By Lan Li, on 14 March 2023
The COVID-19 pandemic has posed major challenges to public health systems across the world. Meanwhile, vaccination has been developed and delivered at record speed, while its application has been limited by vaccine hesitancy, which refers to “a delay in acceptance or refusal of vaccination despite the availability of vaccination services”, defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) strategic advisory group of experts (WHO SAGE). This can be due to various reasons at various levels, such as misinformation, lack of trust in the healthcare system, or personal beliefs and values. It is a complex problem, resulting in challenges in understanding and designing targeted interventions to solve it.
A venue for all
The 16th Vaccine Congress held in Italy aimed to address vaccine-related issues and to build health system resilience by discussing the latest advancements in vaccine research, development and implementation. The congress brought together leading experts from the fields of vaccinology, public health, medicine, epidemiology, and social sciences, who discussed the challenges posed by vaccine development, vaccine delivery and vaccine hesitancy and ways to overcome them.
As one of the early career researchers in vaccine hesitancy, it is a great opportunity for me to discuss this issue with researchers from other backgrounds and understand the hesitancy problem through a broader lens. During the conference, our discussions centred around the importance of promoting accurate information about vaccines, improving communication between healthcare providers and the public, and increasing public trust in the healthcare system. In addition, we also discussed whether vaccination is actually safe and what kind of vaccination is safer. Admittedly, these questions were hard to answer and the only reliable evidence is the data from RCTs (in short term). However, it opens a new way for understanding the vaccine hesitancy problem – the vaccine itself has created the ideal conditions for mistrust to thrive, due to its complexity and variability of development and evaluation. To solve this problem, more collaboration is needed between experts from vaccine R&D, health education, behaviour science and more.
The role of social media
One of the most-impressed presentations was “addressing vaccine hesitancy: integrating the Vaccine Trust Gauge and effective communication to advance confidence and uptake”, given by Prof Scott Ratzan, from CUNY School of Public Health and Health Policy. His speech highlighted the role of media in shaping public perception of vaccines and emphasized the need for health organizations to engage with the public and correct misinformation about vaccines on mass media and social media. In particular, social media platforms have become a major source of information for many people, and the spread of false information about vaccines on these platforms can lead to confusion and fear. In turn, this can lead to lower vaccine uptake and increase the risk of outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases.
However, the role of social media in shaping public perception of vaccines is crucial, and it is essential for health organizations to engage with the public on these platforms. Health organizations can use social media to correct misinformation about vaccines, provide accurate information, and address the concerns of the public, which is the way to build public trust and increase vaccine uptake. It can also be used to promote positive stories and experiences of people who have been vaccinated. By using social media in a proactive and strategic way, health organizations can counter the spread of misinformation about vaccines and help to increase public understanding of the importance of vaccination.
Admittedly, it is also important to note that social media can also be used to spread false information and to promote anti-vaccine messages. Health organizations must be vigilant in monitoring social media and must take action to counter false information and misinformation. They can do this by partnering with trusted sources, such as public health organizations and scientific institutions, to provide accurate information about vaccines.
Challenges at community-level
Another key area of discussion was the importance of involving communities in the decision-making process about vaccines. In the second day of the conference, a roundtable discussion was held to make the statement on multisectoral actions for building trust to promote vaccine acceptance. I was fortunately involved in the discussion and shared my opinions. The discussion emphasized the need for health organizations to listen to the concerns of the public, provide clear and concise information about vaccines, and involve communities in the planning and implementation of vaccine programs. The challenges for addressing vaccine hesitancy at the community level includes:
- Misinformation and distrust: The spread of misinformation and false information about vaccines can lead to confusion and distrust among the public. This can be particularly challenging for health organizations, as people are often exposed to a large amount of information from a variety of sources, including social media, friends, and family.
- Personal beliefs and values: individuals may have personal beliefs or values that conflict with getting vaccinated. For example, they may believe that vaccines are unnatural or harmful, or that they are not necessary.
- Lack of access to accurate information: communities may not have access to accurate information about vaccines, or may not understand the benefits of vaccination. This can lead to misunderstandings and reluctance to get vaccinated.
- Healthcare provider distrust: individuals may not trust healthcare providers or the healthcare system, which can make them reluctant to get vaccinated.
- Barriers to accessing vaccines: communities may face barriers to accessing vaccines, such as poverty, lack of transportation, or limited access to healthcare.
- Resistance to change: individuals may resist getting vaccinated because they have always lived a certain way and are resistant to changing their habits or beliefs.
To address these challenges, several discussions were made between experts from different background, including researcher, healthcare workers, vaccine company staff, community workers and the public. They provided many insightful strategies to solve this problem. A statement paper proposed the framework for engaging multiple sectors for building vaccine trust was under preparation and will be published following the conference.
The congress also discussed the importance of providing equitable access to vaccines, particularly for marginalized communities. The speakers emphasized the need to address the root causes of vaccine hesitancy, such as poverty, lack of education, and poor access to healthcare, in order to ensure that everyone has access to vaccines.
Strengthen health system resilience
The congress also highlighted the importance of building a strong health system in order to improve vaccine uptake. The speakers discussed the need for investment in health systems to increase access to vaccines, improve the quality of care, and ensure that health systems are prepared to respond to the next public health crisis. It provided a new way for me to reconsider the role of my research in the health system and DRR.
Firstly, vaccine hesitancy can have a significant impact on the health system, both in terms of public health outcomes and healthcare costs. When individuals are reluctant or refuse to get vaccinated, it can lead to outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases, which can put vulnerable populations, such as the elderly, young children, and individuals with weakened immune systems, at risk. Outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases can also put a strain on the healthcare system, as more resources are needed to diagnose and treat cases and to control the spread of the disease. Secondly, vaccine hesitancy can lead to increased healthcare costs, as individuals who are not vaccinated are more likely to require medical care, including hospitalization, for vaccine-preventable diseases. This can put a strain on healthcare budgets, particularly in resource-limited settings, and can divert resources away from other important healthcare needs. In addition to the impact on public health and healthcare costs, vaccine hesitancy can also undermine efforts to achieve herd immunity, which is critical for controlling the spread of vaccine-preventable diseases.
