Thursday 21 April 2011

Monday 18 April 2011

Resources: The Guardian Newspaper

The Guardian newspaper have, online, a number of helpful resources relating to geology and international development.

The Guardian gather many resources relating to global development in these pages including news, blogs, case studies and opinions. The pages are funded, in part, by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and aim to create a forum for debate as well as promoting the sharing of ideas and research.

The 'Poverty Matters' Blog is a blog covering a wide variety of topics relating to global development - and with a number of authors ranging from NGOs to Government Ministers. Space for comments allows for discussion and debate.

These pages offer the reader news and reports covering natural hazards and extreme weather events across the globe. Photos, interactive science reports (e.g. volcanology, earthquakes etc) and links to blog articles make this a useful resource.

Friday 15 April 2011

Case Study: Disaster Risk Reduction - Nepal

The Guardian 'Poverty Matters' blog, focusing on global development, published an article by Alan Duncan today (Minister of State for International Development, UK) in which he highlights the importance of Disaster Risk Reduction in the Asian country of Nepal.


Nepal, situated north of India - in the Himalayas, is located in the collision zone of the Indian Plate with the  Eurasian Plate (right centre in diagram below). This results in a very high risk of earthquakes, with an estimated 10,000 people killed as a result of seismic activity between 1900 and 2008 (NSET-Nepal, 2010). The last major earthquake was in 1934, and palaeoseismology suggests that they occur every 70 years - meaning a major earthquake is due in the region.

In addition to earthquake hazards, Nepal also suffers serious problems from flooding and landslides - both of them resulting in more deaths than earthquakes in the period 1971-2008 (Landslides = 3987, Floods = 2936, Earthquakes = 873, as stated by NSET-Nepal, 2010). 


Nepal is very vulnerable to natural hazards, rapid urbanisation - especially in the large city of Kathmandu, with poor spatial planning and disaster management means that communities are very vulnerable to a large earthquake, with a conservative estimate of 40,000 being killed, and many more injured (Asian Disaster Preparedness Centre). The range of hazards that could strike Nepal also complicate the situation. Communities are vulnerable to seismic-induced landslides, water-induced landslides, flooding and other hazards (wildfires etc), with the varied topography being a key factor in this. Poverty in this country increases the vulnerability to disasters. Building to resist earthquakes is expensive, and preparing communities requires investment. 


As Alan Duncan states, there is a real need for action to reduce the risk in Nepal, by supporting the Nepalese government to develop their disaster management plans, investing in community education, urban planning resources and other risk reduction methods. As the Nepal Risk Reduction Consortium established by the UN work to support the Nepalese in preparing for disaster, and reducing the impacts of that - it is important to:
1) Ensure excellent communication between all stakeholders, including scientists, engineers, social scientists, town planners, politicians and community representative. 
2) Ensure a sustainable programme is put in place - drawing on community participatory methods to ensure that risk reduction is in place at all levels.
3) Develop multi-hazard risk assessments in order to better understand the complex nature of the hazards 

1. Communication
In order to develop detailed and thorough disaster management plans, and a disaster risk reduction plan, there must be good and detailed communication between stakeholders. Geologists and engineers must communicate with social scientists and urban planners in order to ensure the science is accurate and detailed, and incorporated into their plans and procedures. Communities must be consulted and their experiences and knowledge drawn upon to ensure a sustainable programme and policies (see below). 

2. Sustainability
In order to make disaster risk reduction sustainable there must also be substantial community involvement at every level - from identifying hazards, to educating communities, to determining how communities can build resilience and in writing disaster management plans. My experiences in water & sanitation work show that simply pouring finance and building institutional knowledge will not guarantee success or sustainability - without working with the community, drawing on community knowledge and involving them in the decision making. Community participation builds ownership, a sense of responsibility and community knowledge. In a similar way, if DRR is going to be successful in Nepal it must engage people from all aspects of the community and not be a 'top-down' exercise.

3. Multi Hazard Risk Assessments
There is a real need to develop multi-hazard risk analyses for this area. Single hazard risk assessments (i.e. one for flooding, one for landslides, and one for earthquakes) have the potential to result in increased vulnerability to other hazards - they fail to incorporate the complex interaction of hazards, triggering mechanisms, or the increased vulnerability to one hazard if it follows another hazard. Disaster Management Plans also need to examine wide-ranging factors such as water & sanitation, in order to determine how that will work in a disaster, hopefully preventing epidemics of diseases such as cholera.

Further information on multi-hazard risk assessments (in the context of Japan) can be found in this post.


