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Mami Mizutori’s Speech: UCL-IRDR 11th Annual Conference, Part Two

Joshua Anthony1 December 2021

Why do warnings matter?

Earlier this year, the UCL Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction (IRDR) and the Warning Research Centre hosted a one-day online event exploring this question. As part of the IRDR’s 11th Annual Conference we welcomed researchers, students, practitioners, policymakers, the media and the general public to celebrate the launch of the UCL Warning Research Centre. As part of this the attendees enjoyed a diverse program of activities aimed at getting to the root of warnings, why they matter, and how their role, design, use and evaluation can be optimised to prepare for the expected and unexpected.

Our previous article summarised the ideas generated from a panel of experts discussing the aspects of exceptional and expected events. This time, we present the keynote speech from Mami Mizutori, the Assistant Secretary-General and Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction, United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR).

This blog is part two of a series presenting the key findings from the conference proceedings. The rapporteurs whose notes form this material are Calum MacKay and Simone Phillips, who are both from the University of Glasgow on the MSc Earth Futures Programme. Any mistakes or misrepresentation of the participants’ words are the author’s own.


Part Two: Keynote Speech

Warnings and the Launch of the Warning Research Centre


Presenter: Mami Mizutori, UNDRR | Moderator: Prof Ilan Kelman, UCL

Mama Mizutori is the Assistant Secretary-General and Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction, United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR). The following summary is based on the notes of event rapporteurs. The full presentation can be viewed on YouTube.

If warnings are placed right, they can serve as a gateway to risk reduction, opening the door to conversation between individuals, communities, and governments. We encounter risk constantly in our everyday lives and are surrounded by risk. Risks are systemic and complex, and it is human nature to procrastinate over things that are complex, but we need to be aware that no decision is risk-neutral. The decisions we make can increase risk and climate change is exacerbating this, already disrupting billions of lives.

EWS are therefore critical to saving lives and reducing risk. Setting up EWS is becoming more economic thanks to technological advances and with use of tech combined with more traditional ways of response.

There are also issues of proactive risk reduction vs reactive response. There is no such thing as a natural disaster, we know that, but those words are put together in the media. When natural hazards are combined with vulnerability and exposure, they create disaster. Good EWS are therefore based on extensive understanding of these three elements and can reach the last mile to reach most vulnerable populations and communities.

Warnings can tell us when something reaches dangerous levels, warning thresholds are useful for preparation in a world of cascading impacts. This means supporting early action to protect us from failure of many systems is vital. For EWS to be successful we need to connect warning to action. It’s essential that EWS are complemented by risk communication, but often we face the challenge where information existed but was not acted upon. We need to focus on preventing disaster rather than on reactive approaches when lives have already been lost.

Hazards we are exposed to are multiple so warnings must reflect this. Currently warnings focus on getting ahead of disaster and reactive measures, but we have further potential to consolidate data of risk information for early warning and action.

The UNDRR coordinate activities to create safer, more resilient communities as custodian agency for Sendai Framework and support all UN member states and stakeholders to implement this framework. Its overall goal is to prevent new and reduce existing disaster risk through implementation of inclusivity. The Sendai Framework is a departure from previous ways of thinking about disaster and represents a paradigm shift from exposure to a people centered approach to DRR, while primary responsibility to implement it resides among the member states. It is a shared responsibility for all stakeholders to do this: an all-of-society approach. UNDRR also has work in early warning—Africa (AUC) as a whole and individual warnings like Malawi and Ethiopia.

Partnerships with academia and science is important for evidence-based risk reduction, and we need evidence to convince people to work on it. Need to understand risk around us, but many countries still face challenges in making this accessible and usable to decision makers. Many lack a risk assessment approach to understand systemic risk. The global risk assessment framework (GRAF) can be used as understanding the systemic nature of risk.

Take Away Message

Early warning systems are vital in order to effectively reduce risk to environmental hazards but they must reflect the unique context of each individual location and community. They must also account for the multiplicity of hazards to ensure a proactive rather than reactive approach to hazard and risk mitigation.

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

What Advice would you give to students entering the field?

It’s important to go into the field. It is important to go into the ones that are most at risk and vulnerable to combine your knowledge, your expertise with what you experience on the ground and then come back again to devise systems that bring all this together. We need to make sure that there is a clear pathway for students to get into the field as we are still not preventing enough. We are still not ready enough for disasters. We need to make it a reality for students to have clear career pathways, to be able to make a difference.

I understand that the Sendai Framework is not a legally binding treaty, is there any talk to make it so?