Overall, attending the 16th Vaccine Congress was a valuable and enriching experience for me as a PhD student. It provided a valuable opportunity to deepen my understanding of the current challenges and strategies for addressing vaccine hesitancy. During the conference, I had the opportunity to listen to leading experts in the field, and to engage in discussions with other researchers, healthcare professionals, and policymakers. This helped me to gain a comprehensive understanding of the current state of knowledge on vaccine hesitancy, and to identify areas for future research and inquiry, and enhance my own PhD project. I am grateful for the opportunity to attend this important event, and I look forward to continuing to engage with others in the field to advance our understanding of this important issue.
I would like to gratefully acknowledge the China Scholarship Council and University College London for funding my PhD study and the UCL Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction for funding the expenses for me to attend the 16th Vaccine Congress in Italy. I would like to appreciate my supervisors Prof Patty Kostkova and Dr Caroline Wood for providing guidance to support my PhD research.
Lan Li is a PhD student at IRDR dPHE. Her research topic is integrating behavioural science into digital intervention to increase vaccine confidence. She is interested in social media research, digital public health, and vaccine hesitancy studies.
By Joshua Anthony, on 17 February 2023
Author: Jarle Eid
Researchers from University College London, Haukeland University Hospital, National Defense University in Sweden and the University of Bergen met in January for a working meeting on a joint research project focusing on how operational psychology can inform municipality responses and resilience to disruptive events.
What kind of operational situations are seen as most challenging and difficult to handle for fire and rescue workers? How did the COVID-19 pandemic influence operational capacity and resilience in the Fire and Rescue Services? What future training and educational needs are seen as most important to develop resilient fire and rescue services? What can we learn from cross national comparisons of fire and rescue services in London and in Bergen?
These and other questions are being explored based on in depth interviews with first responders in a cross-country comparison of Fire and Rescue services in Bergen and in London. The study is supported by a grant from the Regional Research Fund in Western Norway, the Fire and Rescue services in Bergen, and the Greater London Authorities.
We are very pleased to have this opportunity to collaborate with Professor Ilan Kelman and Associate Professor Gianluca Pescaroli on this new project. Here we are exploring three main issues. One is how the fire end rescue services were affected by the protracted covid situation, secondly we explore and collect examples of difficult operational situation, and thirdly, we explore training and development areas.
A particularly exciting issue is that in this project we have been collecting data both from Norway and from the U.K. and a cross national comparisons will be a true advantage to this project. In January we had the first joint working group meeting in Bergen, Norway and in April we will have the second working group meeting in London with our UCL colleagues.
Jarle Eid is Professor of Work and Organizational Psychology in the Department of Psychosocial Science, University of Bergen.
Reflections on the Turkish-Syrian Earthquakes of 6th February 2023: Building Collapse and its Consequences
By David Alexander, on 9 February 2023
An interesting map was published by the US Geological Survey shortly after the Turkish-Syrian earthquakes.1 It showed (perhaps somewhat predictively) that there was only one tiny square of the vast affected area in which Modified Mercalli intensity (which is largely a measure of damage) reached 9.0, the ‘violent’ level.2 This is–just about–enough to damage very significantly a well-engineered structure (but not necessarily enough to bring it crashing down). Although the disaster of 6th February 2023 produced, in fact, stronger shaking than this, it should not have caused 5,500 large buildings to collapse. The disaster in Turkey and Syria is very obviously the result of poor construction. This is painfully visible in the video images of buildings collapsing. The patterns of collapse are also the same as those in the last 20 Turkish earthquakes, although they are doubtless more extensive this time around.
Building codes in Turkey have been upgraded five times in the last 55 years and are now perfectly good enough. The tragedy lies in their non-observance and the paucity of retrofitting. It is a mixture of simple errors, lax procedures, ignorance, deliberate evasion, indifference to public safety, untenable architectural fashions, corruption and failure to enforce the codes. Many, perhaps most, people in Turkey live in multi-storey, multiple occupancy reinforced concrete frame buildings. It is these that collapse. Most of them are highly vulnerable to seismic forces. There is plenty of engineering literature on the typical seismic performance defects of such buildings in Turkey. Perhaps we can grant a small exception for Syria, although before the civil war it did have building codes and earthquake research. However, the comment by a leader of the Syrian Catholic Church that buildings had been weakened by bombardment was something of a red herring. This probably affected about 2-3% of those that collapsed.
To know whether a reinforced concrete building is safe to live in would require knowledge of:
- the shear resistance (i.e., quality) of the concrete
- the presence or absence and connectivity of shear walls
- whether there are overhangs or other irregularities of plan that distribute the weight of the building unevenly or concentrate load on particular parts of it
- the presence or absence of a ‘soft-storey’ open ground floor which concentrates the load above columns that cannot support it during seismic deformation
- the connections between beams and columns, especially how the steel reinforcing bars are bent in
- whether there are proper hooks at the end of rebars on concrete joints
- whether the rebars were ribbed or smooth
- the quality of the foundations and the liquefaction, landslide or subsidence potential of the underlying ground
- the state of maintenance of the structural elements of the building
- any subsequent modifications to the original construction.
An experienced civil engineer could evaluate some of that by eye, but much of the rest is hidden and only exposed once the building collapses. A short bibliography of sources is appended at the end of this article.
Many of the news media that have reported the disaster have presented it as the result of inescapable terrestrial forces. While that cannot be negated, it is less than half of the story. The tragedy was largely the result of highly preventable construction errors. Vox clamantis in deserto: to examine this aspect of the disaster one would have to face up to difficult issues, such as corruption, political decision making, people’s expectations of public safety, fatalism versus activism, and more. How much simpler to attribute it all to anonymous forces within the ground!
A well-engineered tall building that collapses will leave up to 15% void spaces in which there may be living trapped victims. It was notable that, in many buildings that pancaked in Turkey and Syria, the collapses left almost no voids at all, thanks to the complete fragmentation of the entire structure. This poses some serious challenges to search and rescue. In some cases the collapse was compounded by foundation failure, leading to sliding or rotation of the debris.
