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Ground crack induced by fault reactivation during the 2010 earthquake near Santiago. © Sergio Sepulveda

Dr Sergio Sepulveda from the University of Chile is visiting Durham University as a Cofund Senior Research Fellow through the Institute of Advanced Study, to work with the International Landslide Centre at IHRR that is led by Professor Dave Petley and Dr Nick Rosser from the Department of Geography. Sepulveda is from Chile, one of the most seismically active parts of the world that regularly experiences earthquakes, landslides, debris flows, volcanic eruptions and other geohazards.

Sepulveda is a leading researcher on landslides in South America and is well-known in the field. Most of the fatalities caused by natural hazards in South America are from earthquakes, floods and landslides that affect both urban and rural communities. Sepulveda is working closely with colleagues in IHRR to identify the vulnerability of populations in Latin America and the Caribbean to landslides, in order to acquire a better understanding that would lead to developing measures to help reduce fatalities, and is testing a number of volcanic soils from Chile to understand the role they play in landslides and other hazards.

Research at Durham

Working with Prof Dave Petley, Sepulveda is studying records of fatal landslides that have occurred in Latin America and the Caribbean using the Durham Fatal Landslide Database, a global record of landslide- induced fatalities from the past 10 years. The database is a useful tool for identifying vulnerability to landslide hazards, ‘…there is a very strong correlation between population density and fatal landslides, and most of them are induced by heavy rainfall’, said Sepulveda. Along with this research Sepulveda is also studying the geomechanics of landslides themselves with Prof Dave Petley and Dr Matthew Brain. Read the rest of this entry »

Elena E. Burgos-Martínez is a PhD student in the Department of Anthropology at Durham University writing from her field site on the Celebes Sea in the province of North Sulawesi, Indonesia. Here she is living amongst the indigenous Bajo people who live a nomadic lifestyle on the sea, making them highly attune to environmental change.

The definition and contrast of concepts such as ‘culture’ and ‘nature’ do not apply in the same way across the globe. Dualities such as the environmental vs. the social, the material vs. the biological are not pieces that fit in all socio-ecological puzzles. Environmental change is perceived by the Bajo as part of the defining flux of interactions that grants social cohesion on the island and, thus, it is expected and desired.

Their social environment does not differ from the ecological one since they constantly interchange (e.g. an animated nature of ‘iblis‘ that requires collective Bajo knowledge to be understood and acknowledged). This world view relies on interactions between social and ecological forms of knowledge that cannot be isolated to a particular location. Read the rest of this entry »


By Tom McLeish, Durham University; Phil Macnaghten, Durham University, and Susana Carro-Ripalda, Durham University


The UK Council for Science and Technology recently called on prime minister David Cameron to reassess EU rules on GM crops. Two days later the Observer published an editorial bluntly declaring: “There’s no choice; we must grow GM crops now”. There is a high risk that a new round of the shouting match that mired the debate 15 years ago will begin again, with little real progress.

But research since the first failure of the debate on GM crops in the EU suggests there is a better way. Our GM-Futuros project has recently explored the GM debates in depth at national and local levels in India, Mexico and Brazil – highlighting some stark lessons for the EU and UK. Quality engagement with the public is key.

Both of the recent UK publications call for a positive move towards GM agricultural technology. Ostensibly this is driven by forecasts of global population increases and a shortfall in food supply from current agricultural land by 2050. The Council for Science and Technology letter also appeals to the current loss of economic opportunity in the UK from present over-restrictive EU regulations. The Observer piece is dismissive of objections: “Thirty years ago, it could be argued that we should proceed cautiously because of potential health dangers. That argument is no longer acceptable.” Read the rest of this entry »

Elena E. Burgos-Martínez is a PhD student in the Department of Anthropology at Durham University writing from her field site on the Celebes Sea in the province of North Sulawesi, Indonesia. Here she is living amongst the indigenous Bajo people who live a nomadic lifestyle on the sea, making them highly attune to environmental change.

