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Reflections from the interface between seismological research and disaster risk reduction


Dr Susanne Sargeant, British Geological Survey


Monday 10th February 2014, 1 – 2 pm

W010, Geography, Durham University

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 »

Building on the recent success of the last IHRR PG Forum, we now wish to invite all postgraduate students at Durham to the next PG Forum on Wednesday 5th February. The discussion at this meeting will focus especially on the theme of Resilience, Recovery, Psychology.

All postgraduate students with an interest in risk, hazard and resilience research are invited to participate. The title for this session is deliberately broad, and could include research on any aspect of any of these themes. The aim of the session is to consider the psychological dimensions of risk, resilience and recovery in an interdisciplinary context. We especially wish to encourage Arts and Humanities students to participate as well as students from all disciplines. Read the rest of this entry »

20th January 2014, 13:00 to 14:00, CLC 203, Calman Learning Centre, Professor David Held, Director, Institute of Global Policy, Durham University


Growing interdependence requires greater global cooperation, but across a range of issues multilateral policy making seems to have stalled. I argue that this growing gap between the need for global governance and the ability of intergovernmental institutions to provide it must be understood as a general and conjunctural state of the multilateral order, which I term ‘gridlock’. The causes of gridlock are diverse – rising multipolarity, institutional inertia, harder problems, increased complexity – but can be found across a range of global issue areas. Importantly, these drivers are, in part, products of previous, successful cooperation over the postwar period, and can therefore be understood as ‘second-order’ cooperation problems. I argue that a process of self-reinforcing interdependence has altered the nature of global politics over the past decades, and has therefore in part undermined the ability of multilateral institutions to sustain the very interdependence they have helped to create. The seminar will discuss this argument in the context of global environmental cooperation and the limits of its achievements. 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 »

Governance struggles and policy processes: A comparison of earthquake risk
reduction in Nepal and Bihar, India

9 December, Monday 1pm-2pm

Institute of Hazard, Risk and Resilience, Durham University

Dr Katie Oven and Dr Samantha Jones (Northumbria University)

In this presentation we share some preliminary findings on the national level governance landscape of earthquake risk reduction in Nepal and Bihar State in India. Located along the Himalayan Arc, Nepal and Bihar are both highly susceptible to earthquake hazard and were both affected by the 1934 earthquake. Despite the shared earthquake hazard, and some similarities in terms of ethnic and caste based inequalities and conflict, they have very different political and economic histories. Nepal is emerging from a recent conflict and receives relatively high levels of development aid while Bihar has a strong state system and is now making rapid economic progress after decades of stalled development due to weak governance. They therefore make for an interesting comparison in earthquake risk governance. In-depth interviews with over 40 stakeholders were conducted and focus groups were held to map out stakeholder relationships, interests and challenges of earthquake risk governance. Read the rest of this entry »


Hanna Ruszczyk in Nepal.

Durham postgraduate researcher Hanna Ruszczyk has been awarded a PhD fellowship for her research on community resilience and earthquakes.

Hanna’s postgraduate award has been made possible thanks to a generous gift from a Durham alumnus. Hanna’s research, will investigate the role of resilience in disaster risk reduction. She will study how resilience strategies can be operationalised within urban communities vulnerable to seismic hazards in Nepal and Bihar, India. Her PhD programme is based in the Department of Geography, linked to IHRR and is supervised by Dr Katie Oven and Dr Colin MacFarlane.

For her PhD, Ruszczyk is making a comparative analysis between Nepal and Bihar, which will investigate how to build individual and community level capacity for resilience. Both have their own particular strengths and weaknesses when it comes to adapting and building resilience to natural hazards. ‘I’m looking at how they can learn from each other’, said Ruszczyk. ‘There is a clear social element of resilience, but what are the most important components of resilience to be aware of?’, she asks. 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 »

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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