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

AnwarMusah3 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

AnwarMusah3 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)

New international panel promotes responsible resource extraction in the Arctic

RebekahYore19 October 2018

Blog post by Dr Emma Wilson and Professor Indra Overland

A pioneering new international panel is currently recruiting members to help promote better environmental performance in Arctic resource extraction industries, while pushing the boundaries of applied research.

The International Panel on Arctic Environmental Responsibility (IPAER) was introduced to London audiences on 17th October 2018 at University College London (UCL), at an event hosted by the London Polar Group and the Polar Research and Policy Initiative. The session was led by the architect of IPAER, Research Professor Indra Overland of the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs (NUPI) in Oslo, and Dr Emma Wilson, independent researcher and consultant, who is an IPAER Advisory Board member. The aim of the event was to raise awareness about the initiative, stimulate debate and encourage new members to join.

Hammerfest, Norway

The IPAER is an independent group of experts who have been tasked with assessing the environmental performance of oil, gas and mining companies in the Arctic, based on their professional or lived experience of these industries.

Issues to be considered by the Panel range from conservation to pollution prevention, from Indigenous rights to transparency and public reporting. Panel members are expected to be experts in some, but not all, of these questions. The IPAER aims to cover the full range of issues by recruiting a balanced and broad range of Panel members, including technical industry experts, local community and civil society representatives, academics, industry consultants, journalists and regulators.

Damaged forest at old drilling site, Komi Republic, Russia 

Panel members take part in a simple perceptions survey, which requires them to identify the companies they are familiar with and then rank them in relation to one another. The results will be published as an open-access ranking of companies.

Panel members are expected to base their perceptions on the facts and realities that they have encountered through their professional and lived experience. Where perceptions are not based on fact, but on lack of information or misinformation, this raises the issue of more effective, accurate and well-targeted communication on the part of industry, the government, the media and civil society. We hope the IPAER can trigger more of a debate around this question, and ensure that the right issues are discussed more objectively in the public domain.

The IPAER is an experiment in what could be called ‘governance without enforcement’, as a complement to legal and formal regulation. We hope that it will trigger public debate and dialogue, internal corporate thinking, and proactive responses from industry, stimulating an environmental ‘race to the top’. But its success depends on our ability to recruit as many Panel members as possible.

If you would like to become a member of the Panel, we would love to hear from you!

Please contact:

Research Professor Indra Overland: ino@nupi.no

Dr Emma Wilson: emma.wilson@ecwenergy.com

 

Hammerfest, Norway photo credit: Dr Ilan Kelman

Damaged forest at old drilling site, Komi Republic, Russia photo credit: Dr Emma Wilson

UCL IRDR Research Trip to Fukushima, Japan 2018

RebekahYore8 February 2018

Blog post written by Hui Zhang, Cate Howes and Peter Dodd

A group of students from the IRDR once again joined the Fukushima research trip, conducting fieldwork in the triple disaster affected area in Japan for a week in January this year. We collected information on how the Fukushima Prefecture and local communities are trying to recover from the disaster and rebuild a new life in the nuclear contaminated area. Here is a summary of our week:

Monday 15th January

On arrival in Fukushima, we were met by a lead engineering team and given a briefing on the events that had taken place in 2011, and the remaining effects on local prefectures such as the neighboring prefecture of Futaba and the residents that used to live there. Then we visited Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant – a sight that we feel privileged to have experienced and were impressed by the resilience and appetite to recover from the disaster, and to learn so as to effectively move forward in the regeneration process. This was followed by an in-depth discussion and question and answer session between the team and two respective representatives of TEPCO, to help stimulate our appetites for our individual areas for research.

Tuesday 16th January

Visiting the High School

Our first stop was at the Robotic Limb Factory – an innovation company, originally focusing on the creation of mobile phone components, now pushing the boundaries on physical movement assistance after disasters. Here we learnt that since the disaster, employee numbers had been slow to return, however they were working hard to push Fukushima as a place for testing new and vital technologies, and above all a desire to work in the region. Then we went to one of the hardest-hit areas named Futaba-gun. Our first stop was a graveyard, home to the remnants of the previous residents of the unfortunate village, completely wiped out by the Tsunami. Here we were also taken to the waterfront by the local port, recently repaired and home to a very small 20-strong fishing fleet, to reflect on the damage caused.

Our final visit of the day was to a previous high school, now re-utilised by the prefecture as a museum for visitors. Here we were greeted by a local storyteller, who reminisced with us as we sat in the junior student chairs, of how the local area had been effected and how she had been scared for the safety of her grandson after the disasters.

Wednesday 17th January

National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology

On Wednesday we were privileged to spend time visiting some incredible members of the local area, who work tirelessly to rebuild and strengthen their communities. We started the day hearing from Aoki-san, a local storyteller who talked to us about the evacuation of her town after the nuclear accident. We travelled to the J-Village and spoke with Chef Nishi, who set up a restaurant to help the workers travelling to assist in the stablisation and cleanup of Fukushima Daiichi. We ended the day as guests at the Futaba Mirai Gakuen High School. We were treated to a presentation from the students on their views of the situation in Fukushima. We then heard poignant speeches from two students, regarding their personal experiences since March 2011. The whole group were deeply moved by this testimony, and inspired by the positivity and kindness of the students.