In my last post I offered a brief summary of the main environmental changes Nain Island and the Bajo have gone through during the past decades, along with studying Baon Sama (Bajo Language), which developed in the island as a pidgin of different ‘Sama-languages’ and intertwines with Manado Malay (a creole of Bahasa Indonesia and Malay spoken in Manado). New concepts are introduced that were approached differently among the Bajo: ‘nature’, ‘the environment’, ‘natural disasters’, ‘socializing networks’, ‘fishing/seaweed market’, ‘general elections’.

A mixture of black sand obtained from the bottom of the sea and a bit of cement delivered from Manado has been used through decades to turn wooden/bamboo houses into ‘stronger’ structures. Credit: Elena Burgos-Martinez

A mixture of black sand obtained from the bottom of the sea and a bit of cement delivered from Manado has been used through decades to turn wooden/bamboo houses into ‘stronger’ structures.

But the environmental, the architectural and the linguistic features of Nain Island and the Bajo are far from being independent features. As a flux of interactions through motored boats and more frequent trips to Manado increase, the social landscape continues to develop by adopting and adapting some of the concepts, ideas and understandings described above. Read the rest of this entry »


Advert for GM corn variety in Brazil (Susana Carro-Ripalda).

As concerns about global food security are on the rise, there are many questions as to how the world will face growing demands for a sustainable food supply. While poverty and food distribution seem to underlie many of the challenges regarding food security, biotechnology in the form of genetically modified seeds could continue to play an increasing role in how food is grown and traded in both developed and less developed countries.

Does patenting seeds create new risks to food security or provide a way of securing the world food supply through centralisation? Are we simply looking at a new way of meeting the demands placed upon agriculture or a new way for chemical corporations such as Monsanto, Dupont, Dow Chemical and others to place new demands on society? Most importantly, where does this leave farmers and the communities they support?

Read the rest of this entry »


Prof Sarah Curtis and Prof Lena Dominelli are calling for immediate global support to help survivors of the typhoon disaster in the Philippines.

Typhoon Haiyan has caused severe devastation in the Philippines leaving an unknown number of people dead. While early estimates have been made, the number of fatalities is likely to rise. Survivors are without food, clean drinking water or shelter. Immediate global support, especially funding, is needed for providing assistance to affected communities.

Durham University Professor and IHRR Co-Director Lena Dominelli, a sociologist and international social worker in disaster resilience, is in touch with survivors of the typhoon disaster in the Philippines who she says are desperately in need of humanitarian aid.

“It’s absolutely essential that money is sent to people for buying food, clean drinking water, and medical supplies for those who have critical conditions. A lot of the areas destroyed by the typhoon have no power supplies and no communications except by satellite phone,” said Dominelli. Read the rest of this entry »

Elena E. Burgos-Martínez is a PhD student in the Department of Anthropology at Durham University writing from her field site on the Celebes Sea in the province of North Sulawesi, Indonesia. Here she is living amongst the indigenous Bajo people who live a nomadic lifestyle on the sea, making them highly attune to environmental change.

In 1948 different groups of ‘sea nomads’ arrive to Nain Island, known as the ‘Ninth Island’ during the colonial period. They are looking for better sources of fish, fruit, vegetables and drinking water. In a timely effort to join the ‘Indonesian National Awakening’ they settle and build houses on stilts over the white sand of Nain’s beach and call it ‘Nain Induk’ (mothership Nain).

The Bajo of Nain Island and the Celebes Sea represent what I call ‘post-indigenous’, a culture that originates in the intersection of different groups of ‘sea nomads’ who arrived to Nain Island from the regions of East Kalimatan/Makassar Strait (the Bajau), the Sulu Archipielago/Sulu Sea (the Sinama) and Central Sulawesi/Molucca Sea (the Bajoe). The terms ‘Bajau’, ‘Bajoe’ and ‘Bajo’, largely used to refer to the ‘sea nomads’ of Indonesia, are not different spellings of the same word; these names refer to distinct groups whose culture and language has been and continues to be shaped by their environment.

Bajo language (Baon Sama) and Bajo culture spread around the Celebes Sea. The coast of Manado, Aracan, Tumbak and a number of other locations become the ‘land and sea of the Bajo’ as families grow and new marriages take place. Although culture is embedded in these areas, it is not limited to a set of geographical coordinates.