There was also an interesting dichotomy in the images on television between the “anthill” type of urban search and rescue, carried out by people with no training, no equipment and no idea what to do, and professional urban search and rescue (USAR), which sadly was in the minority of cases. Nevertheless, it remains true that the influx of foreign USAR teams is, sadly, both riotously expensive and highly inefficient, as they tend to arrive after the ‘golden period’ of about 12 hours in which people could be rescued in significant numbers.
Among the damage there is at least one classic example of the fall of a mosque and its minaret, the same as that which happened in the Düzce earthquake of 1999. Mosques are inherently susceptible to collapse in earthquakes: shallow arches, barrel vaults, rigid domes and slender minarets. The irony is that the great Turkish architect of the 16th century, Mimar Sinan (after whom a university in Istanbul is named) had the problem solved. He threaded iron bars through the well-cut stones of his minarets, endowing them with strength and flexibility. It is also singular that one of the first short, stubby minarets in Turkey (located in Izmir) was built 300 years after Sinan died in 1588.
Select Bibliography of Sources on Turkish R/C Construction Practices
Cogurcu, M.T. 2015.Construction and design defects in the residential buildings and observed earthquake damage types in Turkey. Natural Hazards and Earth System Sciences 15: 931-945.
Dogan, G., A.S. Ecemis, S.Z. Korkmaz, M.H. Arslan and H.H. Korkmaz 2021. Buildings damages after Elazığ, Turkey earthquake on January 24, 2020. Natural Hazards 109: 161-200.
Dönmez, C. 2015. Seismic performance of wide-beam infill-joist block RC frames in Turkey. Journal of Performance of Constructed Facilities 29(1): 1-9.
Erdil, B. 2017. Why RC buildings failed in the 2011 Van, Turkey, earthquakes: construction versus design practices. Journal of Performance of Constructed Facilities 31(3):
Korkmaz, K.A. 2009. Earthquake disaster risk assessment and evaluation for Turkey. Environmental Geology 57: 307-320.
Ozmen, H.B. 2021. A view on how to mitigate earthquake damages in Turkey from a civil engineering perspective. Research on Engineering Structures and Materials 7(1): 1-11.
Sezen, H., A.S. Whittaker, K.J. Elwood and K.M. Mosalam 2003. Performance of reinforced concrete buildings during the August 17, 1999 Kocaeli, Turkey earthquake, and seismic design and construction practise in Turkey. Engineering Structures 25(1): 103-114.
David Alexander is Professor of Risk and Disaster Reduction. He has conducted research on disasters since 1980. His main foci of interest are emergency management and planning, earthquake science, disaster epidemiology, and theoretical issues in disaster risk reduction.
Note from editor: We offer our commiserations to all those affected by the tragic events of this week. UCL staff and students can find support here. Find out where and how to donate to the earthquake appeal here.
By Joshua Anthony, on 27 January 2023
Following the UK’s exit from the European Union, the legacy leftover from the EU’s Water Framework and Flood Directives, which jointly encourage sustainable management of flood risk, lives on. The UK has seen a number of similar national policy frameworks implemented aiming to reduce flood risk while improving water quality and biodiversity, with over 100 river restoration projects seen in London alone between 2000 and 2019. Most of these efforts are geared towards sustainability in the face of climate change, but, with regards to the long-term, the river itself is often left out of the plans.
The historic human efforts to manage rivers have been progressively called into question over their sustained maintenance costs and an incongruity with environmental and ecological health. An alternative solution is to renaturalise and restore natural processes—reconnecting rivers with their floodplains, reintroducing wild species, run-off targeted tree planting—but this would also be to submit to a changing and dynamic landscape. Rivers can change course—sometimes very suddenly—or silt-up and become unnavigable. True sustainability should therefore account for the long term changes of rivers, but these changes are rarely accounted for in flood risk management policy. As Andrew Revkin asks: “sustain what?”
The problem with “natural”
The problem is partially semantical. The terms renaturalisation, restoration, and rewilding carry with them the image of an implied prior state or a “Lost Paradise”. Ironically, it is precisely the long legacy of human engineering, which some modern schemes are trying to reverse, that denies us the knowledge of a natural state; it is difficult to look into the past, when the waters are so muddied by our imprint. As a result, our ability to assess the future impact of renaturalisation is equally hindered.
Arguably nowhere in the UK is this problem illustrated better than in the Somerset Levels, which as far back as the roman occupation of Britain has seen artificial drainage and reclamation in order to take advantage of its pastoral and arable potential. At present, the flat, largely reclaimed floodplain relies heavily on a vast network of excavated drainage ditches (rhynes in the local vernacular), sluice gates (clyces), and pumping stations that push the water through the highly banked and augmented river channels; a £100 million tidal barrier has just been approved on the River Parrett, while existing rivers continue to be enlarged to carry extra flood water. Clearly, it is hard to imagine what natural means in this context.
Seeing Into the Past
Fortunately, remnants of abandoned rivers—palaeochannels—that have long since stopped flowing through the Levels litter its landscape and offer a glimpse into the past. There are numerous examples of such ancient rivers still visible on the Somerset landscape today, which often surface during high flood stages, but are now easily identifiable with the advent of Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) technology, which provides high-resolution elevation data. Palaeochannels have been of interest to researchers in this area because they reveal historic drainage patterns, showing in which direction rivers used to flow before being redirected or abandoned long ago.
Where archaeological records are unavailable—often early in or before human occupation—the reasons for change are less clear. Were the causes human made, or related to a historical climatic shift? And could this inform the way we plan rivers today? To find out more, it is necessary to dig deeper into the landscape.
Seeing Beneath the Surface
Beneath the sediment that buries them are rivers preserved from a past time. Within the sediment is contained information from the processes and conditions that presided over the river’s eventual abandonment. Here we can see the geometry of the river and look for signs of erosion and migration, and indicators for the causes of abandonment.
To overcome the logical problem of seeing buried features, geophysical methods offer a quick and non-invasive way of imaging the subsurface. By applying a force to the ground and measuring a response from beneath, a model of the rivers can be produced. These methods have been tested extensively by scientists for many years in a variety of environments, including floodplain sediments, and are in the UK probably most famously associated with Time Team’s “geofizz”, due to their strong archaeological applications.
