Tuesday 30 August 2011

2011 Bulambuli Landslide, Eastern Uganda

A major landslide has affected the slopes of Mount Elgon in the Bulambuli District of Eastern Uganda. The landslide has been attributed to heavy rains in the region which is prone to large landslides. In a region hit by drought, with many requiring food aid following the lack of April-May rain, these torrential rains, flooding and landslides are a further blow for local communities. 

The landslide in Bulambuli is believed to have killed at least 24 people, including many children. An entire village is reported to have been buried in mud - which suggests that the death toll could rise as the rescue process continues. Sources suggest that further landslides are possible as heavy rains continue and one report suggested that experts had identified a 40km crack along the slopes of Mount Elgon that could put over 8000 people at risk from major landslides. It is believed that these observations were made by researchers at the University of Makerere in Uganda.

In March I wrote a report of a major landslide that had occurred a year earlier (March 2010) in Bududa, Eastern Uganda. The article highlighted the series of problems that led to the landslide occurring and made some recommendations in order to reduce the risk of future disasters. The article called for:

1) RELOCATION: A thorough and detailed examination of the Mount Elgon area to determine the areas at greatest risk of landslides. Those at greatest risk should be relocated. The Governments plans to relocate over half a million people have proved to be slow and unrealistic (as I suggested in March), but some relocation must occur to avoid further serious tragedy.

2) INCREASED SUSTAINABLE FARMING: Working with communities to encourage a more sustainable farming method in the region, reducing deforestation, undercutting of slopes and increasing natural drainage. There are significant concerns that over-farming on these slopes is increasing soil erosion, reducing natural anchorage and thus continually increasing the vulnerability of these slopes.

3) ENGINEERING SOLUTIONS: Improving draining of the slopes and toe weights at the foot of particularly vulnerable slopes to increase stability. In addition some instruments could be used to  measure the conditions of the slope, instruments such as inclinometers (to measure deviation from the vertical - i.e. if the slope is moving) and piezometers (to measure the pore fluid pressure).

Friday 26 August 2011

Archive: Water and Sanitation Posts

World Water Day 2011
Improving access to clean water and safe sanitation and good hygiene practice (WASH) is essential to strong economic and social development. Over the past six months GfGD has been working to raise the profile of this important issue, and have written a number of blog posts on this subject... 

A look at the role of geologists in a number of key areas such as water resources, improving infrastructure (including pipelines and sewer systems) and monitoring water resources in a changing climate... Read More

An important piece written on the day that the UK and other countries pledged millions into funding the rotavirus vaccine, aimed at reducing the number of deaths from diarrhoeal diseases. The vaccine, however, is only for those cases caused as a result of the rotavirus, accounting for on average 39% of childhood hospitalisations as a result of diarrhoeal diseases. In order to fully address the problem of diarrhoeal diseases there also needs to be significant investment in, and prioritisation of improved WASH... Read More

A series of posts giving some background to the drought and famine in the Horn of Africa, including an analysis of the role of geologists in providing access to clean water and sanitation... Read More

An in-depth look at this important water resource in North Africa... Read More

Wednesday 24 August 2011

Employment & Research Opportunities

A number of interesting positions, that some of our readers may be interested in, can be found on the earthworks jobs website. If you are interested in advertising a job, PhD or work experience opportunity on this blog and GfGD's website then please get in touch to discuss this possibility.

PhD Position: Developing novel models for earthquake forecasting
Funded three year PhD position suitable for those with a strong interest in seismology, geophysics, physics, statistics, numerical modellling. 
Where: Zurich, Switzerland
Deadline: 18th September 2011

Lecturer/Senior Lecturer: Natural Hazard Risk Analysis & Modelling
Exciting opportunity for someone with a background in volcanology, seismology or geohazard risk analsysis - working at the University of Auckland and engaging in teaching and research, as well as working on their Volcanic Risk in Saudi Arabia Project.
Where: Auckland, New Zealand
Deadline: 17th September 2011

Short Term Consultant: Engineering Geologist
An opportunity for a freelance mining/engineering geologist to undertake 6-8 weeks work logging in West Africa.
Where: West Africa
Deadline: 19th September 2011

Tuesday 23 August 2011

Guest Blog: Hydrogeologists Without Borders

Geology for Global Development (GfGD) is delighted to host their first guest blogger, Geraint Burrows – the UK representative of Hydrogeologists Without Borders. Geraint has an MSc in Community Water Supply from Cranfield University and has worked with a number of NGOs such as the International Rescue Committee, Medecins Sans Frontieres and Tearfund. He is currently finishing an MSc in Hydrogeology at the University of Birmingham. GfGD asked Geraint to share a bit more about Hydrogeologists Without Borders, and how you can get involved:


Hydrogeologists Without Borders (HWB) is a relatively new initiative founded by a group of Canadian hydrogeologists in 2005. HWB is a charitable organisation set up with the aim to provide hydrogeological assistance and educational support to areas of the world lacking access to this vital specialism.

