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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.

Using Fault data in seismic hazard and risk assessment: A fault2SHA initiative

Joanna P Faure Walker22 March 2021

Effective fault data presentation helps make progress in the calculation of earthquake hazard and risk. 

Cross-disciplinary working can help progress. For calculating seismic hazard, the Fault2SHA Working Group has brought together data providers, modellers and seismic hazard and risk practitioners to help promote the use of fault data in seismic hazard assessment… Fault2SHA representing fault – to – seismic hazard assessment.

In the case of earthquake hazard and risk calculations, a key barrier to fault-based seismic hazard assessment has been the availability of data in a format that can be easily incorporated into calculations of hazard and risk. This has hindered efforts to provide long-term views of hazard and risk. Long-term, multi-millennia time frames cover several seismic cycles such that the long-term behaviour of faults can be identified and not miss out faults capable of hosting earthquakes which have not ruptured within a short-term observation periods (tens or hundreds of years). A further restriction has been the difficulty for modellers to interrogate the detail and uncertainties in primary data. To address these issues, the Fault2SHA Central Apennines laboratory, led by Dr Joanna Faure Walker (UCL IRDR), has created a database structure demonstrating a usable format by which geologists can present data that can be directly incorporated into hazard and risk calculations. To demonstrate its effectiveness, the laboratory has tested the database to calculate simplified calculations of risk in the Central Apennines and demonstrated the effectiveness, even at a simple level, for identifying which faults threaten the public the most and where additional data would have the most impact on current calculations. It is hoped those working in other regions can help the endeavour of promoting the use of faults in seismic hazard assessment through adopting a similar approach.

This work brings together researchers from different research groups in the UK, Italy and France: Joanna Faure Walker, Paolo Boncio, Bruno Pace, Gerald Roberts, Lucilla Benedetti, Oona Scotti, Francesco Visini, and Laura Peruzza

The two papers are published Scientific Data and Frontiers in Earth Science, while the database is available through PANGAEA.

Fault2SHA Central Apennines Database and structuring active fault data for seismic hazard assessment 

Which Fault Threatens Me Most? Bridging the Gap Between Geologic Data-Providers and Seismic Risk Practitioners

Fault2SHA Central Apennines Database

The Fault2SHA working group runs a monthly online learning series to help cross-disciplinary working and annual workshops.  The learning series and 2020 workshop is available through the Fault2SHA youtube channel. A summary of the database is provided by Joanna at 17 mins into the first session of the Fault2SHA 5th workshop:Promoting Faults in Seismic Hazard Assessment


Three IRDR affiliated papers in on Politics of Disaster Governance

Eija Meriläinen8 January 2021

The open-access journal Politics and Governance came recently out with a 21-paper special issue on Politics of Disaster Governance. The issue provides a wide selection of papers from an overlooked perspective, debating how the formal, the ‘real’ and the invisible governance all contribute to how disasters are addressed (see Hilhorst, Boersma & Raju, 2020). The special issue is also one testimony of the diversity of approaches and researchers at Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction (IRDR). Altogether three papers and five researchers contributing to the special issue came from our community. In the following, the authors – appearing in the alphabetical order of their last names – introduce their own articles.

Hilhorst, D., Boersma, K., & Raju, E. (2020). Research on Politics of Disaster Risk Governance: Where Are We Headed? Politics and Governance, 8(4), 214–219. https://doi.org/10.17645/pag.v8i4.3843 [editorial of the special issue]

Patrizia Duda, Ilan Kelman and Navonel Click (all IRDR) on their article “Informal Disaster Governance”

In disaster risk reduction and response, too often, local realities and non-formal influences are sidelined or ignored to the extent that disaster governance can be harmed through the efforts to impose formal and/or political structures. A contrasting narrative emphasises so-called bottom-up, local, and/or participatory approaches which we encapsulate as Informal Disaster Governance (IDG). We theorise IDG, situate it within disaster science, and consider its ‘dark sides’. By doing so, we establish the conceptual importance and balance of IDG vis-à-vis FDG, paving the way for a better understanding of the ‘complete’ picture of disaster governance. Empirically, we consider IDG in and for Svalbard in the Arctic, including its handling of the 2020 coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, to explore the merits and challenges with shifting the politics of disaster governance towards IDG.