As stated in this blog's analysis of the Humanitarian Emergency Response Review by Lord Ashdown, there is a definite need for investment in disaster risk reduction, and it is welcomed that DFID is taking this seriously. However, as outlined above it must be ensured that there is communication at all levels, and that it is sustainable, with community involvement and knowledge being fed into the process. A move to multi-hazard risk assessments is also suggested in order to better understand the complex interactions between hazards, and so improve the response in Nepal to future disasters.

Tuesday 12 April 2011

Key Themes: Climate Change

The 'Key Themes' posts are a series of short articles outlining the role that geologists have in various aspects of global development.

Research into climate change and its impacts on communities across the world is currently being done by many institutions across the world, and eagerly awaited and examined by NGOs and government agencies. It is perhaps one of the biggest issues in this generation, with huge questions such as - what can we do, and how will it effect us?

Climate Change: Fact or Fiction?

There is significant scientific evidence that suggests that human induced climate change is a reality. There are natural fluctuations in the earth’s climate (leading to ice-ages etc)… however research suggests fairly conclusively that humans are accelerating climate change through the release of various emissions.

The Geological Society of London has released a briefing document outlining the geological evidence; this is aimed at non-specialists as well as geologists. It is available to read here. Geologists play a significant role in understanding past climates, and the patterns that occur over time. This understanding of the past aids the modelling of future climatic conditions and the impact changes may have.

How is climate change related to international development?

It is generally accepted that the carbon-footprints of people in developed countries are significantly greater than the carbon-footprints of people in developing countries. The UN has suggested that the world’s poorest produce a small fraction of the world’s greenhouse gases – as the graph below indicates.


Yet research also suggests that the effects and impacts of climate change will disproportionately affect the poor – that the poorest are the ones least able to deal with environmental change. Global warming, as well as changing temperatures, will lead to:
·      Higher sea levels and flooding of low-lying coasts
·      Changed patterns of rainfall
·      Increased ocean acidity
·      Decreased oxygen levels in the oceans

Adapting to these effects requires significant investment, well beyond the means of many developing countries. A publication by the Parliamentary Office of Science & Technology (Postnote No. 269, 2006) suggests developing countries would have to deal with the following environmental impacts:
·      Changes in rainfall patterns
·      Increased frequency and severity of floods, droughts, storms and heat waves
·      Changes in growing seasons and regions
·      Changes in water quality and quantity
·      Sea level rises
·      Melting of Glaciers

These impacts are likely to have result in changes to water resources, agriculture, human health, infrastructure, food security, settlements and natural disaster planning.

What role do geologists have to play in this sector?

As previously outlined geologists play a significant role in modelling the impacts of future climatic conditions and impacts through their research into palaeoclimate. Geologists also have a role in both understanding how climate changes will impact on several key areas, and what can be done to adapt/mitigate/reduce the impacts within these areas. A few examples of such key areas are listed below:

Groundwater: As global warming develops, how will this affect supply of groundwater and the quality of groundwater? How will sea-level rises change the salinity of coastal aquifers? The British Geological Survey are undertaking researching into questions such as these, you can read about the likely impact on groundwater supplies in Africa here.

Coastal Flooding & Erosion: Modelling of flooding, as a result of increase in sea levels is being done, as is an examination of how climate change will impact coastal erosion. Both of these can result in a loss of settlement and livelihoods – potentially driving problems in food and water security.

Natural Disasters: The effects of climate change on disasters ranging from floods and droughts, to wildfires and storms, to earthquakes and tsunamis is not altogether understood. Research indicates an increase in the unpredictability of rainfall in terms of intensity and duration – increasing the frequency of extreme droughts and floods. This post, written in February, highlights how historical changing of climate resulted in extremely severe droughts. 

Geologists also have a key role in ensuring that decisions made in this field are made on the basis of good science. A lot of processes are being attributed to climate change with very little or no scientific evidence. Climate change adaptations and work in communities to build resilience should be done on the basis of a thorough understanding of the area and science - otherwise they could increase vulnerability and do more harm than good. Climate change should be put in its proper context, alongside the various other hazards and vulnerabilities that communities face.

Thursday 7 April 2011

Resources: NASA Earth Observatory

The NASA Earth Observatory website is a good resource for geologists, containing satellite images and reports for a number of natural hazards and other events. The site is free to access, and is updated fairly regularly. There are also daily and weekly e-mails you can subscribe to with information about the current situation with a wide variety of natural hazards.

This site is good for keeping you informed about some of the hazards and disasters that are happening, that haven't made it into the main news reports. For example, at the end of March heavy rains in Thailand led to landslides, together displacing more than two million people, and killing around 53. It is by no means, exhaustive however, with no mention (that I could observe) of the earthquake to strike Burma in late March this year. The site is, however, well worth exploring - and the quality of some of the images it provides is excellent.

Thailand Landslides: