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UCL South Asian collaborations win funding to help developing countries cope with environmental hazards

By Sophie Vinter, on 13 January 2017

Bak Bay Slum Beach, Mumbai. Copyright Flickr/Adam CohnThree interdisciplinary UCL collaborations have secured Research Councils funding to help communities in developing countries better manage their response to environmental disasters.

Projects led by UCL’s Institute for Risk & Disaster Reduction and Department of Statistical Science are among 29 that have been backed by the Building Resilience research programme to tackle a range of life-threatening hazards, from droughts and land degradation to volcanoes, earthquakes and flooding.

The programme, run by the NERC, ESRC and AHRC, forms part of the Global Challenge Research Fund (GCRF), a £1·5bn UK government fund to support cutting-edge research that addresses the challenges faced by developing countries.

  • Professor Serge Guillas (UCL Department of Statistical Science) will lead a team collaborating with the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) and Indian Institute for Human Settlements (IIHS) investigating tsunami risk to coastal India, in order to increase community resilience through planning and policy changes.
  • Professor Peter Sammonds (UCL Institute for Risk & Disaster Reduction) will work with the University of Jammu on a project examining environmental hazards in a frontier conflict zone. His team will focus on Ladakh, in Jammu and Kashmir, which experiences frequent major floods and landslides.
  • Professor Maureen Fordham (UCL Institute for Risk & Disaster Reduction) will lead a team exploring use of mobile technology in mountainous rural Nepal – blighted by frequent earthquakes and landslides – to improve access to information and communications to support the health of pregnant or newly delivered women and their children before, during and after an environmental disaster. She will collaborate with Nepal-based HERD International and UK think-tank ODI.

Preventing loss of lives and livelihood

Building on an existing three-year collaboration with IISc in developing statistical and mathematical approaches to better quantify tsunami hazards, Professor Guillas will work with Dr Cassidy Johnson (UCL Development Planning Unit) and Dr Simon Day (UCL Institute for Risk & Disaster Reduction) to explore how urbanisation contributes to the impact of coastal inundation on Indian communities, using planning to prevent severe losses in lives and livelihoods alike.

He said: “In 2004, the lack of awareness and preparedness to a possible tsunami arising from the Sumatra-Andaman fault unfortunately contributed to the death of around 15,000 people on the Eastern coast of India, with a catastrophic effect on poor and fragile local communities. The prospect of similar losses in a future event on the Western coast, including cities such as Mumbai, compels us to jointly investigate this risk.

“The Mumbai metropolitan region has grown from around 5 million to 25 million people since 1945 – the date of the last tsunami hitting the region – with a large concentration of poor population on the coast and living on low-lying reclaimed land. Such density poses massive evacuation issues due to the lack of infrastructure and preparedness. Only wise planning can reduce exposure, as early warning systems only mitigate the tsunami consequences.”