in her day-to-day operations

She spoke of the day-to-day application of drone technologies to address some of the world’s humanitarian crisis and gives an example – she says:

… drones were used by the International Organisation of Migration (IOM) to take direct satellite images for the geospatial triangulation of Rohingya refugee settlements in and around Balukhali in Bangladesh during and after the exodus of Rohingya out of Myanmar in 2017

Image 3: Around Balukhali (Bangladesh) – 2 December 2017 (Drone images IOM)

She shown remarkable drone images of how the settlements have expanded over time and narrates how the MSF team collaborated with the international Organisation for Migration (IOM), who were given a permission to fly drones over refugee camp, to understand the growing settlement patterns of the Rohingyas to address the issue of displacement.

Professor Kostkova asked whether they have ever used such technology to deliver goods to affected areas to which Jorieke explains:

Yes, our teams have used drones in Papua New Guinea to transport TB sputum samples to a hospital from health centres in remote villages.

Difficult questions regarding drone regulation were asked – unlike the Global North where laws are stricter against drone usage in public spaces. In the Global South – unfortunately, this is not the case. Jorieke agreed that in countries like Malawi there were no strict regulation concerning drones in 2017 when the MSF team, lead by Raphael Brechard, used them for mapping the flooded area. She mentioned that at the time:

…you can become a user without a license”.

She adds the following:

…while there’s less regulations, MSF tries to maximise good-use of drones [not to compromise people’s privacy]. We try to collaborate with government and local institutions and community leaders before we deploy our drone activities. We also make sure to have strong local knowledge and close ties with the community involved to get their participation and acceptance”.

Image 4: Jorieke (left) explaining the advantages and disadvantages of using drones in lower income & low resource settings in the Global South

An interactive panel discussion was held and the floor was opened for the audience to ask interesting questions. Of course, for more interesting details you can watch all live streamed videos on YouTube – remember to hit the like button and subscribe to the channel at UCL IRDR.

Follow us on Twitter @UCL_dPHE & @UCLIRDR

You can follow the Missing maps project and Médecins San Frontières (MSF) on Twitter @TheMissingMaps & @MSF, respectively.

Concerning all photographs used in this blog. All credit goes to the rightful owner and photographer: Professor Ilan Kelman (IRDR, UCL)

The 2019 Global Assessment Report (GAR)

Rebekah Yore31 May 2019

Post written by Prof. David Alexander 

The United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction was born out of the International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction, 1990-2000. On 1st May 2019 it was renamed the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction. UNDRR remains a relatively small unit of the United Nations, but it has a truly world-wide reach. DRR is thus now truly mainstreamed at the global level.

UNDRR has a recurrent initiative for assessing the state of disaster preparedness around the world, and this results in a document, the Global Assessment Report(GAR), which is issued biennially to coincide with the UN’s Global Platform on DRR. The 2019 report is accompanied by an executive summary called GAR Distilled. The GAR proper consists of 15 chapters in four sections: introductory, the Sendai Framework (SFDRR), its implementation (and interaction with sustainable development), and managing risk nationally and locally. The document is decanted from many different studies, some of which have been commissioned specially for it. These may be published separately in an academic journal. An example of this for the 2013 GAR can be found in Di Mauro (2014). This edition of the GAR is the first to report on the implementation of the Sendai Framework for DRR.

The 2019 GAR starts with a quotation from UN Secretary General António Guterres, who observes that in the modern world global challenges are more and more integrated and the responses are more and more fragmented. This is a powerful argument for joining forces and using a common agreed policy at the world-wide scale.

The GAR uses the ‘pressure-and-release’ model of Wisner et al, (2004) in an adapted form, consisting of: context, stressors, thresholds (nowadays known as ‘tipping points’ and impacts (which it terms ‘systemic failure’). One great lesson that the modern world teaches us is that changes that we thought were gradual can be suddenly overwhelming. Perhaps we are unaware when the ‘tipping points’ are passed, and that is a dangerous situation to be in.

The GAR urges that international agreements (the Sendai Framework, the Sustainable Development Agenda, the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and the New Urban Agenda) be viewed collectively through the lens of systemic risk. It is clear that the world is still struggling to achieve the transition from a focus on responding to disaster impacts to one on reducing the risks associated with future impacts. The verdict on major risk is a resounding “sooner than expected”, which, of course, reduces the time available to prepare. Initiatives need to coalesce around “risk informed sustainable development”.

