Geology for Global Development

Geology for Global Development

Effective International Engagement (1) – Introduction

Effective International Engagement (1) – Introduction

Many geologists will have to, and indeed want to, work overseas at some point in their careers. The global opportunities offered by research and working within the geosciences is a big attraction when deciding to study geology and join the profession. In many cases working internationally will often mean partnering with host-country agencies and industries (e.g., universities, geological surveys, water ministry, volcano observatories, mining companies). These partnerships can fall on a spectrum between fruitful long-term relationships and difficult, fractious relationships. In this latest series of blogs we will explore this theme of best-practice when engaging internationally.

If you read the international development literature, it won’t be long before you come across examples of international cooperation that are praised and those that are heavily criticised, those that impress you and those that make you cringe. Although lessons have been learnt to avoid the latter, mistakes are still being made due to a lack of understanding of best-practice in international development and overseas engagement. While a project may start with good intentions (e.g., wanting to improve a country’s geoscience understanding), the way by which this is done is very important. A project undertaken in the wrong way or with the wrong attitude can be unsustainable or even damaging, no matter how good the initial intentions are.

Given the focus of our work is encouraging young geologists to make a long-term contribution to international development, throughout their careers, this is a really important subject for us to explore. Geologists in research will often be partnering with academics or government institutions overseas. Public sector survey geologists often have counterparts in developing countries that they can work alongside. Geologists in industry will also likely be liaising with others in the host country. Understanding how to make this engagement successful and sustainable is critical to the reputation of our profession and quality of what we want to do.

At the recent Volcanic and Magmatic Studies Group conference in Norwich (UK), there was a really insightful panel discussion on this topic, reflecting on engagement with overseas volcanic observatories. We’ll be writing up some of the emerging themes from that in the near future.

At the next EGU general assembly in Vienna (Austria), we’ll be organising a splinter meeting to get insights and input from a wider range of geoscientists and geoscience disciplines (more information soon).

Some of the team that partnered together to deliver the geohazards education in Ladakh last year.

Some of the team that partnered together to deliver the geohazards education in Ladakh last year.

In addition, today we are taking a group of students from around the UK to the British Geological Survey’s UK headquarters, in Keyworth. The BGS have a fantastic reputation for international engagement, for example through supporting geological surveys in post-conflict states. At our most recent annual conference, Dr Joseph Mankelow (BGS, pictured in our feature image above) spoke to us about his work in Liberia.

During this discussion workshop, we’ll be hearing from a range of BGS staff – including those engaged in hazards, water, urban geoscience, energy and minerals – to hear about the lessons they’ve learnt regarding best-practice and successful collaborations. We’ll also be sharing from our experiences, discussing GfGD’s recent work in Ladakh (India), and some of the student’s in attendance sharing about their work in Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, the USA and Nigeria. Each student attending will be writing up their reflections and we’ll publish those on this blog.

At GfGD we believe this is a really important topic for the geoscience community in the ‘global-north’ to discuss if we are to build meaningful collaborations and partnerships with those in the ‘global-south’ – working together to use geoscience to fight extreme poverty. We welcome any suggestions for good or bad case studies, as well as your thoughts on the topic.

EGU15 – Natural Hazards Education and Communications

EGU15 – Natural Hazards Education and Communications

Figure 1: A man herds his livestock in remote, high altitude, snowy conditions in Ladakh.

This post first appeared on GeoEd Trek (AGU Blogs) on December 22nd 2014. It has been slightly modified below, given the deadline for EGU Abstracts has now passed, to include the latest information available about this session.  

Ladakh is a remote and beautiful Himalayan region in the north of India (Figure 1). With stunning landscapes and a rich culture and history it is popular with both domestic and international visitors. Ladakh is also a region subjected to multiple natural hazards, including extreme temperatures, avalanches, landslides (Figure 2), earthquakes and unusual heavy rain, each occurring with varying frequency and intensity. One of the worst examples of recent times was in August 2010, when a devastating mudslide impacted Ladakh. The result of sudden and intense rainfall, the mudslide killed over 255 people.

Figure 2: Ladakhi village sitting at the foot of steep hillslopes, a typical scene in Ladakh and an example of the communities’ high exposure to mass movement hazards.

Figure 2: Ladakhi village sitting at the foot of steep hillslopes, a typical scene in Ladakh and an example of the communities’ high exposure to mass movement hazards.

Challenges associated with these natural hazards, together with issues relating to energy, tourism, water supply and environmental change were the focus of a major international conference in the town of Leh in June 2014.Sustainable Resource Development in the Himalayas’, a three day event drawing participants from across the Himalayan region and beyond, was organised by the Geological Society of London alongside the University of Jammu. Running before and after this conference was a geoeducation programme, working with students from multiple ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds, exploring topics ranging from the Himalayan glaciers to landslide and earthquake dynamics. The geoeducation aspect of the programme was co-organised by the University of Jammu (Ladakh, India) and Geology for Global Development (GfGD), a UK-based not-for-profit that I established in 2011 (Figure 3). It was delivered in three settings: (i) a large secondary school close to the important town of Leh, with students coming from many surrounding schools; (ii) a medium sized boarding school 200km away from Leh, with many children from nomadic families in the region; and (iii) a small boarding school with many very young children, all coming from nomadic families.

Figure 3: The GfGD and Jammu University team with some of the students at Nyoma Residential School.

Figure 3: The GfGD and Jammu University team with some of the students at Nyoma Residential School.

