Geology for Global Development

Disaster Risk Reduction

New Opportunity – Hazard Factsheets

Geology for Global DevelopmentJane Robb, GfGD Communication Officer, writes about a new and exciting opportunity for GfGD members…

For many of our followers the opportunity to get involved in international development as a geologist, or at all, is difficult. One of GfGD’s core purposes is to help change this at a UK level, to make sure that good geoscience – and geoscientists – can contribute to good development. But for those of us who can’t manage to undertake one of the great placements GfGD offers, there is now the opportunity to contribute to global development using your own knowledge of good geoscience – but from the comfort of your own university/home.

In association with the non-governmental organisation (NGO) CAFOD and the disaster risk reduction working group of bond (the UK network of development NGOs), we are inviting GfGD University Groups and individuals to produce a two page factsheet on natural hazards in a specific developing country, all of which have been identified by non-governmental organisations (NGOs) as important areas.

The best bit about the opportunity to develop these factsheets is that they will be given to NGOs to use on the ground where they are needed. This is a real opportunity to inform and help people and programmes in developing countries – and any GfGD University Group, or keen individual can get involved!

This is the perfect chance to do something for the development sector – even if you can’t get direct experience in an organisation. The experience of developing these can be used on your CV to show that you have contributed to real organisations on the ground in mitigating natural disasters.

You will also get experience in communicating science, a key skill for any scientist, especially in the development sector where those working there have to engage with communities, governments, aid workers and policymakers on a daily basis – many of whom will not have any background in geoscience. You will also gain crucial skills in critical analysis of sources to develop these sheets – a skill that any scientist has to rely on throughout their career.

DJMFull details of this opportunity are now available on our website – including details of how to set about getting involved. Once you’ve had a read of the information sheet, you or your GfGD University Group Ambassador should contact our Publications Officer Donald John MacAllister (publications[at] to register your interest and select the country you would like to write about.

Upcoming GfGD Placements

July will be a busy month for a few GfGD members – as they undertake geoscience-development based placements with a variety of hosts. Below we introduce you to the three students, and give them the chance to say a few words about the opportunity they’ve been given. Each student will be preparing a report on their placement, which will be made available on our website. All future placements will also be advertised here.

Name: Julian Templeton
University: Lancaster University
Placement Host: Humanitarian Futures Programme/British Geological Survey (1-5th July)
Placement Themes: Disaster Risk Reduction, Science Communication, Seismic Hazards
Julian says…“I am delighted and feel very privileged to be offered this placement and look forward to working with the Humanitarian Futures Programme and British Geological Survey as well as reporting back to GfGD. I believe the placement will enable me to gain first-hand experience of the communication and analytical skills needed to make a difference to current resilience issues. It will also allow me to build upon my experience and help lead me in the right direction, providing a good foundation of knowledge for going into a PhD. Working with the HFP/BGS will help me in further learning about areas of DRR and how organisations actively involved in DRR operate and aim to create a more resilient society.”

Name: Dawn Brooks
University: Imperial College London
Placement Host: Tearfund (1-12th July)
Placement Themes: Water Management in Bangladesh
Dawn says… “When I found out about being selected for the internship at Tearfund I was so excited! Getting any work experience with an overlap of international development and earth science is quite hard, let alone a placement to do with water resource management (which is what I want to go into after my degree). I hope my internship gives me an opportunity to apply what I have learnt so far in my degree, allows me to learn about an aspect of water resource management I don’t know much about and also gives me a useful insight into how I can use my degree to work in the international development sector.”

Name: Amy Wright
University: University of Durham
Placement Host: CAFOD (15-19th July)
Placement Themes: Disaster Risk Reduction
Amy says… “I’m delighted to have been provided with the chance to undertake this placement considering the lack of opportunities for geoscience undergraduates to gain relevant work experience in the development sector. In addition, I am currently in the process of applying for master’s programmes in hazard and risk, with the view to gaining a job in hazard and risk management, and the ability to obtain an insight into this type of work is invaluable.”

Placement Report – Sam Marshall (CAFOD, April 2013)

At the end of each GfGD placement we ask the student completing that placement to think about his/her experiences and write a short report (available to download here). In April 2013, Sam Marshall spent a week working with disaster risk reduction advisor Dr Kate Crowley (pictured with Sam Marshall) at the international NGO CAFOD. Today we share Sam’s report – outlining what he got up to during the week and some key things he learnt.

