Concern Worldwide and its partner, Ulster University in Northern Ireland, commit to creating the Institute for Disaster Impact Reduction at Ulster University. The Institute will improve humanitarian programming through applied research, teaching (developing new courses for existing students), and advanced certificate based training for humanitarian practitioners as well as national and international government staff to facilitate the incorporation of scientific information into evidence-based humanitarian programming.
The Institute will address earthquake hazards, the main expertise at Ulster University. The University will host the Institute at the Magee Campus in Derry, and second significant staff time to its operation including 90% of Professor John McCloskeys time. The University will give complete access to its teaching, research and administrative facilities, including the resources vital for geophysical research, support international distance learning within its e-learning environment and certify all award bearing courses. It will also allocate student places on existing undergraduate and postgraduate programs to new courses designed by the Institute and leading to Bachelors, Masters and doctoral degrees specifically geared to the humanitarian aims of the Institute.
The Institute will develop a new course at the University that will be offered to 400 undergraduate students. In addition, the Institute will offer its courses to 100 humanitarian staff, and will deliver training to the whole of Concerns Emergency Directorate (25 of the 100) in January 2016. This will be complemented by training to approximately 75 staff from other humanitarian agencies and organizations and government staff on each of the three years of this commitment.
In addition, Concern Worldwide will train 1,000 of its own staff, outside of its Emergency Directorate, and staff from partner organizations over the three years of this commitment by ensuring the inclusion of appropriate elements of earthquake awareness and preparedness into the formal workshops and on-the-job training that it provides in the areas of DRR, community resilience, preparing for effective emergency response (PEER) and engineering.
The Geophysics Research Group (GRG) of Ulster University, led by Professor McCloskey, have more than 15 years of experience in this area and are recognized as leaders in modeling of the stress fields that drive earthquakes, including both aftershocks and large, apparently independent earthquakes triggered by long-term stress loading. Since the 2004 Banda Aceh earthquake and tsunami, the GRG has advised governments, NGOs and vulnerable communities about ways to save lives in some of the poorest countries in the world.
Concern Worldwide is an international, humanitarian NGO dedicated to reducing suffering and working to eliminate extreme poverty in the worlds poorest and most vulnerable countries. Concern responds to emergencies as they arise, and works with vulnerable communities to reduce the frequency, scale and impact of hazards.
Over the next three years, Concern Worldwide and Ulster University will complete the following activities.
- Foster collaboration and mutual understanding between the scientific and humanitarian communities by supporting visits by scientists and practitioners at the Institute, particularly encouraging partners from regions vulnerable to natural disasters. The first visiting fellows will arrive in month three (January 2016), with recruitment yearly thereafter.
- Host annual international conferences on science/humanitarian collaboration (yearly).
- Throughout the course of this commitment, the Institute will conduct applicable research in scientific aspects of disaster risk reduction (DRR) and emergency response, including rigorous validation and peer review of methods and protocols arising from this scientific research.
- Carry out continuous social science research into the interaction between science and society, including issues of gender, with a view to improving communication and interfacing with appropriate humanitarian organizations and governments. Research objectives will be tracked by publication in appropriate journals, and the target will be to publish five papers in year one, rising to ten a year by year three.
- Train seven PhD students who will be recruited during the period of this commitment, starting in the first academic year (2016).
- Develop flexible geographic information system (GIS) interfaces for the communication of information with significant geographical variability. The aftershock GIS model that Ulster University and Concern have started working together on will be completed in year one (September 2016).
- Provide training for humanitarian actors, governments, and international organizations responsible for funding and directing DRR programs and/or humanitarian responses. Three-day training courses will be delivered at the University every six months. Other training will be developed as needed.
- Develop a new course and deliver appropriate Bachelors and Masters courses providing rigorous training and encouraging international recognition of the importance of integrating scientific understanding into humanitarian programming. The first module science and humanitarian assistance will be developed and delivered in the academic year following the establishment of the Institute.
- Provide a brokerage for the humanitarian community to identify and enlist the assistance of international scientists across a range of natural hazards. This will be available from month six and will develop throughout the commitment.
Natural disasters are striking with increasing frequency and severity. According to the Center for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED), natural disasters have killed more than 1 million people since 2000 and are responsible for $1.5 trillion in economic losses more than double those in the previous 15 years. Earthquakes have been especially devastating during this period, accounting for 70% of deaths resulting from natural disasters since 2000, and 30% of economic losses. Lower income countries are often the most impacted. CRED reports that while they experience only 44% of disasters, lower income countries account for 68% of deaths.
Fortunately, over the past 15 years, technological and academic strides have resulted in significant potential for improvements in the management and prediction of natural hazards. However, many of these advances are not widely known outside of academic circles, and are accessible only to a small number of active researchers. Humanitarian workers often do not have access to these sources and, when they do, they are often poorly qualified to decipher their scientific validity or identify practical applications for their findings. In addition, humanitarians are not often in a position to discriminate between ideas that are mature enough to be useful, those which are still being debated, or even those which have been proven wrong.
As a consequence, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are generally poorly informed by the best current scientific knowledge, which could have profound impact on programming and lives (i.e. likely location of events, prepositioning of essential supplies, assessments of structural integrity of buildings, etc.). Furthermore, reputable science and popular myth are often circulated with equal weight, resulting in poor decision making and planning. For example, during the recent Nepal emergency, the threat of an imminent second earthquake was circulated as an undisputed scientific fact without the important qualifications and caveats that characterize established science. On May 12th, a large aftershock was incorrectly described as the second event potentially downgrading the threat of future earthquakes which woudl inevitably happen in the region.
Extensive resources, skills and expertise have already been secured for this project, and it is currently 42% funded. However, additional financial resources are required, as are partnerships with academic institutions and operational humanitarian aid organizations that can contribute to the operation and utilize the outputs of the Institute. Financial resources will be used to pay new staff, cover capital and recurrent costs, rent appropriate space for research and teaching, and to fund studentships and visiting fellowships.
This commitment offers the opportunity for humanitarian organizations and other stakeholders to access scientific expertise, data and training regarding natural hazards.
As well as deploying its own scientific expertise, the Institute will also serve as a science brokerage, and will identify scientists who might work with humanitarian organizations.