Geology for Global Development

Geology for Global Development

International Day for Disaster Reduction: A Challenge to Geoscientists

Today is the start of Earth Science Week, Global Handwashing Day and the UN’s International Day for Rural Women. Tomorrow is World Food Day, and Wednesday is the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. You could write a blog on any one of these, and the role good geoscience can play! Saturday, as some of you may have noticed, was the International Day for Disaster Reduction, and is the ‘topic’ I’ll be focusing on in this post. This year the key theme was about stepping up for women and girls, a key force for resilience. The UN website stated that… “Women and girls are empowered to fully contribute to sustainable development through disaster risk reduction, particularly in the areas of environmental and natural resource management; governance; and urban and land use planning and social and economic planning – the key drivers of disaster risk”.

Rural Women in Tanzania
(c) Geology for Global Development 2012

As geoscientists our training has a focus on improving the science of natural and environmental hazards, the understanding of the physical mechanisms by which hazards occur and the ways they impact upon the natural environment and physical infrastructure. The appropriate use of good geoscience information is essential for effective disaster risk reduction (DRR). Improved geoscience and understanding of natural processes and their interaction with society is also extremely important. When I was in China I saw a number of incidences where poor engineering and poor understanding of geology was evident. Measures that were meant to increase the resilience of the local population were actually having the opposite effect and exacerbating the problem. Disaster risk reduction must be more than a detailed understanding and appropriate use of geology and engineering.

Many in our discipline would agree, and argue that improving the education of local communities about natural hazards and how to respond to them is also crucial. ‘Education, education, education’ one past prime minister famously stated – and we can sometimes fall into the trap of thinking the same with disaster risk reduction. Education about hazards, and what to do, is another vital part of the jigsaw. However we must be careful to understand and take into account complexities. As Dr Kate Crowley (CAFOD) pointed out in her recent article in the Metro Newspaper – women can have a much greater vulnerability due to their lack of overall education, being unable to read information about what to do during an emergency. Education programmes must take into account issues such as how information is communicated between different family members, how and whether that information is acted upon, and the ways in which communication takes place.

Other factors are vital to reducing vulnerability and building resilience. Community participation in both risk reduction programmes and emergency response plans, and bringing local knowledge and participation into hazard assessments. Also, as I am doing a PhD contributing to the development of a more holistic disaster risk management methodology, I’d argue that the way we compartmentalise different hazards and areas of vulnerability can contribute to the underestimation of risk. There are many places you can read more about the various factors that are required for effective DRR. The UNISDR website is a good starting place.

At Geology for Global Development, a key thing we want to emphasise to young geoscientists who want to pursue a career or undertake research that relates to this field is that DRR is a complex jigsaw, with many pieces. Our work is one important piece, but it sits alongside other important factors, disciplines and a variety of practitioners (see the image below, taken from a number of recent talks I’ve given). The development of a range of skills, such as the ability to communicate your research to non-scientists, listen to local communities, and facilitate participatory workshops will significantly strengthen the work you do. We’d also encourage you to read beyond the science in order to better understand the differences in vulnerability both within and between communities. An understanding of differences in vulnerability, for example, between urban and rural populations, or between men and women, can help in focusing the manner and way in which we communicate our knowledge. I’m not suggesting that every geologist needs to become a social scientist, but I am suggesting that for our work to be more effective we need to better understand the context in which it can be used, better understand the reasons for individual and societal vulnerability (not just physical vulnerability, which as scientists we are often more comfortable with) and better communicate with the multiple stakeholders who are involved in DRR.

Last year at the EGU, a session was run on natural hazards and communication between academics, policy makers and practitioners. This year there will be a number of similar sessions including one on the role and responsibility of geoscientists with regards to natural hazards, why natural hazard assessment and mitigation sometimes fail (and how to improve them), and resilience and vulnerability assessments in natural hazards and risk analysis. Abstract submission is open – so if you have something to contribute to these (or the other) sessions – why not consider submitting and joining in what I hope will be helpful and productive conversations.