Not at this moment, it’s not a legal document either but does it make it any less because of it? I don’t think so. Sendai Framework is addressing the most pressing challenge that we are facing right now and it has to go hand in hand with the Paris agreement. If it doesn’t go hand in hand we cannot achieve the SDGS. But 2023 will be the midterm point of the Sendai framework and we will have a midterm review. We may make it legal if stakeholders and importantly member states feel that that is necessary.

Is part 2 of the UN report going ahead?

It is going ahead, we are creating a profile of each hazard in first report, that’s the main focus. If we don’t understand the nature of hazard then it is hard to have comprehensive responses. It will evolve.

The spread of misinformation is becoming widespread, why? What do we do about misinformation?

Look at 2019 and even before that around the climate emergency, we have been exposed to a lot of misinformation. So the UN started a campaign called “Verify” This means that when you receive information that you know that this is not true you can verify it and if it’s not true don’t pass it on. The evolved involvement of social media is great but then at the same time if you’re not careful when using social media you can just be a proliferator of misinformation yourself. My message is:  let’s stop doing it ourselves first, and the second thing is we need to really look into science and evidence and let’s make the findings, the evidence: accessible. Because of the difficulty in interpreting and assessing science we tend to go for easy solutions or easy answers even if they are false. Science and academia has a very important role here to make your findings accessible so that people understand clearly what is misinformation in this and what is not.

There is a Lack of entry level jobs that don’t require 10 year’s experience, where should we get this experience? There are also financial difficulties. What is the UN doing to help?

It’s all about honing skills and then your expertise on one aspect of this disaster reduction. I would say that you find your niche within the studies but never forget to connect it to all other aspects. Don’t make it a siloed research and in that way I’m sure that it will become a career. The private sector is looking at disaster reduction more than ever. I do believe that the private sector will be looking more and more for risk experts. There are also lots of internship opportunities with us at the UN in not only Geneva, but also Nairobi and Bangkok. There is Sponsorship for those who may need financial help. Also internships at FAO and WFP. We are trying to create more opportunities for students from the global south. We need to do more, we will try to do better.

How could international cooperation support regional early warning practice (global south)?

We are creating African continent-wide early warning system to establish an early warnings operation unit, so the system becomes a regional one. Disasters don’t respect borders if systems stop at borders they won’t be effective. Areas will have even more focused, donors are interested in supporting systems that are transboundary. Providing anticipatory aid, don’t wait until an extreme event happens, instead it’s based one early warning data and provides aid in advance to better prepare people and mitigate the impacts. Not enough money for all disasters anymore. The gap between what is needed and what is provided is growing. Anticipatory aid can help this.

What is the one key thing governments can take away?

To focus on the systemic nature of risk, because still many governments when looking at systemic nature, it actually worsens risk and the multi hazard aspect of hazard. This is something that we saw looking at the national strategies of governments after Covid outbreak. We found out that a lot of them are still quite single hazard orientated and most of them do not look at the systemic nature risk. As a result ,the agencies for disaster risk management agencies for public health are all siloed and they do not talk to each other. Therefore, the response to systemic risk is not systemic nor comprehensive. This is where we need to change; and early warning systems can also be a very important part of it by being a multi hazard early warning system. I think this is the most important lesson. Let’s take what we’ve learned from COVID-19, and I hope that they listen and their experience doesn’t go away.

Next up in this blog series will be In Conversation with Dr Oliver Morgan, of the WHO Health Emergencies Program and Dr Gail Carson of the Global Outbreak and Response Network.


Watch the full conference on youtube here!

Conference URL:

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

Conference Rapporteurs: Simone Phillips and Calum Mackay

Conference Convener: Dr. Carina Fearnley


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

Follow us on Twitter!

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

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

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

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

Joshua Anthony3 November 2021

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

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

This blog is part one of a series presenting the key findings from the conference proceedings. The rapporteurs whose notes form this material are Calum MacKay and Simone Phillips who are both from the University of Glasgow on the MSc Earth Futures Programme.


Part One.

Panel Discussion 1: Warning Systems ‒ Exceptional versus expected events


 

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

Summaries of each presenters’ arguments are as follows:

Mickey Glantz

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

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

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

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

Daniel Straub

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

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

Rebekah Yore

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

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

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

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

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

Mickey Glantz

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

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

Rebekah Yore

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

Mickey Glantz

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

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

Daniel Straub

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

Rebekah Yore

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

Mickey Glantz

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

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


Watch the full conference on youtube here!