This research uses a combination of electrical resistivity, seismic refraction, and ground penetrating radar methods to image the buried cross-section of ancient rivers. In this way, the river acts as an archaeological feature for investigating the past, and is hoped to provide reference states for river systems that have existed prior to and throughout different periods of human occupation. Surveys have been completed on two sites on either side of the River Parrett, clearly showing the extent of the historical river systems. More are to follow at different sites across the Somerset Levels.
Glimpsing into the past of ancient river systems could help in planning for the future development of renaturalised rivers, by exploring scenarios where the measures that humans (and rivers) have grown accustomed to are absent. It may be that, like a river, management plans must be dynamic and adaptable to natural change; otherwise, a one-size-fits-all approach to sustainability is bound to become unsustainable.
To find out more about this project, email me at email@example.com
Josh Anthony is a PhD Candidate at IRDR and Editor of the IRDR blog.
By Joshua Anthony, on 22 December 2022
The snow that fell across the UK three days ago is still obnoxiously hanging on, glinting in the sun that I desperately hope will finally end its last dying moments as deadly ice. What started out as an honest effort to replace all of Sainsbury’s copies of The Fall of Boris Johnson with out-of-date Taste-the-difference gammon has now become a treacherous Bambi-dance across the frozen customer car park. Rarely has a trip to the shops been dangerous, but now I’m risking a winter carpet-burn and you’ve-been-framed fame for the sake of a small Christmas gesture.
Reflective hazard tape was the last thing I imagined draping around the Christmas tree this year, but I have to admit the ambulance lights passing by the window have really lit up the place. From my dazzling blue igloo, it’s hard to see why everyone is complaining about extortionate energy prices when there’s finally a chance to put last year’s pair of thick-knit Christmas socks to good use. It’s all mistletoe and doom nowadays. Even here, at the Institute for Risk and Party-pooping (IRPP), we held a debate to discuss whether the risks of the festive season outweigh the benefits.
Courtesy of Drs Lisa Guppy and Gianluca Pescaroli, our delusions of a risk-free Christmas were thoroughly shattered. This year, it would be better to tell the old white patriarchal saint, Jeff Bezos—I mean Father Christmas—that he can throw away all those unsustainable gifts and snacks, because they are destroying the environment. Actually, don’t throw them away; instead, convert them into eco-friendly desk accessories that you can throw away in five years! Alternatively, an optimist could turn to resilience experts from Needhams 1834 Ltd (the kind event sponsors), Dr Chris Needham-Bennett and Robin Bucknall, who argued that the vital thread of good spirit that Christmas inspires has pulled people through the worst of times.
Alas, to list all the risks and benefits would take us into the new year and undermine the haughty exclusivity that all attendees of the debate get to feel. Besides, the panel failed to address what seems to me to be one of the fundamental components of risk this year: the Backstreet Boys’ new Christmas album, “a very Backstreet Christmas”.
If risk is a product of hazard and vulnerability, then it is the responsibility of government and emergency planners to ensure the public have the sufficient hot water this winter to submerge their radios in the baths. No one could have guessed that the drought earlier this year could have such profound knock-on effects on aural hazards.
There are, however, potential benefits: “Do they know it’s Christmas” the 1984 charity rock song by Band Aid has raised over £200 million since its first release to fight famine in Ethiopia. To quote NME music magazine: “Millions of Dead Stars write and perform rotten record for the right reasons”. It can only be imagined how much money for humanitarian causes will be raised by the Backstreet Boys’ 427th cover of Last Christmas.
There is a theory that the archetype of Father Christmas comes from a shamanic tradition of once-a-year imparting community members with healing, psilocybin-laced reindeer urine. The characteristic red and white stripes of Christmas decorations have a striking resemblance to a special type of mushroom that would be hung up and dried upon the leaves of a pine tree. Whether or not that’s true, it’s clear that Christmas has routes deeper than its neoliberal capitalist incarnation. At its best, it represents a part of human nature that encourages community resilience; at its worst, it is a realisation that the psychedelic experience may be the only way to help you drown out the soppy screeches of an overcooked festive boyband (for other examples of its worst, see any major news headline in the coming weeks).
Undoubtedly many of us will have memories of last year’s cancelled Christmases, this time round playing a thrilling game of “Have I caught covid, or have I just not drunk enough water?” But it wouldn’t be a year in Disaster Risk Reduction without first considering the risks we are getting ourselves into. At least we have the new John Lewis advert to look forward to: a heart-warming glimpse of Jeff Bezos guzzling down reindeer urine and waltzing around the lunar north pole to some new Backstreet Boys.
I would like to extend my gratitude to all those that contributed their great work to the IRDR blog this year. A truly inspiring range of topics were covered by our students, staff, and colleagues. A special thanks must be given to Dr Gianluca Pescaroli, who coerced more people into writing blogs for us than any of my emails could have hoped for.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!
Josh Anthony | Blog Editor.
By a.aldosery, on 12 December 2022
Mosquitos are a fundamental part of testing the novel idea of my PhD, which focuses on developing intervention tools to support developing an early warning system to control the mosquito, thus, combatting mosquito-borne diseases. However, with the COVID-19 pandemic, it was quite hard to fly to Brazil, considered one of the Latin American countries that was hit hard by mosquito-borne disease and has a strong program for mosquito surveillance. Therefore, conducting my fieldwork in a different location was more feasible, such as the Portuguese island of Madeira, located in the northeastern Atlantic Ocean, 900 km from mainland Portugal. A volcanic and subtropical island which seems like a perfect location for mosquitoes, it introduced an efficient program in 2005 focusing on mosquito surveillance. Four field trips have been conducted since November 2021 with Patty Kostkova, my primary supervisor, to achieve my project’s overarching goal. We worked together in designing and presenting several workshops on Madeira mobile app surveillance with the local environmental agents, as well as deploying several devices in the fields for environmental monitoring.
Trip One – Mosquito Ovitrap IOT-based System pilot system.
