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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 »

resilienceA new policy and practice note that disseminates findings from the BIOPICCC project was published by the Living with Environmental Change (LWEC) research partnership and is now available online.

The brief authored by Executive Director of IHRR Professor Sarah Curtis, Dr Jonathan Wistow and Dr Val Dimitri, ‘Ensuring resilience in care for older people’, provides guidance for care services for older people to ensure the resilience of their infrastructures and systems to withstand future impacts of climate change. 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 »

Dr Philip Garnett, a researcher on the Tipping Points project, reports on the 30th Chaos Communications Congress he attended in Hamburg, Germany in December that addressed topical issues such as mass surveillance, the future of the Internet and the Snowden affair.
conference photo

Glenn Greenwald (Guardian) giving his keynote presentation at 30C3.

The 30th Chaos Communication Congress (30C3) was always going to have at its heart the events surrounding the leaks of NSA files by Edward Snowden. In some ways I was banking on it. Why else would I drag myself away from Christmas leftovers and warm fires to get on a plane to Hamburg in the cold and rain? I’m glad I did. Amongst the talks on automatic fermentation of beer, and the vacuum tube races around the conference building, was a rich vein of presentations and discussions around (to paraphrase the opening speaker) the nightmare reality to which the community has woken up to from a bad dream.

Despite this, there was still a sense of fun at the congress. There were many stalls where you could enjoy learning to pick a lock, program a board of LEDs with the message of your choice, or check out the latest DIY 3D printers. However there was also a punishing timetable of talks reacting to, discussing, and trying to grasp the new post-Snowden future. One thing they all shared was in common was a sense of disbelief, or speechlessness. It wasn’t the confirmation that we are being monitored exactly (we all knew that) it was perhaps the scale of it, and a sense that nothing can be done to reverse it. Read the rest of this entry »

From humanitarian aid to disaster risk reduction the word ‘resilience’ is involved in nearly every aspect of people’s ability to recover and adapt after a catastrophic event. Many researchers from various fields along with emergency practitioners, who are depended on during times of disaster throughout the world, use resilience in their everyday language, and even incorporate it into their operations in the field. Although its meaning remains elusive, researchers and practitioners have opportunities to learn from each other about resilience.

There is no one way of defining resilience yet this does not seem to have prevented it from growing in popularity (See The rise of the word resilience). On the contrary, it may have allowed it to spread far and wide in the first place. Within the context of disaster resilience reminds us that even the most damaging, traumatic experiences may reveal how vulnerable communities are able to adapt to unusual situations or environments. In recent academic and practitioner literature resilience is continually evolving.

resilience usage

Usage of resilience in English books over the years. (Google Ngrams)

Read the rest of this entry »

IHRR Newsletter Winter 2013-14 Cover

Responders on the scene after the bombings in London that took place 7 July 2005.

An emergency is a sudden danger that requires immediate attention. It may be limited in scale, involving many injuries and deaths over multiple sites. Emergency planning focuses on the most effective ways possible to manage incidents that have large numbers of casualties. Normally it is limited to a series of plans relating to certain types of events, especially emergencies that are well-known and happen quite frequently.  However, these may not cover operations for all potential incidents, particularly unprecedented incidents – low probability high impact events – which make emergency planning especially challenging. When you have only scarce resources available for planning, what do you do to plan for such rare events?

Rescue simulator 1

Screenshot of REScuE simulator.

Using computer-based tools that model emergency response can help make management and resilience planning more effective in the event of unusual, more serious disasters. Research from the REScUE project based at Durham University has produced an emergency response simulator that can assist fire, police, ambulance and other services in responding to mass casualty events. The agent-based modeller and simulator allows responders to prepare for unique emergencies. Read the rest of this entry »

A little over a month ago I gave a talk at the Vajont 2013 conference on the topic of landslides and large dams.  At the time I committed to making the Powerpoint file available online, so here it is:

The file is located on slideshare – you should be able to download the powerpoint file from there.  The piece is also written up in an article for the conference paper – reference below.  The paper can be accessed, for free, from the conference website.  The other talks and papers can also be accessed from the conference website.

In this work I looked at the Durham Fatal Landslide Database to try to understand fatality-inducing landslides associated with large dams over the last decade.  My analysis of the dataset suggested that in total there were exactly 500 deaths in 37 landslide events in the ten years between 2003 and 2012.  Surprisingly, with one exception these were not landslides associated with the collapse of reservoir flanks (although interesting there was an event of this type in China earlier this year).  Most of the landslides were either failures at the construction sites of large dams or at the sites of workers camps. 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 »

Dr Vincenzo Bavoso is a researcher in the Department of Law at Durham University on Work Package 2: Financial Crisis in the Banking Sector of the Tipping Points project. He is looking at the role of law and legal institutions in preventing financial crises and limiting systemic risk in financial markets. In this interview he talks about his research in financial scandals and how regulation can help make financial markets accountable to democratic societies.

In your research what financial scandals did you investigate?

When I examined financial scandals for the purpose of my research I focused on the accounting scandal age from 2001-03, along with Northern Rock and Lehman Brothers in the context of the recent global financial crisis. Financial scandals are caused, among other things, by mismanagement, and lack of understanding of certain processes. All of this is based on certain failures of regulation. You would expect there would be supervision in place and in all of these examples of large organisations with lax or flawed managerial processes, it was not.

Do you think these scandals mainly exist due to a failure of regulation or do you think something within the financial system allows some of these events to occur?

During a period of financial boom, such as the 1980s, the economist Hyman Minsky came up with a theory of financial instability. He thought the larger a financial system develops the more it will be prone to instability then eventually to crisis or a situation of default, which is something we experienced before the explosion of the global financial crisis. After that ‘tipping point’ if you will between 2006 and 2007 it went from boom to bust. The problem is that when you’re in a period of boom nobody seems capable of recognising what the limits of the system are. Nobody seems to be able to see that the system is not resilient or if an individual or institution does raise red flags they are not heeded. Read the rest of this entry »

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