Duda, P. I., Kelman, I., & Glick, N. (2020). Informal Disaster Governance. Politics and Governance, 8(4), 375–385. https://doi.org/10.17645/pag.v8i4.3077

Jessica Field (IRDR) on her article “Caught between Paper Plans and Kashmir Politics: Disaster Governance in Ladakh, India”

This article argues that disaster governance must be considered relationally at a horizontal scale (i.e. relationally between two neighbouring areas) as well as vertically (i.e. a local area in relation to the national level) in order to appreciate the full range of pressures shaping an area’s disaster governance. Using the case study of Ladakh, India, I show how the politics of border security and conflict in neighbouring Kashmir have impacted — and often limited — Ladakh’s disaster governance aspirations. For instance, despite efforts to learn lessons from a cloud burst disaster in 2010, Ladakh remains without an effective Disaster Management Plan and experiences everyday setbacks in improving DRR, partly as a result of the Kashmir conflict’s impact on the economy, communications, and governance of the remote region.

Field, J. (2020). Caught between Paper Plans and Kashmir Politics: Disaster Governance in Ladakh, India. Politics and Governance, 8(4), 355–365. https://doi.org/10.17645/pag.v8i4.3143

Eija Meriläinen (IRDR) together with Jukka Mäkinen and Nikodemus Solitander on their article “Blurred Responsibilities of Disaster Governance: The American Red Cross in the US and Haiti”

This article focuses on private actors involved in disaster governance, arguing that their roles and responsibilities have been insufficiently challenged. In particular, the article politicizes the entangled relations between non-profit organizations, liberal states, and disaster-affected people. To interrogate the justice of disaster governance arrangements, the article builds on a Rawlsian theoretical framework. Following the framework, liberal states have two types of responsibilities in disasters: humanitarian (domestically and abroad) and political (domestically). NPOS are shown to be instrumental in blurring the boundaries between humanitarian and political responsibilities. This might result ultimately in actual vulnerabilities remaining unaddressed.

Meriläinen, E., Mäkinen, J., & Solitander, N. (2020). Blurred Responsibilities of Disaster Governance: The American Red Cross in the US and Haiti. Politics and Governance, 8(4), 331–342. http://dx.doi.org/10.17645/pag.v8i4.3094

Creating a relative suitability score for school buildings as evacuation shelters

Joanna P Faure Walker30 October 2020

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

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

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

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

Transforming my M.Sc. Dissertation into a Journal Article

Saqar ' M Al Zaabi2 October 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks to UCL IRDR for making this dream comes true!

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

Saqar ' M Al Zaabi1 October 2020

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

 Arar vatansonaliArakan Ohsunomusalman arar vatansonaliarakan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interviewer: Do you miss them?

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

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

‘ore zaiverhota tutu mohononnai

Oh andergororhota re mohononnai

Ore asamaileazaralaishe tore naikulnivaallai

Zaiver re hota re tutu mohononnai

Oho hoborhota re mohononnai, asamaileazaralaishe…’ [3]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ye jahaan dojakh hai goya, tu hai jannat ai vatan

Hosh udd jata hai mera, Muh ko ata hai jigar

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

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

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

Whenever I remember condition of my country [7]

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


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

[2] Personal Interview, Abdul, Mewat, 10.12.2019

[3] Ibid.

[4] Personal Interview, Fayyad, Hyderabad, 08.08.2018

[5] Ibid.

[6] Personal Interview, Ali, Hyderabad, 08.08.2019

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

Beirut Explosion: What History Tells Us About Accountability

Jessica Field6 August 2020

The port explosion in Beirut on Tuesday is shocking for both the scale of the disaster and the level of mismanagement that led to the catastrophe. At least 137 people are so far known to have died, more than 5,000 are injured and countless more homes and businesses have been completely destroyed. For the people of Beirut, this disaster has come at a time of deep economic crisis as well as the coronavirus pandemic.