I have argued elsewhere (Alexander 2017) that the number of times the word ‘should’ is used in an official document is an inverse indicator of its utility. The road to the nether regions is paved with things we should do (but for one reason or another have not done), and so a high ‘should ratio’ (the number of “shoulds” per page) is a proxy indicator for an ineffective instrument. The ‘should ratios’ of the GAR and GAR Distilled are 0.26 and 0.32, both below the alarm-signal threshold of 0.40. However, parts of the GAR bristle with “shoulds”. Moreover, there are only two mentions of ‘rights’ and none of ‘human rights’. The latter are very important to disaster risk reduction because they constrain or determine what can be done in the way of preparedness, action and reaction. UNISDR had a tendency to shy away from human rights issues, perhaps because it needed to remain engaged with countries that have a poor record in this respect.

The section of the GAR on ‘challenges’ is welcome, as the challenges are indeed legion. However, the two short paragraphs devoted to political challenges are extremely weak. It could be argued that political decision making is the greatest barrier of all to successful disaster risk reduction. We live in a world in which Terry Cannon’s ‘cure to damage ratio’ is paramount. Globally, about a thousand times as much is spent on hydrocarbon exploration and extraction than on the mitigation of the climate change that results from burning fossil fuels (Mechler et al. 2019). Unofficial voices have suggested that the ‘cure to damage ratio’ for natural hazards is 1:43. In any case, there is no doubt that much more is spent on making the problem worse than on solving it. What is needed is a brutally honest assessment of why this is the case.

Notably, the GAR has finally come around to the view that we all bear the burden of reducing disaster risk. In putting individuals at the centre of a diagram of actions we see people either crushed between the rock of hazards and the hard place of risk-informed sustainable development or as protagonists in combatting the former with the latter. The GAR notes that “we all live in communities”. No doubt we do, but the DRR community needs to do more to define what a community is, how it functions and whether it is really the right vehicle for solving our problems.

One of the most intransigent problems with the predecessor of the Sendai Framework, Hyogo Framework for Action, 2005-2015, was its resolute reliance on a ‘top-down’ approach. Studies showed that the HFA had had little impact at the local level (GNCSODR 2015). The Sendai Framework and all the United Nations impedimenta that goes with it tend to perpetuate this issue, despite the launch in 2010 of the UN Safe Cities programme (about 1% of towns and cities have signed up for it). Consequently, the greatest present-day challenge is to achieve change from the local level against rigid power structures and massive vested interests at the national and globalised levels. For the sake of survival, it must be done. The GAR helps, and no one would deny that a coordinated world-wide approach is needed, but there is a growing feeling that progress will never be rapid enough until there is a fundamental reorientation.

Further Reading

The full and abbreviated Global Assessment Report 2019 can both be freely downloaded from https://gar.unisdr.org

Alexander, D.E. 2017. The ‘should ratio’. Disaster Planning and Emergency Management, 18 July 2017.

http://emergency-planning.blogspot.com/2017/07/the-should-ratio.html

Di Mauro, M. (ed.) 2014. Global probabilistic assessment of risk from natural hazards for the Global Assessment Report 2013 (GAR13). International Journal for Disaster Risk Reduction10(B): 403-502.

GNCSODR 2015. Views From the Frontline: Beyond 2015. Recommendations for a Post-2015 Disaster Risk Reduction Framework to Strengthen the Resilience of Communities to All Hazards. Global Network of Civil Society Organisations for Disaster Reduction, Teddington, UK, 12 pp.

Mechler, R., L.M. Bouwer, T. Schinko, S. Surminski and J-A. Linnerooth-Bayer (eds) 2019. Loss and Damagefrom Climate Change: Concepts, Methods and Policy Options. Springer Open, Cham, Switzerland, 557 pp.

UNISDR 2005. Hyogo Framework for Action 2005-2015: Building the Resilience of Nations and Communities. United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction, Geneva, 22 pp.

UNISDR 2015. Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030. United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction, Geneva, 25 pp.

UNDRR 2019a. Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction, 2019. United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, Geneva, 472 pp.

UNDRR 2019b. GAR Distilled. United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, Geneva, 26 pp.

Wisner, B., P. Blaikie, T. Cannon and I. Davis and 2004. At Risk: Natural Hazards, People’s Vulnerability and Disasters(2nd edition). Routledge, London, 496 pp.