Conference URL:

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

Conference Rapporteurs: Simone Phillips and Calum Mackay

Conference Convener: Dr. Carina Fearnley


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

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

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

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

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

Jessica Field11 June 2021

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


Authored by: Jessica Field


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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

The list goes on.

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

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

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

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


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

 

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

2020 Virtual IRDR Spring Academy

Lucy K Buck21 May 2020

The annual IRDR Spring Academy is usually held at a beautiful country house. Here all the members of the IRDR gather to catch up with each other, find out what others are working on, brainstorm future work, discuss possible collaborations and attempt Ilan’s infamous pub quiz.

This year was a little different. With members of staff and PhD students signing in online from their living rooms the Spring Academy was off to a slightly different start than usual.

This years theme was ‘trending’ with trends in disasters, communication, experimental work and field work being discussed.

Five main trends identified were:

  1. Are there more or worse disasters? This depends on how disasters are recorded, measured and communicated. There was a reported decrease in volcanic eruptions between 1939 and 1944 – was this due to less eruptions or a distracted media?
  2. People’s behaviour. Panic, fatigue due to false alarms, looting, rioting etc are reported to be rare at a local level but disaster capitalism by corporations and individuals not directly effected tends to be more common.
  3. Observations and reporting can create perceived trends which do not exist in actuality.
  4. How disasters are communicated and how this influences decision makers. The rise of populism and reactionary policies based on public opinion rather than science is happening globally.
  5. How can this be corrected? In particular when the misinformation comes from someone in a position of authority and trust. This is crucial and we, as researchers, must be careful. Especially ensuring we get the basics right; there is no such thing as a natural disaster, people may not agree that they are victims and may not want to be described that way or an accident may not be entirely unintentional.

At the IRDR we aim to create the trends, not follow them.

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

9th International Conference on Digital Public Health

Saqar ' M Al Zaabi27 February 2020

The team from UCL IRDR Centre for Digital Public Health in Emergencies (dPHE) attended the 9th International Conference on Digital Public Health (www.acm-digitalhealth.org) chaired again by the dPHE Centre Director, Prof Patty Kostkova.

Held on 20th – 23rd November 2019 in Marseille, France, the DPH 2019 was supported by the newly established UCL IRDR Centre for Digital Public Health in Emergencies (dPHE) and for the first time held in conjunction with a public health event – 12th European Public Health Conference 2019 and continue our cooperation with ACM Special Interest Group on Knowledge Discovery and Data Mining (SIGKDD). There were two parallel tracks on digital health: 9th DPH 2019 conference with technical focus, and a joint track with EPH ‘Digital Applications in Health’ bringing public health applications of digital health. Young researchers, MSc and PhD students enjoyed a truly interdisciplinary ‘Young Researches Forum’ day organised in collaboration with ASPHER, the Association of Public Health Schools in the European Region.

Building on the growing success of previous editions (2008 London, 2009 Istanbul, 2010 Casablanca, 2011 Malaga, 2013 Rio de Janeiro, 2014 Soul, 2015 Florence, 2016 in Montreal, 2017 London, 2018 Lyon), the 9th International Digital Public Health conference mission has ideally met the EPH 2019 vision: ‘Building Bridges for Solidarity and Public Health’.

This year, we enjoyed exciting plenary session bringing the highest calibre of international speakers for topical panel debates: ‘AI and Big Data: Ethical challenges and health opportunities’ (chaired by Patty, organised jointly with EPH), international perspective was discussed at a DPH plenary on ‘Challenges of Implementing Healthcare Technology and Innovation across Europe and Beyond’ (chaired by Dr Arnold Bosman) and lessons learned from successful DH innovation projects will be highlighted at plenary on ‘Digital Health Innovation: From Proof of Concept to Public Value’ (chaired by Dr Michael Edelstein). The role of fake news in social media for public health is addressed at the joint session: ‘Online anti-vaccination movements: The role of social media in public health communications’ was chaired by Patty and organised jointly by DPH, EUPHA Health promotion section & EUPHA Infection Diseases Control section. Another highlight featured the launch of the European mHealth Knowledge and Innovations Hub – a bold new partnership for the future of mHealth in WHO European Region. DPH 2019 offered even more: a joint EPH and RECON workshop offering a session on programming in R for epidemiologists.

In addition to being busy chairing with the event, Prof Patty Kostkova, Dr. Caroline Wood, Dr. Anwar Musah, Dr Adrian Rubio Solis and Georgiana Birjovanu had the opportunity to present their recent digital solutions to combat antibiotic overuse or to create an early-warning tool for the ZIKA virus and the gamified intervention improving resilience of women in Nepal, MANTRA. Several dPHE papers were published by ACM Digital Library and European Journal on Public Health.