Chemically, the port explosion was caused by the detonation of 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate which had been unsafely stored at a warehouse in the port for 6 years. The real cause, however, was chronic mismanagement and negligence. News reports call the Port of Beirut ‘one of the most corrupt and lucrative institutions in Lebanon’. Repeated warnings about the potential consequences of unsafe storage went unheeded.

Immediate attention in Lebanon is necessarily focused on humanitarian needs. Hospitals have been overwhelmed with patients and the Lebanese Red Cross has set up a number of first aid stations in order to triage the wounded. In the longer term, questions of responsibility, accountability and compensation will accompany moves towards recovery and rehabilitation. What might this look like for the people of Beirut?

Looking back at similar disasters in history, holding governments accountable for mismanagement and negligence has proven patchy – even when compensation has been forthcoming.

Comparisons have already been drawn between this crisis and the 1947 industrial disaster in the Port of Texas City in the United States, where a fire detonated ammonium nitrate cargo on a French-registered ship and set off multiple other fires and explosions, killing over 500 people. In the aftermath, the District Court in Texas ruled federal government negligence was evident in manufacturing, handling and export procedures. While this decision was overturned and the US Government did not take full governance responsibility, Congress passed an Act in 1955 that assumed ‘compassionate responsibility’ and provided the means for compensation to victims totalling around $17million USD. Perhaps a more relevant comparison, though, would be an earlier explosion in India.

On 14 April 1944 a British Fort ship containing cotton and ammunitions caught fire in the Victoria Dock of Bombay (now Mumbai) causing two explosions, fires and a water surge which killed 731 people. Similar to Beirut, onlookers initially feared the explosions were caused by enemy shelling, as the country was embroiled in World War II.1 Rescue and relief operations concentrated on putting out fires, pulling people (alive and dead) out of debris and aiding the injured and homeless.

Photo: Smoke following the explosions at the Bombay Docks, India, 14 April 1944

The explosions in Victoria Dock were caused by a series of intersecting errors and negligence: poor management of materials, absent watchmen, multiple failures to raise the alarm, and insufficient response capacity. The then-Viceroy of India Lord Wavell noted that ‘there is no doubt that safety precautions were broken for war reasons, and that explosives ought not to have been unloaded where they were’.2 In the aftermath, urgent questions emerged over accountability and compensation to those affected, but responsibility from relevant authorities was not forthcoming.

In these final years of British rule over India (which ended in 1947 with Indian independence), the two countries were feeling the strain of war. In the East, Bengal was reeling from a catastrophic famine caused by Churchill’s diversion of resources away from the region to maintain the war effort. Challenges across India to British authority and legitimacy had been growing for some time—often centring on the Raj’s inability to feed and protect the nation.3 It is against this backdrop that the Indian government went on reputation control and damage limitation around the Bombay port disaster, forcing a media blackout in the days afterwards and whitewashing a “Commission of Inquiry” months later.4 Responding to this censorship, the Bombay Sentinel presented a blank column on its front page stating that the space should have been occupied by news of yesterday’s ‘disastrous explosions’ in the docks. As Yasmin Khan documents in her book The Raj at War, the newspaper was suspended for this subversion.5

The Commission’s first report in September 1944 was not without its flaws but it did record that ‘a state of lamentable disorganisation and neglect’ contributed to the scale of the port explosion.6 However, the Ministry of War and Transport was reportedly furious at this evaluation and a second committee was established to revise the findings, drawing global condemnation.7 Compensation was paid to many of those affected, but the government avoided taking ultimate responsibility for the tragedy.

Looking at Beirut nearly eight decades later, mismanagement in the context of economic crisis and conflict suggests there are more echoes of the Bombay port disaster than that of Texas. Lebanon’s weak government and general corruption undoubtedly contributed to negligence around the storage and handling of these highly explosive materials in Beirut. We’ve yet to understand how neighbouring conflicts may have affected decision-making around what to do with this confiscated material, though lessons from Bombay suggest this may be critical. While Lebanon’s Prime Minister Hassan Diab has promised a full investigation, the country’s historically unaccountable government is unlikely to opt for an independent and transparent review.