Thursday 18th January

Press coverage: Fukushima Minpo paper

We spent a fascinating morning at the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology in Koriyama City. We were given a full tour of the facility, and were very impressed with the innovative research into renewable energy that the centre is undertaking. Later, we took part in a thought-provoking workshop with government officials and students from Fukushima University and High School, discussing the future of the prefecture. That evening, we were invited to a reception welcoming us to the city. We very much enjoyed speaking further with students and officials from the earlier workshop, and to hear their thoughts and plans for the future of Fukushima.

Friday 19th January

Press coverage: Fukushima Minpo paper

On the last day, we visited the electric power station that conducts binary generation using the heat from the Tsuchiyu hot spring located in the upstream of Arakawa river. It is an example of local efforts to create new energy alternatives to nuclear power. We then went to the Environmental Regeneration Plaza in Fukushima City, where we were told about the progress of environmental recovery in Fukushima, about radiation and about environmental regeneration such as interim storage sites.

After the site visit, we met with the Governor of Fukushima Prefecture, Mr Masao Uchibori. The Governor expressed his thanks for our visit and listened to our impressions of the recovery in Fukushima. We then had a lecture on disaster prevention in the Crisis management Centre of Fukushima Prefecture.

We concluded our 5-day trip to Fukushima on 20th February and returned to London. It was an amazing experience and insight into post-disaster recovery and Japanese culture, and we will continue to pay attention to the reconstruction of Fukushima into the future.

 

Italian Earthquakes, Large and Small

SerenaTagliacozzo6 September 2016

O 1693 c’ha succirutu!

E si n’ha ghiutu lu Vallu ri NuotuUntitled

S’u u pi sorti an-Catania iti

Ciù ri milli voti lacrimati!

Catania ca era ciù perfunna

Ricca ri –ngegnu e ri storia ornata

Spincitivi l’ate a truviriti

L’afflitta virgine a batiuoti.*

(Burderi 2014)

Traditional poem on the M 7.4 earthquake that struck Sicily in 1693, killing about 60,000 people and totally destroying towns such as Noto and Grammichele

 

In Italy damaging earthquakes occur on average once every 19 months, and seismic disasters happen about once every four years

The M6.2 earthquake of 24th August 2016 in central Italy occurred at 03:36 hrs local time and had a hypocentral depth of about 4 km. At least 281 people were killed, with the highest total at Amatrice (pop. 2,646) in the Province of Rieti (Region of Lazio). This event occurred in a predominantly rural area of the Apennines, and the population of the area of major damage was a mere 4,500 people. As a whole, the event recalls the M5.2 seismic disaster of May 1984 in the Abruzzi National Park (140 km south of Amatrice), in which three people died and 11,000 were left homeless (Alexander 1986). In terms of damage to schools, it recalls the M6.0 earthquake of October 2002 at San Giuliano di Puglia, 182 km from Amatrice, in which 27 children and three teachers were crushed to death when a school collapsed (Langenbach and Dusi 2004). In Amatrice the collapse of a school prompted the same questions about the seismic resistance of educational facilities, and the quality of seismic upgrading as had been raised at San Giuliano (Grant et al. 2007). There are possible indications of corruption and that, according to correlation studies, is the principal cause of seismic disasters, world-wide (Escaleras et al. 2007, Ambraseys and Bilham 2011).

In Italy, the immediate political response to the 2016 Amatrice disaster involved a great many fine words and pious hopes about prevention, reconstruction and the preservation of culture. With respect to previous earthquakes, there were some improvements in the organisation and planning of post-event recovery, notably in cultural heritage protection. However, the sums of money offered to the affected area were by no means large enough to accomplish what the politicians said should happen. Italy is the largest beneficiary of the European Union solidarity fund, and in times of seismic disaster it has also drawn heavily on regional support grants. This has not always meant that the use of the funds has met with EU approval—see the conclusions of the European Court of Auditors’ report on the 2009 L’Aquila earthquake (ECA 2012).

Typically in Italy, events such as the 2016 Amatrice earthquake do not lead to a sustained government response, for there are too many other demands upon the public purse. Commonly, the public part of reconstruction funding is largely gleaned from European funds or else is tacked onto parliamentary bills designed to fund other things, in what Americans call ‘pork-barrel legislation’. At best, a government may wait until the financial climate is more favourable before it allocates significant funding to recovery. Thus it was three years before the first stirring of reconstruction occurred in L’Aquila after the M6.3 earthquake of 2009. Public debt incurred in reconstruction after the 1968 Belice Valley, western Sicily, earthquakes, will not be paid off until 2038, 70 years after the disaster. Belice, moreover, had to wait 15 years before reconstruction even started (Parrinello 2013).