Well Jetting (Darfur)

HWB currently has over 200 hydrogeologists on its register; the majority based in Canada, including eminent names such as Dr John Cherry who wrote the famous hydrogeological textbook ‘Groundwater’ (Freeze and Cherry, 1979).

HWB supports six MSc hydrogeology programmes in Central and South America through the HWB Farvolden Fellowship Programme.

HWB is partnering with a number of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and creating opportunities for HWB members to assist with groundwater based aid and development projects.


In the beginning of 2011 a UK based HWB chapter was launched. We are currently seeking to build up a register of hydrogeologists and groundwater engineers within the UK. We are also seeking individuals who would be willing to help with UK based administrative work and fundraising.

If you are interested in becoming part of HWB then please contact Geraint Burrows and visit our website at http://hydrogeologistswithoutborders.org.

We look forward to hearing from you.

Thursday 18 August 2011

Online Petition - Zimbabwe's 'Blood Diamonds'

Recently we posted a blog urging the Government to push for an immediate end to the export of diamonds from the  Marange field of Zimbabwe, while an independent and thorough investigation into alleged crimes against humanity is completed. If you are a UK citizen you can now sign an e-petition calling on Her Majesty's Government to:

(1) Lobby the Kimberley Process (regulating the sale of diamonds) to reverse the decision made earlier this year to allow the export of diamonds from two mines in the Marange region. 

(2) Lobby the Kimberley Process to instigate an urgent, thorough and independent investigation of the allegations of crimes against humanity. 

(3) Act decisively and rapidly on the findings of this investigation, to ensure that profits from the sale of these diamonds does not fuel further conflict in the nation, conflict which pushes people deeper into poverty. Profits must be used to benefit the Zimbabwe's citizens - improving infrastructure, food security, health and education. 

You can find the petition online here, and publicise it using Twitter and Facebook. In the event that this petition reaches 100,000 signatures over the next few months it will be considered for a debate in the House of Commons. Please do forward the link to this petition to anybody you think may be interested.

Geology for Global Development is a UK-based organisation working to raise the profile of international development within the geoscience community. As part of our work we undertake an advocacy programme - aiming to fight poverty and improve the lives of communities around the world through working to shape policy and lobbying Government. You can read more at www.gfgd.org/projects/advocacy.  

Wednesday 17 August 2011

International Dimensions of Climate Change

Recently the UK Government's Chief Scientific Officer (Sir John Beddington), and the Government Office for Science, published a document titled International Dimensions of Climate Change, outlining how international climate change may affect the UK and the required response from policy-makers. Even if we do not see significant changes of climate in the UK, there are likely to be significant effects to our foreign policy, security, economy etc from climate change overseas.

The report includes an excellent overview of global climate change (Chapter 2) including key tipping points (page 28) and key effects (page 30-), as well as chapters on the threats and challenges to the UK from international climate change. The report convincingly argues that the global nature of finance, trade, resources, infrastructure and health mean that a changing climate overseas could cause significant challenges to the UK. It also argues that the knowledge and skills of UK engineers, businesses, research institutes and other organisations mean that the UK is well placed to play a leading role in a post-carbon world. There are a number of UK-based geologists, geographers and other scientists playing a significant role on the world stage in this field.

Another aspect of this report, covered the need for behavioural change in the UK. A while ago The Times published an article in which it quoted this report and Sir John Beddington, stating that climate-related disasters should be used by the Government to persuade British voters to accept unpopular policies for cutting carbon emissions. The report argues that there appears to be growing scepticism of climate change, and a low percentage of people believing that individual responsibility is required. The report states:
"Effective, consistent communication and education linking climate change impacts to events overseas allows the UK government to encourage domestic behavioural change and the adoption of low-carbon technologies."
Whilst in theory this sounds like a reasonable recommendation, I have some concerns that this could lead to further scepticism if claims are not made in a responsible manner, without the backing of good evidence and science. There is scepticism when overseas events are declared to be as a result of 'climate change' by the media, NGOs or Government, without any reasonable evidence. Some events most likely are linked to climate change (amongst other things), but credible and reliable evidence must be used to show this. Whilst this report emphasises a number of times the uncertainty in this field, the difficulties and caveats involved within modelling such complex systems, and that policies should be science and evidence based - Government Ministers (as well as the media, NGOs and others) do not always clarify their statements in such a way.