This trip was the first to Madeira after the COVID-19 pandemic; the trip was in late October 2021 and lasted for about three weeks. The main objectives of my first fieldwork trip (three weeks) were to establish a new collaboration with people from ITI / LARSyS, introduce and discuss my PhD idea with the team, and lastly, build a prototype version of the proposed system. Although the trip was considered short, we achieved a significant project milestone. During this trip, we started by calibrating the water sensors, building the IoT-based unit and deploying the prototype version of the MOISS system to understand how various weather and water parameters influence mosquito breeding and habitat favouring. The first version of the system has been deployed and running since November 2021 at the Natural History Museum of Funchal on Madeira Island. All timely data collected in the field by the sensors, such as the air temperature, humidity, pressure, water temperature, pH, DO, and conductivity, will be used along with the entomological data collected by the environmental agents to design and build a model to provide us with a better understanding of the mosquito’s development and presence.
Trip Two – Introducing Madeira Mosquito Surveillance App
This trip was mainly about the project’s second component, which is about designing a mosquito surveillance app based on the local settings to be adopted by the environmental agents during their routine visits to the mosquito traps. To achieve that, establishing another collaboration with the local health sector is essential. The trip includes a couple of meetings and a workshop:
- Meetings with Dr Bruna Ornelas de Gouveia, Regional Directorate of Health in Madeira Island, to discuss and design the collaboration protocol with the UCL IRDR Centre for Digital Public Health in Emergencies (dPHE). The collaboration entitles us to pilot our app on the island and gives us access to historical mosquito density data.
- Meeting with the technical and GIS team, who showed us the mosquito data, hotspot maps and the effective strategies adopted by the local government to control mosquitoes across the island (https://www.iasaude.pt/Mosquito/ ).
- We ran the first workshop with the environmental agents to introduce the idea of the surveillance app and how it could positively affect their work. During this workshop, we presented some showcases from our Brazilian project (Belmont) and a prototype of the Madeira app. The agents demonstrated different scenarios that could happen on the ground and what actions needed to be considered in each scenario. Finally, we had an interactive session, a very productive session that helped us understand the local settings in different conditions.
Trip Three – Mosquito Ovitrap IOT-based System (MOISS) Large Deployment.
The third fieldwork was the most significant and challenging trip as many milestones needed to be completed, including the IoT-based system units implementation and deployment, along with a lot of logical preparation. Yet, it was one of the most exciting trips to see the theories and paper design coming true. This trip was from July to the beginning of August 2022 (four weeks). The focus of this trip was the MOISS system. During this trip, we calibrated and tested 60 water sensors in a week period, which required specific weather conditions. Then, two engineers from ITI / LARSyS and I assembled 17 system units in a week, including the testing and debugging of each unit. The conducted lab testing was quite challenging, resulting in several issues, including problems with the manufactured IoT shield, slow network connections, power, etc. We ended up with 13 devices deployed across the capital of the Island, Funchal. The decision about how many devices and where to deploy them was collaborative work with environmental agents and the technical team to select suitable study sites based on several criteria, including technical, logistic and mosquito data. The locations include schools, hospitals, one university, the port, and a private building.
Trip Four – Madeira Mosquito Surveillance App Piloting Workshop
The last trip of this year (September 2022) was a four-day trip for Madeira. The main objective of this trip was to run a three-hour workshop with the environmental agents to show them the first completed developed version of the app, which is designed and implemented based on the requirements collected in the first workshop (second trip). Patty and I gave the agents technical support to install, operate and test the app for about two hours. After that, we had a one-hour interactive session to collect their inputs, which will help us improve the app and develop another sufficient version. The agents were delighted with the mosquito surveillance app and were excited about the next phase, piloting the app for several months.
During this trip, the project gained the attention and interest of local Madeira TV, which was there during the workshop and interviewed Prof Patty Kostkova.
We are currently looking for funding to develop and deploy the mosquito surveillance mobile app and collect data on a large scale. Finally, although each trip had its challenge, some went differently than we had planned and expected. I have learned much beyond my research scope and gained knowledge on project management and building collaboration. Many thanks to Patty for accompanying me in each project phase and trip to support me in moving the project forward. We had a great time enjoying the weather, and more significantly, we managed to deploy our IoT system and pilot the surveillance app.
Trip one was fully funded by the UCL Institution of Risk and Disaster Reduction (IRDR); trip two was fully funded by UCL Mathematical and Physical Science Faculty, PhD Students Travel Grant; trip three was mainly funded by the UCL IRDR Centre for Digital Public Health in Emergencies (dPHE) and partially by the UCL Institution of Risk and Disaster Reduction (IRDR); trip four was fully funded by my PhD sponsor, King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology, Saudi Arabia.
A big thanks and appreciation to our IRDR Finance team for their significant support which played a crucial role in helping me while preparing my PhD project. Special thanks to Matthew Lee for his outstanding support in managing equipment quotes and dealing with orders.
Aisha Aldosery is currently a doctoral candidate at the UCL IRDR Centre for Digital Public Health in Emergencies at University College London. She is also a researcher at King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST), Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. She earned her master’s degree in Software System Engineering from UCL. Her broad research areas are software engineering and the Applied Internet of Things. She is particularly interested in designing and developing digital health intervention tools such as surveillance and early warning systems. She is also interested in designing environmental IoT-based sensor devices and analysing sensor data using machine learning methodologies. The focus of Aisha’s PhD research project is investigating mobile apps, the Internet of Things (IoT) and sensing technologies for predicting mosquito populations to combat vector-borne diseases – a pertinent global issue with global research significance.
By Jesús Garrido Manrique, on 28 November 2022
From when we are born until we die most of our daily activities are controlled by different norms, such as civil registration, house buying/letting, mortgages, work contracts, inheritances. We know that if we do not respect the law we will be faced with criminal or civil penalties. Hence, we act accordingly. Could you imagine a real, rather than an ideal, society without laws? Despite the importance of laws and regulations, experts and organisations without a legal background do not usually think about them in the context of Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR). In my experience, they usually tend to hide from laws and regulations. They simply pay attention to technical standards and guidelines.