Nain Induk

Nain Induk

Read the rest of this entry »

Global distribution of malaria. (CDC)

Global distribution of malaria. (CDC)

Trials of the first vaccine to show evidence of full protection against the deadly disease Malaria will take place at the Ifakara Health Institute in Tanzania, who are working with the developer of the new vaccine, the private company Sanaria.  Some postgraduate researchers with IHRR who have also worked at Ifakara have concentrated on preventing the spread of malaria, (such as providing bed nets) including Christina Makungu, a Moyes Postgraduate Fellow who completed her dissertation on the health of young people in self-care in Tanzania.  Prevention is still likely the best way in combating the spread of the deadly disease that has plagued less developed countries.  A vaccine would be most welcome.

While researchers have expressed ‘cautious optimism’ about the results, this scientific advance is clearly great news. The new vaccine (PfSPZ) ‘uses a weakened form of the whole parasite to invoke an immune response’, something that was previously thought too difficult to achieve.  It was produced from 850 mosquitoes that were dissected in about one hour by six researchers. Six subjects given five doses of the vaccine were completely protected against malaria, compared to three of nine who were given four doses. The vaccine must be given intravenously, which is not as efficient as injection or oral administration, but the dosage is small (.5 ml) and researchers are working on improving the delivery of the vaccine. Read the rest of this entry »

Peacekeeping - MINUSTAH

Credit: UN

Professor Lena Dominelli, a Co-Director of IHRR, has authored two new guides on disaster intervention and humanitarian aid that are freely available.  The first is a Handbook on Disaster Intervention and Humanitarian Aid, the second provides ethical guidelines for research into disaster and humanitarian aid interventions.  Parts of the handbook are based on Durham University research into the impacts of the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami in Sri Lanka.  This ESRC-funded research project considered both the immediate and long-term impacts of disaster interventions as instances of institutionalising practices on those living in disaster affected areas.  The handbook provides solid advice to practitioners and policymakers who are faced with complex, uncertain circumstances that must be dealt with quickly and effectively.

The research introduced at the Breaking the Mould Conference at Durham University, covers 386 transcripts of interviews and focus groups, 38 sets of field notes and 45 questionnaires from NGOs.  One of the main findings about disaster interventions in the case of the 2004 Tsunami in Sri Lanka is that the effectiveness of humanitarian aid depends on many things including ‘context, intentions of donors and recipients, cultural expectations, opportunities for local people to exercise agency and the resources and skills held by or are available to disaster survivors’.  Importantly, there are also risks to aid workers that should be considered: ‘…humanitarian aid workers themselves can be endangered through ordinary everyday routines as well as have their lives threatened’. Read the rest of this entry »

FAO HUNGER MAP prevalence of undernourishment in developing countries

legend hunger map

Hunger is widespread, especially in developing countries. Food crises often occur in the poorest countries and even communities in the most developed parts of the world deal with health problems related to lack of food, like malnutrition in children. But the world’s food supply is not at the root of the problem rather it is what is done with it. In fact, food production in terms of cereals is at far greater productive capacity than it’s ever been in the past (see also FAO Cereal Supply and Demand Brief); there is more than enough food to go around, even as the global population gets bigger and more people demand a varied diet as many people living in more developed countries do. The old philosophical argument originating from Robert Malthus in the 18th century that population growth will lead to global food shortage is overstated and incorrect at present. Malthus wrote:

‘The power of population is so superior to the power in the earth to produce subsistence for man, that premature death must in some shape or other visit the human race’. Thomas Malthus, 1798. An Essay on the Principle of Population

Because of the technological means in place for planting and harvesting food there are often surpluses, especially in richer countries, but food is often wasted. Instead of becoming more conservative and conscious of the food resources available, many nations have become overly consumerist and wasteful. 1.2-2 billion tonnes of all food produced ends up as waste, which is 30%-50% of total food production in the world, and it is not only a waste of food but a waste of energy, water and other resources that go into producing it. Read the rest of this entry »

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