The conference started with the Young Researchers Forum, where postgraduate students were able to present their recent work, followed by an exciting session on Missing Maps. This session, led by Katherine Roberts-Hill from the British Red Cross and Dr. Anwar Musah, and supported by Medicines Sans Frontiers, offered participants the opportunity to contribute to open-source maps that help geolocate women at risk of Female Genital Mutilation in Tanzania. A concurrent Missing Maps session was run at UCL for IRDR students by a guest lecturer at the Digital Heath module – real-time concurrent mapping in two countries – how more digital one can get? 😉

The conference also comprised of many exciting sessions, from talks on how technology can help achieve a healthy lifestyle, assessing food consumption behaviour using machine learning in order to advise patients with diabetes to the potential of AI and Big data in the health domain.

One of the peak moments of this event was represented by the 2019 Innovation Prize Pitches, where the teams pitched for the Best Data-Driven Innovation and the Best Partnership awards. On behalf of UCL, Dr. Caroline Wood presented as the Best Partnership program the GADSA project, a Gamified Antimicrobial Decision Support App that provides feedback to surgeons when prescribing surgical antibiotic prophylaxis. Georgiana Birjovanu pitched for the Best Data-Driven Innovation, presenting the ZIKA platform and mobile app, designed to help health agents in Brazil to gather environmental data and to predict the mosquito populations based on the data collected. Both presentations were awarded the Best Runner Up awards by the international jury.

The Digital Public Health Conference represented a great opportunity to meet experts from different areas within the public health domain – world-class researchers, World Health Organization representatives and small to medium-sized enterprises – it’s where the digital health minds meet. No wonder  #DPH2019 hashtag was trending on Twitter all week.

Please click the link below to watch a video of photos showing the different conference events.

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1UMQ8ExeLHE4NdPM69Q7AkUTZsWt4IbyV/view

We look forward to DPH 2020 and hope to tempt more IRDR colleagues to attend this exciting event with us 🙂

UCL-ZIKA Mapathon: Mapping of Residential Areas for Mosquito Surveillance in Campina Grande, Northeast Brazil

ucfausa25 February 2020

On Tuesday, 28th of January, researchers from UCL IRDR Centre for Digital Public Health in Emergencies (dPHE) (Professor Patty Kostkova and Dr Anwar Musah), UCL Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis (CASA) (Dr Sarah Wise) and expert mappers from the British Red Cross (Katherine Roberts-Hill and Jiumei Gao) organised an interesting Mapathon session. Through crowd participation, the goal was to map out the entire residential areas of Campina Grande, Brazil.

Campina Grande is an interesting city with varied land-uses in the State of Paraiba. Unfortunately, it is one of many areas in the North Eastern region of Brazil that was hit by the Zika epidemic in 2014/15. UCL IRDR-dPHE alongside researchers from Federal University of Campina Grande and Environmental Health Surveillance agency are working closely to monitor potential mosquito population outbreaks through the development of mobile technologies and GIS. Unfortunately, this area remains unmapped and off-grid. Only scanned paper maps exist for the authorities at Campina Grande, there is presently no spatial data that can be used in a form of early warning detection for potential mosquito outbreaks nor observing the distribution of residential areas inhabited by mosquito breeding. This is where our collaborative research and mapathon comes into play to address such paucity of data.

Students from UCL (IRDR, CASA and Geography), LSHTM as well as external volunteers (GIS experts from London Borough offices, businesses and hikers) and The Red Cross came to this session to learn valuable cartographic skills for digitising scanned paper maps in QGIS. In return, they help us to digitise 47 scanned maps representing the residential areas for neighbourhoods in Campina Grande.

Figure 1: Overall mapathon progress – grey section represents what was mapped by the volunteers.

The result – we were able to complete 38 (out 47 neighbourhoods). This corresponds to a completion rate of 79.0% (3,781 out of 4,787) which represent the number of residential block areas that were digitised during the mapathon (see Figure 1). This is effort is extremely impressive! The event received many positive feedbacks from the participants, as well as the evening atmosphere was great and friendly – we all enjoyed drinks and munched on a tonne of delicious pizzas from Icco’s Pizza while mapping!

If you’re interested in attending a similar Mapathon event, follow @TheMissingMaps on Twitter.

To stay up to date with all UCL IRDR dPHE news and events, follow @UCL_dPHE & @UCLIRDR

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)