Environmental legislation usually involves the legal framework for mitigating natural hazards through sectoral legislation in areas such as land, water and coastal management, civil protection or public works and the provision of housing. Legislation could regulate the uncontrolled growth of cities through a land act, which it is usually something that governs the different tools for land use planning. In hazard-prone areas, prohibitions, restrictions, or recommendations could be used. Environmental legislation deals with strategic environmental assessments, which evaluate the plans (for instance, a flood risk management plan or local hazard regulation plans). Meanwhile, a civil protection act regulates different disaster risk reduction actions to be taken before, during and after a potential or actual harmful event. Compulsory building codes or antiseismic norms also contribute to the mitigation of disasters. Legislation establishes a network of procedures and mechanisms for cooperation and collaboration among different institutions so that disaster risk management is gradually adopted through laws and regulations, as is the case in some countries.
Non-structural measures such as legislation and land use planning are some of the most cost-effective DRR tools. They can mitigate or minimise, or even avoid, socio-economic losses related to natural hazards before destructive events happen. Unfortunately, civil protection is usually focused on short-term horizons during and after disaster instead of becoming a cornerstone of long-term actions before the disaster in the fields of prevention and prediction. “It is better to be safe than sorry”, but politicians or planners engaged in disaster risk management (DRM) probably prefer a “safe bet” by spending money in the short term in early warning, response and recovery of a real disaster instead of “wasting money” in prevention and mitigation of future adverse events. Local governments are usually more concerned about making money through construction permissions than in ensuring safety. DRM fails if risk reduction legislation is not enacted and enforced.
Does smart legislation ensure better DRR?
Not necessarily: compliance with laws and regulations is usually low. Although DRR mechanisms may be treated as compulsory in some national or local systems, institutions tend not to enforce them. For instance, flood hazard and risk maps have been established by EU countries after the enactment of Directive 2007/60/EC on the assessment and management of flood risks. Such maps should be considered in local planning, but local authorities do not usually use them to establish land use in relation to the level of hazard, even when flood hazard and risk maps are freely available.
In Spain, according to civil protection legislation, local emergency plans that focus on earthquake, flood and volcanic hazards have been compulsory since the 1990s. However, most municipalities still have no civil protection plans. The Lorca earthquake of 2011 killed nine people, but the earthquake hazard map was blamed instead of the lack of compliance with the seismic building code. The La Palma eruption of 2021 affected more than 1500 houses, but the volcano was treated as the only guilty party, even though some houses were built too close to the ravines in which the lava flowed. For public administrations it is easier to blame scientists or practitioners than recognise their own faults.
In the last century, some natural disasters were considered to be “acts of God”. Currently, climate change is blamed. The authorities are not assuming their own responsibilities and thus, when disaster strikes, all citizens pay for their lack of responsibility.
Barriers to DRR legislation
When dealing with DRR, it is not easy to find the right mix of legislation. Scattered sectoral legislation tends to become lost in this complex legal labyrinth. Conflicts of competency and jurisdiction are particularly common in countries with decentralised administrations. In many cases, methodologies and return periods for hazard and risk maps have not usually been established using appropriate technical standards and guidelines. Unfortunately, cooperation and coordination among different stakeholders do not have a history of effective achievements.
While the legislation is the means, planning is the outcome. Even the presence of compulsory laws and regulations does not guarantee that land use and hazard maps will be effective. Lack of instruments to systematically monitor compliance with legislation, for instance in urban planning, means that it is difficult to assess the proportion of local plans that fail to respect the law. Hazard-prone areas should be classified as rural land instead of developable land, or at least some land uses should be avoided, or some restrictions or recommendations should be considered according to the level of hazard. However, it is difficult to tell whether planning institutions really proceed according to the law. On the other hand, hazard maps to be expressly used for zoning should be created by means of the economic resources of governmental institutions (and probably at a small scale). However, they tend to be created using private resources and at larger scales. In the first instance, DRR legislation is mainly designed to be enforced by public administrations, but prevention is usually transferred to individual stakeholders.
Natural hazards maps are not cheap to make or easy to create. Hence, shortage of economic funds and a deficit of well-prepared human resources constitute more barriers to DRR. However, in my opinion, the lack of accountability of decision makers is the most important barrier. In their own businesses they probably employ a precautionary approach (much as environmental legislation does), but they avoid it in public affairs.
Incompatibility of different land-use planning systems and tools is something that adds difficulties to disaster risk management.
Legislation and the Sendai Framework for DRR
The importance of legislation was underlined in the Hyogo Framework for Action, which focused on the enactment of dedicated DRM laws. The Sendai Framework goes further by promoting the coherence of the entire national legal and policy framework.
All priorities for action (PFAs) of the Sendai Framework for DRR need to be rooted in legislation. In particular, to achieve PFA 2 at the national and local levels, it is important to integrate DRR into national and local frameworks of laws, regulations and public policies by developing new laws or amending existing legislation. There is a need to allocate necessary resources and establish mechanisms to ensure compliance. On the other hand, land-use planning has been considered as a vital means to achieve PFA 2 (from local to global levels) and PFA 3 (at national and local levels).
References to different relationships among policies, strategies and plans can be found throughout the Sendai Framework for DRR. They should lead to normative tools.
- Garrido, J. and Saunders, W.S.A. (2019). Disaster Risk Reduction and Land Use Planning: Opportunities to Improve Practice. In: Shakoor, A., Cato, K. (eds) IAEG/AEG Annual Meeting Proceedings, San Francisco, California, 2018 – Volume 5. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-93136-4_20. ⏎
- IFRC and UNDP (2015). Handbook on Law and Disaster Risk Reduction. International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and United Nations Development Programme: Geneva, Switzerland. p 76. ⏎
I gratefully acknowledge discussions with Prof. David Alexander. Thanks for his kind and helpful revision.
Jesús Garrido Manrique is a visiting researcher at IRDR, analysing the application of legislation in urban planning for disaster risk reduction. He is a Lecturer in the Department of Civil Engineering at the University of Granada, Spain, and is the Head of World Geologist NGO (Andalusia Branch), working in DRR and water supply projects in Central America.