What is certain is that this human-made disaster will only serve to exacerbate Lebanon’s deep economic and food crisis. And it may prove to be the breaking point for a country where many are calling for revolution.


  1. Yasmin Khan, The Raj at War: A People’s History of the Second World War, Vintage (2015), p.287.
  2. Lord Wavell, The Viceroy’s Journal, edited by Penderel Moon, Oxford University Press (1973), p.68
  3. Benjamin Robert Siegal, Hungry Nation: Food, famine and the making of modern India, Cambridge University Press (2018).
  4. Khan, p.288.
  5. Khan, p.288.
  6. Excerpt fromThe Hindustan Times, 12 September 1944. Round-Up Bi-weekly, Vol. II-44, no. 21. September 12 1944. P. 51. National Archives of India, Home Political/I/1944/NA/F-51-8/KW/Part-1.
  7. Wavell, p.88; Khan, p.288.


Multiple faults across strike versus isolated faults, is there a difference in stress loading?

Claudia Sgambato30 July 2020

A new study by IRDR PhD student Claudia Sgambato, Dr Joanna Faure Walker, Dr Zoe Mildon and Prof Gerald Roberts, has identified a novel aspect of fault interaction that links the stress loading to the geometry of the fault system, which has important implications for fault-based earthquake hazard modelling.

By analysing the earthquake sequence of the Southern Apennines (Italy) in the last 600 years, the study presents a comparison of the stress loading history of “isolated” faults and multiple faults across strike, and shows that the stress evolution is not the same for all faults, but is influenced by the way faults are arranged in the system.

In the Southern Apennines the fault system geometry is relatively simple, with most of the structures aligned along strike. This area was the location of some of the strongest earthquakes ever recorded in Italy, such as the Mw 7.1 1857 event on the Val di Diano and Val d’Agri faults, that caused ~10,000 deaths and the more recent Mw 6.8 1980 earthquake on the Irpinia fault, that caused 3,000 deaths. For these reasons, this area provides an ideal place to investigate the role of fault geometry and fault interaction in the historical earthquake sequence.

Detail of the Vallo di Diano fault scarp (photo by Claudia Sgambato).

Fault interaction during earthquakes is usually calculated through Coulomb stress transfer. Using data from historical earthquakes, the authors have calculated the coseismic stress changes on the active faults. Deformation rates measured in the field have been used to derive the annual rate of stress loading. The combined coseismic and interseismic stress components allow calculation of the stress present on the fault prior to an earthquake, or pre-stress.

The analysis of pre-stress on all the faults before each historical earthquake has shown that 94% of the earthquakes occurred on faults that were positively stressed, and that where earthquakes occurred on an isolated fault, this had the highest pre-stress of all the faults at the time of the event. This is due to the fact that when a fault is isolated, the build-up of stress is not influenced by earthquakes occurring on other faults across strike, and the stress is distributed homogeneously across their surface, compared to faults that are across strike.

Coseismic rupture of the Mw 6.8 1980 earthquake (Irpinia fault) (photo taken during fieldwork in 2019 by Claudia Sgambato).

This suggests that isolated faults have fewer areas of negative stress, which can promote the propagation of the rupture, generating earthquakes with similar magnitude. An example of this can be seen for the Irpinia fault, with the earthquakes in 1694 and 1980, which share similar magnitude and damage distribution, and a similar value of pre-stress.

This means that for studies of seismic hazard it is important to consider the pre-stress on the faults in order to understand which fault is likely to rupture, and to take into account that the fault system geometry influences the way the stress is accumulated on faults.


The article is open access and available here: Sgambato et al. (2020)

Study of Icelandic active faults shows fault bends must be considered throughout fault development and maturity

Joanna P Faure Walker9 July 2020

Iezzi, Roberts & Faure Walker (2020) Throw-rate variations within linkage zones during the growth of normal faults: Case studies from the Western Volcanic Zone, Iceland, J. Struct. Geol., 133, 103977

Fault throw-rates and slip-rates are a fundamental input into fault-based seismic hazard assessments (SHA) i.e. how likely are earthquakes to occur….