Implementing a geoeducation project in an unfamiliar region, both geographically and culturally, brought with it a number of exciting challenges, including the availability (or lack of) of materials and resources, language and cultural differences, managing communications between stakeholders before and after the event, and long-term monitoring and evaluation. These challenges were fantastic learning opportunities for the GfGD team, comprised entirely of undergraduates and postgraduates, and our wider network. Geoscientists often find themselves working overseas, in regions with cultures and systems far removed from what we are used to. Engagement with geoeducation during these opportunities may take many forms – from traditional classroom teaching to informal mentoring and knowledge exchange. Attempting to deliver material designed for a UK-audience (my ‘home’ audience), and in a way suited to a UK-audience, in such settings would not necessarily be successful. Instead, consideration is needed of locally-relevant examples, demonstrations and delivery methods. If we hope to have maximum impact in our education, especially when utilising the fantastic opportunities we have to visit far-flung places, these are factors we should take seriously and be diligent in considering.

Our component of the teaching focused on natural hazards, vulnerability and disasters, with a special emphasis on landslides. Additional exercises relating to earthquake dynamics and mitigation were designed and delivered by theBritish Geological Survey’s School Seismology Project. Our work was underpinned by mini-research projects, undertaken by UK students, about landslides, local geology and culture/demographics. Building on this foundation, we put together course content that was relevant to the students and designed a series of simple, interactive demonstrations. Students used photographs of landslides to look for similarities and differences. They used locally available soil, sand and gravel to create their own landslides and investigate angles of failure, the impact of water, the impact of sediment size and what happens if there is (seismic) shaking (Figure 4). Alongside the technical geoscience, we introduced topics relating to exposure and vulnerability. In the UK, these are sometimes taught in isolation from the engineering geology that relates to slope stability. In the same way that this doesn’t serve UK students well, it wouldn’t serve the students in this landslide-prone region to only give them half the story. Understanding the relationship between vulnerability, exposure and a geophysical hazard, in generating a disaster, was an essential message to communicate. It reinforces that some actions can be taken to minimise the impacts of future disasters.

Figure 4: Rosalie Tostevin (GfGD) leads a landslide simulation practical exercise in Nyoma Residential School.

The delivery of the material went very well. We were delighted to be able to leave short textbooks in each school, together with posters and examples of some of the demonstrations. We also left copies of the teaching material with the Ministry of Education at the Ladakhi Autonomous Hill Development Council. As acknowledged previously, assessing and evaluating the real impact of such a project comes with a number of difficulties. We will, however, continue to work with colleagues at the University of Jammu and associated institutions to follow up this work with the overall aim that educators in the region can replicate and adapt these lessons themselves to use with future students.

Teaching about natural hazards is about more than building an appreciation of geoscience. It has the important purpose of reducing individual, family and even societal vulnerability to future hazard events. Understanding the relationship between earthquakes and tsunamis facilitates rapid evacuation. Helping communities living close to volcanoes better understand the different types of eruption and secondary hazards such as pyroclastic flows and lahars can improve partnerships between local observatories and communities. Strong partnerships mean early warning messages are better understood and acted upon. Finally, understanding slope dynamics can help inform building and agricultural practice decisions. For the young people of Ladakh, helping them to better understand their landscapes can be a powerful tool in their hands (Figure 5).

Figure 5: Joel Gill (GfGD) answers extra questions on slope stability from keen students after his class ends.

Given the importance of the subject, I’m really pleased to be co-convening a session with a number of colleagues from across Europe at the European Geosciences Union General Assembly in Vienna next year. The session, titled Natural Hazards Education, Communications and Science-Policy-Practice Interface, is particularly interested in: (i) The communication (by scientists, engineers, the press, civil protection, government agencies, and a multitude other agencies) of natural hazards risk and uncertainty to the general public and other government officials; (ii) Approaches that address barriers and bridges in the science-policy-practice interface that hinder and support application of hazard-related knowledge; (iii) The teaching of natural hazards to university and lower-level students, using innovative techniques to promote understanding.

We will be linking this session to an opportunity for discussion and a short course on natural hazard teaching demonstrations. If you are planning on attending EGU, come and get involved in these great opportunities to explore the teaching of a topic that is of interest to so many around the world!

Images of Guatemala (9) – Conflict and Disasters


Until 1996, Guatemala was in the midst of a brutal Civil War. This sculpture in the Presidential Palace of Guatemala City is a reminder of that troubled past and symbolic of a hopeful peaceful future.

In the same way that conflict/disasters can hamper and set-back development efforts, conflict can also set-back disaster risk reduction and management. Even once finished, past conflicts can erode trust between different groups. High levels of trust are a crucial factor in both preparing for and responding to disasters. In thinking through approaches to disasters, for example volcanic crises, in any given area, it is important to think about the implications of historical events and more recent events. We can undertake brilliant geological assessments of landslide prone slopes, volcanic activity or seismic vulnerability – but the erosion of trust due to previous conflict (or other factors) may prevent these being acted upon. Re-building and maintaining trust is essential and should be taken seriously by all involved in disaster reduction.

(Credit: Geology for Global Development, 2015)

Each Friday we are publishing an image from Guatemala to promote our ‘100 x 100′ fundraising campaign. We are working with students, recent graduates and others in the UK to raise money to support efforts to reduce the impact of volcanic hazards in Guatemala.

Find out more:

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