These are the minor events. People suffer no less in them than they do in the major ones, but the overall picture is quite different.

Alexander, D.E. 1986. Disaster Preparedness and the 1984 Earthquakes in Central Italy. Natural Hazards Working Paper no. 57, NHRAIC, University of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado, 90 pp.

Ambraseys, N. and R. Bilham 2011. Corruption kills. Nature 469: 153-155.

Burderi, M. 2014. Il terremoto del 1693 nella pietà popolare. Archivio degli Iblei, July 2014: 1-13. (archiviodegliiblei.it

ECA 2012. The European Union Solidarity Fund’s Response to the 2009 Abruzzi Earthquake: the Relevance and Cost of Operations. Special Report no. 24, Publication Office, European Court of Auditors, Luxembourg 52 pp.

Escaleras, M., N. Anbarci and C.A. Register 2007. Public sector corruption and major earthquakes: a potentially deadly interaction. Public Choice 132: 209-230.

Grant, D.N., J.J. Bommer, R. Pinho, G.M. Calvi, A. Goretti and F. Meroni 2007. A prioritization scheme for seismic intervention in school buildings in Italy. Earthquake Spectra 23(2): 291-314.

Langenbach, R. and A. Dusi 2004. On the cross of Sant’Andrea: the response to the tragedy of San Giuliano di Puglia following the 2002 Molise, Italy, earthquake. Earthquake Spectra 20(S1): S341-S358.

Parrinello, G 2013. The city-territory: large-scale planning and development policies in the aftermath of the Belice valley earthquake (Sicily, 1968). Planning Perspectives 28(4): 571-593.

Disasters: No Quick Fix, No Money

RosannaSmith16 December 2013

One can’t help feeling a little bewildered by the news of yet another global catastrophe, another ‘biggest’, ‘worst’, ‘deadliest’. The Philippines is struggling through the immediate aftermath of the worst storm since records began, and getting the attention it deserves. Here’s hoping that attention brings with it the sense to think ahead.

My bewilderment lingers, however, because another ‘worst’, ‘deadliest’ that’s nearly 4 years past is still a disaster zone. Haiti’s monstrous earthquake wasn’t the strongest in recorded history, but by far the deadliest natural disaster in such a concentrated area. What went wrong and can the Philippines do it better?

Sr. Yannick in Fort National local slum small

Sister Yannick in Fort National local slum

There have been some notable examples of good reconstruction since the earthquake. But these are the exception rather than the rule. Of the 9.3 billion USD promised to Haiti, most never made it there, and less still has been invested in permanent reconstruction project.

More common uses of aid money include temporary structures and emergency shelters that have, in many cases, redefined the infrastructure of a poorly planned city for the worse.  The over-arching focus of response has been on meeting basic human needs within the remit of donor budgets, project management capabilities and time frames. Permanent, sustainable reconstruction can rarely happen within these constraints. So, those going about reconstruction planning the right way frequently find themselves without the funds to continue. And Haiti remains, like so many other places, stuck in a cycle of vulnerability to disasters – economic, social and environmental.

Sisters working on reconstruction plan with Thinking Development designers and local teachers

Sisters working on reconstruction plan with Thinking Development designers and local teachers

Our site is a fine case study for this phenomenon – despite the best efforts of its exceptionally resourceful and dedicated managers, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Cluny. While tents and temporary toilets came in time for ‘back to school’ after the disaster, the only longer-term support offering was demolition works here, and hangers (strong shelters with open walls) there. Thinking Development was borne out of this vacuum of sustainable development planning support.

When we started the project, it seemed obvious that ours was a project that would qualify for some of the billions destined for permanent reconstruction. It was, after all, an essential disaster recovery service: a school. It was one of the biggest school sites in Port-au-Prince; and it served some of the city’s most disadvantaged children. It had experienced, honest managers, and it had uncontested land tenure – a rare commodity in post-disaster Haiti.

Girls Studying in UNICEF hangers small

Girls studying in UNICEF hangers

Yet, even 6 months after the disaster, the only discussion that could be had with aid agencies was about ‘how many hangers you need?’ or ‘I’ve got this 1-storey shelter or nothing’. As a Haitian service provider, you couldn’t help but be tempted by temporary solutions when your alternative is tents. But this cannot be the position that we’re putting disaster sufferers in. After a few months of trying to figure out how to get this school connected to the resources it needed and failing, we decided to do it ourselves.

We’re now crowd-funding for the funding base we need to get this project rolling. If you’re a kindred believer in sustainable development and disaster response, please watch it, think about it, share it and donate. It’s a project that has to happen.

Linda & Sr. Yannick discuss masterplan Small

Linda and Sister Yannick discuss the school masterplan

You can find more information at bit.ly/TDGirls. Hashtag: #ThinkingGirls

Author: Linda O’Halloran, Managing Director of Thinking Development and Executive Board Member of the UCL IRDR.