Name: Sam Marshall
University: University of Southampton
Year of Study (when undertaking placement): 3
Placement Title: Disaster Risk Reduction, CAFOD
Placement Dates: 15th-19th April

Why did you apply for this placement? 

I applied for the placement as I wanted to better understand the role geologists can play in development globally, and the work Geology for Global Development is doing in the sector immediately caught my attention. I undertook the placement for a week in April, shadowing Dr Kate Crowley, CAFOD’s Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) Advisor.

Outline what you did during the placement (activities, meetings, things you contributed to):

When I first arrived I met some of the other people in the department, and went over the plan for the week with Kate. She assured me the variation in her job meant more would certainly be added to the schedule during the week, which certainly proved true. I began work on a task profiling the risk of natural hazards in some of the countries that CAFOD operates in. In the afternoon I got the opportunity to meet with a few of CAFOD’s Emergency Response Coordinators, and understand what their role entails and how they got to their position.

On the Tuesday morning I sat in on a Humanitarian Futures Programme meeting hosted by CAFOD about planning an upcoming workshop about integrating science and development to support resilience. The meeting looked to organize the format of the event, decide on invitees, and establish the goals that they hoped to accomplish in the workshop. In the afternoon I got the opportunity to see how DRR policies are applied to CAFOD projects when I sat in on CAFOD’s DRR internal working group meeting, in which updates on current and proposed DRR policies were discussed.

On the Wednesday I attended the CAFOD humanitarian working group meeting, and continued my risk-profiling task. In the afternoon I travelled to Brighton with Kate, where she had been asked to be a speaker on an Institute for Development Studies panel discussion entitled: “Are current efforts to integrate climate change and development misdirected?” Leaning about the topic and understanding the different viewpoints and opinions made it a very interesting afternoon.

On Thursday I was lucky enough to be allowed to attend Hyogo Framework for Action Post-2015 and Global Platform Advisory group meeting at the Cabinet Office, which Kate attended as co-chair of the bond DRR group. It was an amazing opportunity to observe how organizations interact with the government, and I’ve very thankful to have been allowed to come along.

On Friday I completed the country risk profiles, and later in the day attended, with Kate, an Overseas Development Institute event launching the British Red Cross’ recent study on humanitarian action in urban areasLearning from the city, centred around a panel discussion about the findings of the study, and assessing current and future humanitarian action in urban settings. The event gave me an understanding of how knowledge in the development sector is shared and enhanced through such discussions.

What did you learn during the placement?

The placement taught me a lot about how NGO’s operate in the development sector, and through my opportunity to interact with people working for CAFOD I learnt which skills are most desirable for a job in international development. Dr Kate Crowley provides an incredible example of how a background in geology can be applied to work in the development sector, and through observing her work I have a much greater appreciation of how geology can be used to benefit society.

Has this placement influenced your own future career plans? 

I plan on continuing to look into opportunities in the development sector throughout the rest of my degree and once I graduate. I’d like to thank Dr Kate Crowley for her generosity in allowing me to shadow her for the week and understand her role. It is immediately obvious how passionate she is about the work she does, and how extremely talented she is at it, and I’m sure her advice will prove invaluable. I am very grateful to Joel Gill, founder of GfGD, for organizing the placement, and I would strongly recommend GfGD placements to other students who have an interest in the development sector.


On Wednesday we will be introducing you to those students undertaking GfGD placements with a range of organisations in July 2013. GfGD are very grateful to all those who have and will be hosting students – they are highly valuable opportunities for geoscience students. If you work in a development NGO, or are contributing to a development project within a consultancy, government survey/department, or policy/research institute and would like to know more about hosting a student for a 1-2 week shadowing scheme please contact GfGD National Director Joel Gill.

Guest Blog: Disaster Resilience in Dharamsala, India

John McCarthy and Sam Bradley are collaborating to develop an earthquake awareness and disaster resilience program for vulnerable communities in Dharamsala, India. The region is predicted to have an extremely large earthquake in the next 50 years and they are looking to raise awareness, develop community programs and improve the resilience capacity for the population. John and Sam both have Master’s degrees in Geophysical Hazards and are looking to further their careers in natural hazards, DRR and resilience. 

Nestled in the foothills of the Himalayas sits the political and cultural centre of the Tibetan refugee community. Since the Chinese invasion of Tibet in 1959, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama and the Tibetan Government have resided in exile in McLeod Ganj, Dharamsala.