This report is definitely worth reading, very helpful and well qualified. I would certainly hope that if Government's implement some of the recommendations in this report they do so in a responsible manner. Government's must base their conclusions on good evidence-based science - and do not simplify what are often complex issues. We would urge the Government to speak on these issues in a responsible way in order to effectively communicate these important issues. 

Monday 15 August 2011

Conflict Minerals in the DRC: Complexities in Development

Following on from last weeks article about the situation in Zimbabwe, I noticed that the Poverty Matters Blog on the Guardian website has an interesting article about conflict minerals in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)

It outlines some of the deep complexities involved in development in such fragile states. Imposing measures to control the flow of minerals and precious stones are intended to avoid the continued funding of conflict in the region. This conflict has resulted in horrific damage to many communities and mass atrocities, driving people further and further into poverty. The consequence of placing restrictions on the sale of minerals, however, include a loss of income for small-scale artisinal miners, making it harder for them to earn a living. These complexities are an example of the difficult decisions to be made within development work.

Thursday 11 August 2011

Zimbabwe's Blood Diamonds

Photo Courtesy of USGS
At the end of June I wrote about troubles in the Kimberley Process - after a controversial decision was made to allow Zimbabwe to sell diamonds from the Marange field, despite concern that money from these sales would be used to fund violence and human rights abuses. It was deeply troubling, therefore, to see the BBC Panorama programme (available here for the next 12 months) interviewing witnesses who stated that there had been massacres to clear the diamond fields for the military. They also described torture camps where civilians caught mining independently (and others working on the military mines) were beaten, raped and tortured. While these reports are strongly denied by the Zimbabwean government these gravest of allegations must be thoroughly investigated before any Zimbabwean diamonds are allowed to access the world market.

The International Response

The EU initially refused to accept the decision made by the Kimberley Process earlier this year to allow exports of diamonds from two mines. It has since changed its mind, and now backs this partial lifting of the ban, while maintaining that bans should still be in place on the other mines. According to a statement made by the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office they are in agreement with this controversial decision. While understanding that experts have assessed the two mines in question and deemed that they meet international standards, if the allegations made by Panorama are true then this calls the decision made by the Kimberley Process into question.

OUR POSITION: The income from the sustainable extraction and export of minerals, precious metals and precious stones can bring tremendous benefit to communities in poverty. There is significant doubt that the income from diamonds in the Marange field will contribute to the sustainable economic and social development of Zimbabwe. If the allegations made by Panorama are true then there must be an immediate end to all diamond exports from this nation, a strengthening of political sanctions and an investigation of crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court, with arrest warrants issued if necessary.

We would strongly urge the UK Government and European Union to push for a complete ban on all diamond exports from the Marange region until a thorough and independent investigation of these allegations has been made.

If you are a UK citizen we would also invite you to write to your MP to ask them to lobby the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office on this issue. Simply outline your concerns and ask them to push for a complete ban and a thorough investigation. If you are a citizen of another country, we would urge you to contact your appropriate Government representative.

Monday 8 August 2011

Photos: Volcanism in Chile (3)

A final set of photos, relating to volcanism in Chile. In certain areas around the world associated with active volcanism, groundwater boils due to the proximity of magma and this causes steam and boiling water to erupt at the surface out of a vent. These are quite rare, but make spectacular viewing. These photos were taken at the El Tatio Geysers, Chile.

Friday 5 August 2011

Newswatch - East Africa

As the situation in East Africa continues to worsen, here are a number of links outlining the current situation:

News reports from the BBC outline a famine spreading across Somalia and the first deaths from starvation in Kenya (although no official famine has been announced there).

The UNOCHA pages outline the latest information and details, with maps, details of appeals and other information. 

Follow Oxfam and a number of other bloggers as they blog about the crisis in the Horn of Africa for the next 48 hours.

Thursday 4 August 2011

Resources: Useful Links

You can find a number of useful links relating to geology, development, NGOs and more on the main Geology for Global Development website. We try to update this list on a regular basis, and we would be very happy for anybody to send their suggestions to us via our contact form. If you know of any good online resources, blogs or websites relating to any of the various applications of geoscience to development then please do let us know.

Tuesday 2 August 2011

Photos: Volcanism in Chile (2)

Geology is a subject that takes you to many beautiful parts of the world. Here are a few more photos of volcanoes in the north and north-east of Chile, taken from a fieldtrip there in 2007.