Francesco Iezzi, Gerald Roberts and Joanna Faure Walker studied active faults in the Western Volcanic Zone, Iceland, to determine whether changes in fault throw-rates across fault bends, as identified in previous works in central Italy, are present in other tectonic settings.

This study shows that fault throw-rate increases within fault bends in response to non-planar fault geometry are present at a range of stages of maturity of the bend and extends examples of this phenomenon to mid-ocean ridge settings. This suggests that extrapolating fault slip-rates and slip during past earthquakes from individual sites along a fault must consider the location of data collection in relation to the geometry of the fault.

Why is this so important? Because if we use individual measurements of how fast a fault is moving, we need to understand whether this measurement is representative of the fault as a whole or whether it is underestimating or overestimating the slip. If we do not do this, we will overestimate or underestimate earthquake hazard.

The challenges that Covid-19 has brought to the newly elected women leaders in Nepal

Punam K Yadav22 June 2020

Co-authors: Pallavi Payal, Independent Researcher, Nepal and Punam Yadav, IRDR Centre for Gender and Disaster, UCL

Amidst this global pandemic and the initial chaos, there is an increasing attention to examine the different impacts of Covid-19, including the gendered impacts. On June 5th, 2020, the IRDR Centre for Gender and Disaster co-hosted a webinar with Pallavi Payal, an independent researcher from Nepal, which aimed to explore the lived experiences of women political leaders in Nepal in the time of Covid-19. It is becoming more evident that countries with women in leadership are doing much better, compared to those with men as heads of the state, especially in terms of managing the global pandemic and minimising the risks to people. The aim here is not to compare Nepal with New Zealand or Finland but to explore the contributions of women leaders at the local level during this pandemic.

Nepal has progressed significantly in recent years in terms of increasing women’s participation in politics. Currently numbers of women at the local government have been instrumental in managing the current crisis, despite many constraints, from quarantine management to the management of migrant returnees from India and abroad. Province 2 in particular is one of the hardest hits due to its open border with India, which has added additional challenges and responsibilities to the local and the provincial governments.

In situations like this, leaders and service providers are often labelled as ‘heroes’, if they are managing well or demonised, if they aren’t. However, what gets missed in this binary between the good and the bad leadership is the challenges that these political leaders face, both at home and at work in the times of crisis, such as Covid-19. Therefore, we wanted to have this conversation with women leaders from the local and the provincial governments. Therefore, we invited seven speakers to share their experiences. However, one could not join due to internet issues in her rural municipality. Out of the six speakers, who included Deputy Mayors and Provincial Assembly members, five of them were women and one was a male Provincial Assembly member. The aim of inviting a male politician was to understand how women’s challenges were perceived by their male colleagues as well as to help build support for them. The number of views on Facebook has reached over 2.9K, which suggests a lot of interest on the topic.

Due to the constitutional provision of a mandatory quota for women in Nepal, their participation in politics has increased to 41% in the local government. The majority of them, however, had no previous training in politics. Therefore, it has been a steep learning curve for many of them. It was only a little more than two years since their time in the office, when they were still trying to understand their roles and responsibilities, the country was struck by the current pandemic.

Nepal went into lockdown on the 24th of March 2020 with immediate effect, which created a lot of chaos and fear among people. Its capital city, Kathmandu, has a huge migrant population. As many of them thought that rural areas are safer than staying in the city, due to the lack of knowledge when the pandemic started, they made their journey back home, mostly on foot. Stories of people, including pregnant women and children, making their journey on foot for hundreds of miles were heart-breaking. Amidst this, migrant workers from various parts of the world, including India were coming home. Province 2 was also receiving a large number of returnees. The lack of planning from the government across all levels meant chaos for the local leaders without the means to support. Therefore, they started doing what they could in their own capacity. Although the local leaders are dealing with a number of challenges, women representatives had to face additional challenges due to their gender roles, some of which we aim to outline in this blog.