By Joshua Anthony, on 21 November 2022
Author: Dr. Laila Shahzad*
According to the IPCC AR5, the human influence on the planetary climate system is undeniable and emissions from greenhouse gases (GHGs) are at the highest levels ever seen in the history of mankind. These climatic changes have had widespread impacts on human and natural systems. The most visible effects of changing climate are variation in rainfall pattern, increasing average temperature, glacier melting, rising sea levels, crop diseases, species invasions, weather related disasters and many more. Human activities involved in bringing these changes are industrial processes, fossil fuel burning, vehicular emission, and agriculture. The unpredictable rainfall patterns and variable seasonal precipitation badly influence the soil water availability for crop, loss from floods or drought, and become a serious issue for the farmers of South Asia and policy makers as a greater threat to food security.
South Asia, a region chiefly described as having agricultural-based economies, is considered as the most vulnerable region in the world. As the change in food growth and production will directly affect the food needs of burgeoning population due to disturbance in financial, ecological, and social systems on this part of planet earth. The situation in the region is worsened by locality, topography, socio-political influences, literacy rate, unskilled labourers, economic instability, poverty, and livelihood dependency on natural resources.
Pakistan, a country with 225 million (approx.) inhabitants suffered by the unprecedented floods in June 2022 which lasted for months. Torrential monsoon rains triggered the severe flooding which washed away thousands of houses and crop land leaving people homeless and food insecure.
A little background
Pakistan is the second largest country by its area in South Asia after India, and is highly vulnerable to climatic changes, ranked among the top ten countries by the Global climate risk index of the world in past many years. The country is recurrently affected by the disasters in both the long term index and in the index of a respective year, alluding to the persistent nature of underlying vulnerabilities. The climate of the country ranges from subtropical arid to semi-arid and temperate to alpine. Precipitation varies from 100 to 2000 mm mainly from June to September across the countryside. It is broadly an agrarian country with a contribution of 21% to GDP from agriculture which provides employment to 62% of the population. The main crops are wheat, cotton, and rice grown at different agro-ecological zones of the country with diversified hydrological, soil, and climatic conditions. Temperature and rainfall show constantly increasing and decreasing trends, respectively. Since the start of the 20th century, the rising temperature has caused an increase in demand of evapotranspiration for crops by up to 10-30%. The agricultural system in Pakistan is already worsened by the urbanisation as it has decreased the production due to conversion of fertile land into housing societies. On the other side, recurring floods end up losing the soil fertility and disturbing the crop cycle.
Floods of 2022: a compound disaster
The 2022 Pakistan floods caused unprecedented damage to agriculture crops, livestock, and infrastructure, including damages to storage facilities with tons of grain, posing unmeasurable risk. Badly affected crops include—but are not limited to—rice, sugarcane, cotton, wheat, and small-scale farmers totally lost their livelihood. Pakistan is the world’s fifth-largest producer of cotton and produces about 5% of world’s demand which will affect the supply due to flood damages.
According to the World Bank, the worst hit sectors are housing, agriculture, livestock, and, lately, transport and communications with significant damages of USD 5.6 billion, USD 3.7 billion, and USD 3.3 billion, respectively (Pakistan Floods 2022 Post-Disaster Needs Assessment). This actually calls for cascading effects as such massive disasters have tangible and intangible losses; in terms of water borne diseases, shortage of food, price hike, loss of machinery, post disaster trauma, losing mental health and wellbeing, and disturbing the crop cycle due to water logging.
So now the question arises: could this event be controlled or at least better managed? What Strategies did Pakistan have to minimise flood losses? The government of Pakistan is currently in the phase of recovery, where bringing people back to normal life is not easy. Though time has proved that this tragic event has to be a turning point when it comes to making disaster risk reduction policy for the vulnerable. The policy should have focused on the most vulnerable in enhancing climate resilience and adaptations by developing community-based disaster management at district and tehsil levels. Focus should be on nonstructural risk reduction measures by giving disaster education to the masses. In the shortest way, the emergency health system, training local farmers, introducing livelihood diversification, and emergency cash transfer system can be prioritized. This calls for interactive and integrated polices where communities need to be prepared for future disasters and be a part of policy making. The government tiers have to be more connected than working in isolation as managing the compound impacts will not be an easy job.
With the theme of building back better, Pakistan should not only manage the losses and provide immediate support to families; rather, a long way to go is “to plan” as climatic emergencies will keep coming with more magnitude and frequency, and to the more vulnerable.
*Dr. Laila Shahzad is a post-doctoral fellow in the Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction, UCL London and Assistant professor at Sustainable Development Study Centre, GC University, Lahore, Pakistan. | firstname.lastname@example.org
By Mhari Gordon, on 14 November 2022
Mhari Gordon is a PhD student at UCL-IRDR.
This month, November 2022, I was fortunate enough to attend and present at the Northern European Emergency and Disaster Studies (NEEDS) Conference as well as participate in the preceding PhD workshop. The PhD workshop was run over a day and a half by Emmanuel Raju, Ksenia Chmutina, and JC Gaillard and attended by 18 PhD students. The workshop was a fantastic experience and great opportunity to meet enthusiastic disaster scholars.
The workshop kicked off with an activity mapping how our PhD research topics connected in terms of key concepts, methodologies, research subjects or objects, and geographical locations. Despite diversity in our research orientations and backgrounds, the mapping exercise highlighted overlaps. For example, many of our studies focus on groups which are under-represented individuals in disaster studies, such as genders beyond the binary, learning challenges, youth, and refugees. We also noticed a trend in using methodologies which sit more on the mixed and qualitative methods side, moving away from large-scale approaches observed in quantitative methods.
Moreover, we recognised and spoke about our experiences of using concepts such as vulnerability, resilience, and intersectionality. Terms which were originally critical ‘western’ concepts that have now turned into mainstream buzzwords and act as blanket and uniform (or universalism) approaches in disaster studies. There is a tension between reclaiming the true heterogeneous nature of such concepts, but also debating the need to move beyond them. Such concepts may not have the same meanings, or even exist, in all cultures and languages. New disaster studies need to be more reflective and critical by expanding out of the previous siloing and labelling as well as welcoming the diversity of cultural contexts. This led to us reflecting on our positionality in studying disasters and how to navigate this in terms of methodologies and sharing our messages with audiences. During the afternoon sessions, we started asking questions such as why is the research being done and who will benefit? We then analysed and critiqued a more extensive set of questions which is outlined in the RADIX Disaster Studies Accord (link).