Dharamsala is located in northern India, in the foothills of the Himalayas. Image from Google maps

Residents of this region are subject to a host of natural hazards as well as a large range of socio-economic issues that have left much of the local community vulnerable to potential disasters. The region has been assigned a zone V, the highest rating of earthquake risk in India and is subject to the annual Monsoon and associated flash flooding which can give rise to landslides. The region also plays host to man-­made and natural forest fires during the summer months.

The last major earthquake to affect the region was the 1905 Kangra earthquake with a magnitude (MW) 7.8. The earthquake devastated the region, killing nearly 20,000 people and reducing 100,000 dwellings to rubble. The region was left with a depleted population until the arrival of the displaced Tibetans from 1959 onwards. Since then, the centre of Dharamsala has been rebuilt and is home to nearly 14,000 Tibetans and 20,000 Indians.

The displaced Tibetans face further problems with population rates exceeding rates of economic development. Many of the refugees face difficulties in obtaining work and as such are dependent on the tourism industry that is centred on Dharamsala. Up to 2,500 refugees migrate over the border of China to Nepal, with many moving to the cultural centre each year to escape persecution, adding further burden to already strained resources. Although there is a high rate of literacy amongst Tibetans, they have a very high drop out rate from schooling and can rarely afford to seek higher education, leaving the community reliant on income from tourism and the service industry. Tibetans in India are also unable to gain citizenship; they cannot vote, carry a passport or legally purchase land for development. This leaves them vulnerable and socially isolated.

Houses built on steep slopes in Dharamsala. Source Wikicommons

Under international law, the Indian government is not liable for implementing disaster risk reduction (DRR) or post disaster relief for the Tibetan community. As such, the current disaster management structure is poor. There is very little in the way of DRR awareness and many campaigns have been largely forgotten. The community has a low understanding of earthquake risks and as such, there is limited preparedness, limited response and a distinct lack of community trust in local Government Authorities to act in the event of a disaster. Any large earthquake in the future could leave the Tibetan community and large parts of its cultural heritage at risk.

The geologically complex region forms part of the convergence zone between the Indian and Eurasian plates. The Indian plate has been moving northwards into the Eurasian plate at a rate of 40mm/yr and has caused several large earthquakes in the last 15 years alone, namely Gujarat (Mw 7.7) in 2001, which killed 20,000 people and Kashmir (Mw 7.6) in 2005, killing 86,000 as well as the earthquakes in Eastern Iran during April this year.

The Dharamsala region contains two major thrust faults running parallel to the length of the Himalayan range. There are two large seismic gaps (parts of active faults that have not produced any activity in a long time) on either side of Dharamsala where a high accumulation of strain has built up due to several years of low activity. There is a large slip deficit of up to 16 metres. Although there are frequent minor shocks in the region, a future earthquake could exceed Mw 8.6.

Here, we come to the old adage that ‘earthquakes don’t kill people, buildings do’. Many of the buildings were constructed in the late 1950’s and early 60’s with the influx of Tibetan refugees. Many buildings were built very quickly using the cheapest materials possible and with no adherence to building codes. As a result, many dwellings are constructed using brittle concrete and unburnt bricks with very heavy rooftops that are susceptible to cracking and collapse under the shear forces produced by an earthquake. Many dwellings have had further stories added as the region became more populated and tourism has flourished adding to further instability. Many of these buildings have placed large water storage tanks (1000 litres+) on rooftops adding further weight and vulnerability. In addition to all of these problems and poor planning, many buildings are situated on the slopes steeper than 45° on poorly compacted soils that are prone to earthquake and water induced landslides.

The only building that has been retrofitted for earthquake resistance thus far is the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives. All other buildings are yet to be assessed and retrofitted due to the high cost and dependence on donor funding.

Our project is looking at all aspects of resilience within the community to earthquake-­based disasters and further secondary hazards such as earthquake induced landslides. We are investigating methods to develop earthquake awareness programs, community DRR planning and implementation, response efforts and promote multi-­stake holder participation to reduce the vulnerability of this community and further communities in the region.

We are also looking at ways to reduce casualties through retrofitting programs. Our investigations will explore cost effective and simple solutions to make dwellings resistant to the shear forces produced in earthquake situations and hence collapse.

We would like to reach out to design engineers, architects and NGOs that are involved with earthquake engineering and community resilience to earthquakes and their manifold effects. We would welcome any advice or comments on the technical and social aspects of our proposed project. Comments can be left using the comments box at the bottom of this article, or by contacting us via email ( or