Dual Responsibilities

Women changed subject position from their previous roles to now as leaders. However, people’s perception about their gender roles has not changed. Women leaders at the webinar said that having to manage both home and work has been a challenge. They said, since the local government is the closest authority to the people, it is bound to have more responsibilities and challenges. Women leaders have suffered the burden of dual responsibilities. Their responsibilities at home have increased because of everyone staying at home, which meant more cooking, cleaning and caretaking. Likewise, workload has increased at work due to the pandemic. Ms Salma Khatoon, the Deputy Mayor of Pokhariya Municipality, shared her fear of contracting the virus and giving it to her family due to the nature of her work. She said she has a young child. However, she has been going out to monitor the quarantine facilities. All the migrant returnees and those who have tested positive are put into government-run quarantine facilities that have been poorly managed and overcrowded. Going to these places without any PPE means high risk of contracting the virus. She said she is scared of contracting the virus from the quarantine facilities and brining it home. Another speaker, Ms. Sadhana Jha, the Deputy Mayor of Rajbiraj Municipality also shared similar experiences.

Provincial Assembly member, Manish Suman said that while the male representatives have challenges too, one cannot ignore that women have additional challenges due to their responsibilities at home. They don’t get concession in their household responsibilities even though they have the same responsibilities as male representatives.

Work of Judicial Committee affected

One of the main responsibilities of the deputy mayor is leading the Judicial Committee, which involves dealing with social issues in their constituencies. However, the Judicial Committee has been badly affected by Covid-19. Evidence suggests increase in domestic violence. However, the Deputy mayor can’t meet the victims. They are still trying to support people. Salma Khatoon said she has been handling cases over the phone. Sometimes she has to meet in person. Even though she advises people to come in a small group, sometimes 20 people turn up, which increases the risks.

In addition to similar challenges faced by local representatives, Sadhana Jha added that not everything is possible via phone or internet because access to internet is difficult in rural areas. The increased responsibilities, due to this global pandemic, have exposed the local representatives to a higher risk. Provincial Assembly member, Manju Yadav, said that people in the villages are still not aware about physical distancing or even Covid-19. Manish Suman added that the idea of physical distancing or even washing hands so regularly is usually taken negatively in the villages and there is a chance of offending people if you tell them to do so.

Men in quarantine, women suffer at home

The local representatives pointed out that there are more men in quarantine but there are also women with their breastfeeding babies. Women representatives have been very active in supporting these women. In a male dominated society like Nepal where men are the breadwinners and women are the caretakers, when men are quarantined, all responsibilities fall on women’s shoulders. Deputy Mayor of Gaur, Kiran Thakur, said women come with their concerns to the women representatives. Women who have their relatives stuck at the border request the women representatives to help. As women representatives, Thakur feels that she should listen to their concerns and help them. However, the lack of resources means a lot of stress for her. Despite the challenges, women representatives said they are doing what they can to support women and advocating with their colleagues, Provincial and Federal governments for more support for women.

Relief Distribution and Women’s need

The women leaders also pointed out that the relief packages are handled by the Mayors and the Ward Chairpersons, who are mostly men, but the needs of women are not considered. Therefore, women come to them asking for help. They also said that women representatives are not consulted or informed before making any decisions on relief distribution. Nonetheless, they have to support people in their constituencies. Salma Khatoon said long before the directives from the Federal government, she suggested that the local government should provide nutritious food packages to pregnant women. However, her municipality ignored her proposal. She said the culture of ignoring and excluding women representatives has continued but they are navigating their own ways to fight against the exclusion.

All the panellists said that one of the main challenges to manage the current crisis is the lack of data. They said they don’t know how many people have entered Nepal via open border, which makes it difficult to manage the spread of the virus.  The panellists also raised other challenges, such as the lack of enough financial support from the federal government and the lack of coordination between the governments. They also said NGOs working in the region should divert their funding to support the people impacted by Covid-19.

Although Covid-19 has brought a lot of challenges to the women leaders at the local level, they think that this pandemic has also been an opportunity to work closely with the people in their constituencies. They have had the opportunity to prove themselves through their work, which has helped build trust with the local people. They have also learned to use Zoom. They have access to the outside world through Zoom and the outside world also has to them.

This webinar was livestreamed via Facebook. Please click here.