The second morning was dedicated to publishing in disaster journals. The workshop facilitators and guests, including Christine Eriksen, Rodrigo Mena, Eefje Hendriks, and Ricardo Fuentealba, shared valuable and practical advice. The two key takeaways from the morning were to consider 1) the editors of a journal and 2) the format of publication. As authors of academic publications, we need to critically consider how we can best present and do justice to the messages that we are sharing. This may be in the likes of keeping parts of the text in the original language so that the local context and meaning are not lost in translation or interpreted with western-academic terms and norms. Or the likes of different formats to the standard academic paper such as a comic strip – which will be included in an upcoming issue of the Disaster Prevention and Management Journal (journal link).
The advice shared with the PhD students for publishing in Disaster journals was:
Ask colleagues and mentors about their experiences with different journals and seek their advice on which journal they think is most suitable for our manuscript.
Read the scope of the journal and if there is still uncertainty about whether our manuscript’s topic fits, then send an email to the editor(s) asking for their advice before formally submitting.
Look at which journals our citations and references, as well as scholars with similar research interests, have published in. This will give one an initial indication of the type of work which is accepted by the journal.
Editors can usually tell by the title and first few sentences of the manuscript whether it will be accepted for peer review or not – so our manuscript needs to be convincing from the start.
Do not panic if it is taking a few months between the manuscript being accepted for review and receiving feedback. It can take time to find appropriate and willing reviewers and for them to review the manuscript. There are also unexpected delays or interruptions during this process.
Finally, if the authenticity of the research and manuscript does not match the standardised format but fits within the scope of a journal, then we should not hesitate to contact the editor(s) to see if they are willing and able to find a creative solution!
Overall, the key message from the PhD workshop was to keep pushing the boundaries of disaster studies, in terms of concepts, methodologies, and assumptions, as well as how we share our research!
More information about the NEEDS 2022 conference, including keynotes and panels, can be found at: https://eventsignup.ku.dk/needs2022/conference.
I would like to gratefully acknowledge the UCL Warning Research Centre for funding my PhD study and the UCL Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction for funding the expenses for me to attend the NEEDS 2022 Conference.
By Joshua Anthony, on 26 October 2022
Written by Bhawana Upadhyay
A growing body of literature suggests that climate disasters such as heatwaves and flash floods disproportionately affect the most vulnerable inhabitants of rural communities. An analysis of 130 peer-reviewed studies published in Nature Communications suggests that women and children often face disproportionately higher health risks posed by climate change impacts than others. For example, pregnant women often experience more risks and limited access to reproductive and maternal care services during and post disasters.
UNICEF reported that due to the recent flooding in Pakistan, about 3.4 million children needed urgent humanitarian assistance and faced an increased risk of waterborne diseases, drowning, and malnutrition and more than 22.8 million children between the ages of 5-16 were out of school nationwide. The hardest-hit province, Sindh, has had nearly 16,000 schools destroyed alone. Thousands of schools were used to house displaced families. More than 400 children were killed in the floods, and many more got injured.
Likewise, the flash floods of June 2022 in Bangladesh affected 3.7 million people in 11 districts in the northern region, of which 1.9 million were women and girls. A key finding of a rapid gender analysis undertaken by the Gender in Humanitarian Action Working Group states that 60 percent of women surviving on daily wage and rearing livestock lost their incomes. Most affected households had no food stock and had to survive on food relief. The dry food supplied as relief was not sufficient to cover all affected households’ needs. The flooding caused a serious reduction in the food intake of those families. It was estimated that 60,000 women were pregnant in the affected area, and more than 20,000 births were expected to occur in September 2022.
In the risk framework of the Fifth Assessment Report of IPCC, vulnerability to climate change impacts is inseparably linked to adaptive capacity. The relationships between gender inequality and adaptation capacity span from unequal access to resources and opportunities to stereotypical socio-cultural norms. It is clear from numerous empirical research that social and gender inequalities are present in all spheres of human development, which is essentially why women and girls are disproportionally impacted.
The IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report has identified South Asia as particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change in the coming years, with critical implications for marginalized and disadvantaged communities including women and children. Unfortunately, climate disasters further reinforce the existing gender inequalities, thereby pushing rural communities into the peril of food insecurity. As a result, they become more vulnerable and incapable of bracing for future hazards and risks.
So, what could be the long-term strategy to empower women to build climate resilience for food security?
In South Asia, food security and nutrition have not improved significantly despite the region’s satisfactory economic growth. We are now barely seven years away from 2030, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) target year.
The irony is that the leap toward the SDG is growing wider each year, while the clock is ticking. Working for SDG 2, 5 and 13 (Zero Hunger, Gender Equality and Climate Action) requires a holistic approach towards empowering rural women in climate-smart agriculture by supporting them through inclusive policies and practices.
The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World Report 2022 explains a growing gender gap in food insecurity reflecting that world hunger rose further in 2021 (worsening inequalities across and within countries.
Asian Disaster Preparedness Center (ADPC) through its Climate Adaptation and Resilience for South Asia (CARE for SA) project recently completed mapping and assessing of gender landscape in climate-resilient agricultural policies and practices in three South Asian countries (Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Nepal). Key findings highlight untapped opportunities for governments and other relevant stakeholders to take forward toward not just achieving SDG 5, but also building resilience in the face of food insecurity.
Immediate attention is required towards building and strengthening rural women’s and youth networks and enhancing their linkages with extension services; Engaging private sectors in investing in climate-smart tools and machines that are sustainable and women-friendly; These tools need to be marketed with government subsidies and/or insurance coverage; Harmonizing and strengthening capacity at provincial and local levels on the concept and process of empowerment of women and youth engaged in climate-smart agriculture; Enhancing close coordination among respective National Disaster Management Authorities, concerned sectoral ministries, and province and district level Women Development Departments in the three countries.
Bhawana Upadhyay is Senior Specialist (Gender and Inclusion) at the Asian Disaster Preparedness Centre (ADPC).