Friday Photo (52) – Taklamakan Desert

We’ve now had a whole year of ‘Friday Photos’ on our old blog and now this new EGU hosted blog. As a special treat today we have not one, but three images from the  Taklamakan Desert and some of the highest sand dunes in China.


Taklamakan Desert, China: Geotourism close to the oasis town of Dunhuang

Another example of geotourism in Gansu Province. The dunes and crescent moon lake oasis near Dunhuang are a hub for tourist activity in the area. Education and conservation however are poorly managed in favour of income generation.

(c) Geology for Global Development, 2012

For other images in our ‘Friday Photo’ series – please see the full archive here

Top Travel Tips (6) – Daniel Sharpe

Over the summer we published a very popular series of posts outlining some Top Travel Tips to help those undertaking mapping projects, fieldwork or research visits overseas. We’ve had helpful posts from those who have spent time in various parts of Africa, Bangladesh, and Chile. Good preparation is essential to get the most out of overseas work. It helps our work be more effective, more efficient and ultimately more sustainable.

Today, Daniel Sharpe shares his insights from time he spent in Vancouver, Canada.

1) Explore on Foot – Vancouver is a stunning city full of open paths, chic buildings and beautiful marinas. During summertime many of the locals prefer roller-skates as their mode of transport, but a slow walk along the quay down to Stanley Park is as good an option for those not savvy with this classic 70s throwback. Cheeky black squirrels will impose themselves on you for food and you will soon forget you are in one of the largest cities in Canada.

2) Eat Out – Vancouver is a very cosmopolitan city with a particularly large asian population. This fusion of cultures has made eating here a complete experience, from North-American steak houses to delicate little patisseries and Asian corner shops. You’ll find everything from high end elite restaurants to greasy spoon cafes so get out looking for whatever takes your fancy.

3) Breakfast is the most important meal – The breakfasts in Vancouver are incredible and they certainly do not do things by halves. Pancakes, sausages, bacon, mushrooms and as many as 8 different styles of egg to choose from served on a chest sized plate was certainly a nice wake up, and if you find one of the little corner cafes this mountain of food won’t even cost that much!

4) Get out and about – With Whistler only a 50 minute drive away you’d be silly not to hire a car for a day and get our into British Columbia’s wilderness. Sea planes litter the harbour with an incandescent hum ferrying tourists up to small mountain lakes to the north-west. Rural B.C. is an amazing place so get out and experience a true lasting wilderness of pine forests and bears.

Vancouver is regularly voted as one of the best places in the world to live and it is not hard to see why. Modern skyscrapers mingle with old colonial buildings and a culture confused city with a backdrop of mountains and sea. Explore on foot, get out and about and be prepared to add a belt buckle or two when sampling the food in one of the worlds great cities.

In The News – October 2012

A few things have caught my eye in the news recently, a mix of good and tragic:

Toilets in India: The BBC reported last week that the Indian Supreme Court have ordered that every school have clean water and suitable sanitation facilities within six months. If this is obeyed, and goes hand in hand with appropriate hygiene training it could lead to many positive results, as outlined on the Tearfund Just Policy Blog.

Saving Lives From Space: The BBC have an interesting audio slide-show in which they discuss the importance of remote sensing images in disaster relief and recovery. Dr Alice Bunn from the UK Space Agency talks about the way in which the Disaster Charter is applied, and can result in images taken by a Nigerian satellite helping the US post-disaster. A great, and informative piece by the BBC that communicates well how both the tool and the political willpower can make a real difference.

Landslide in China: Finally, a very sad story from China. Nineteen people have been killed in a landslide in the south-west of China. This includes 18 children who were buried in a school. They were attending an extra lesson on a National Holiday when the landslide occurred. The lesson had been scheduled due to classes that were missed during a recent earthquake event. Dave Petley comments on The Landslide Blog about the high possibility of more landslides in the area affected by the September earthquakes.


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