Institute for Disaster Impact Reduction

The Wide Impact of Natural Disasters

From super typhoons and unprecedented drought to relentless monsoons and devastating earthquakes, natural disasters are striking with increasing frequency and severity across the world.

Natural disasters have killed more than one million people since 2000 and are responsible for $1.5 trillion in economic losses.

According to the Center for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters, natural disasters have killed more than one million people since 2000 and are responsible for $1.5 trillion in economic losses. Earthquakes have been especially devastating during this period, accounting for 70% of deaths and 30% of economic losses caused by natural disasters. Lower-income countries, which are affected by only 44% of all disasters, account for 68% of all deaths.

Scientists deploying measurements after the Bengkulu earthquake.

Dr. Rachel Shannon and Dr. Marianne O’Connor from Ulster University’s Geophysics Research Group with Dr. Stefano Lorito of the Italian National Institute for Geophysics deploying instruments on the coast in Sumatra after the great 2007 Bengkulu earthquake.

The Missing Link

Fortunately, over the past 15 years, technological and academic discoveries have made significant inroads towards improving both the management and prediction of natural hazards.

Many of these advances, however, are not widely known outside of academic circles. Very few humanitarian workers have access to these sources. When they do, they often lack the skills to understand the scientific validity of these studies, to apply findings to real-world situations, and to distinguish between studies that are fully developed, currently being debated, or have been proven wrong.

There is a missing link between scientists and humanitarians.

There is, in essence, a missing link between scientists and humanitarians. As a result, non-governmental organizations are generally poorly informed about the best current scientific knowledge — knowledge that could have profound impact on programming and the lives of some of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people.

McCloskey and Concern's Dominic Crowley examine the app under development.

Professor John McCloskey (in hat), Concern’s Dominic Crowley (to his right) and others gather to examine the Earthquake Application under development.

The Institute for Disaster Impact Reduction

Recognizing the urgent need to bridge the gap between science and humanitarian work,
Concern Worldwide and its partner, Ulster University in Northern Ireland, are launching the Institute for Disaster Impact Reduction.

This cross-sector, groundbreaking initiative will carry out research and teaching in close collaboration with humanitarian workers to incorporate science into field programs in disaster-prone regions to advance and enhance future disaster preparedness.

The Institute for Disaster Impact Reduction will work to bridge the gap between scientists and humanitarians.

The Institute will form part of Ulster University’s School of Environmental Sciences, which has provided high-quality research and teaching for over 50 years. To be hosted at the University’s Magee Campus in Derry, Northern Ireland, the Institute will offer research, teaching, and advanced certificate-based training for humanitarian workers as well as training for national  and international government staff. The Institute will also design new university courses that will count towards  Bachelor’s, Master’s, or doctoral degrees.

A colored pattern of stress caused by an earthquake.

A colored pattern of stress caused by an earthquake, that helps scientists predict where aftershocks are most likely.

A Focus on Seismology

Over the last several years, Ulster University’s Geophysics Research Group, led by Prof. John McCloskey, has worked with several international NGOs, most notably Concern Worldwide, to begin the process of bringing earthquake science to developing communities around the world using an approach that integrates science, social science, and humanitarian experience.

Since 2000, earthquakes have accounted for 70% of deaths and 30% of economic losses caused by natural disasters.

Drawing from this work, the Institute will place special focus on earthquake hazards. Ulster University will give the Institute complete access to its teaching, research, and administrative facilities, including resources vital for geophysical research, e-learning tools for international distance learning, and academic certification.

Additionally, Concern Worldwide will train its and its partners’ staff by incorporating earthquake awareness and preparedness into workshops on disaster risk reduction, community resilience, emergency response preparation, and engineering.

What We Will Achieve

Over the next three years, Concern Worldwide and Ulster University will work to bring scientists and humanitarians together by:

  • Developing a cutting-edge mobile app that will not only inform humanitarian emergency responders of danger zones but will also save lives and allow responders to retrofit buildings at risk from future earthquakes
  • Facilitating visits to the Institute by scientists and humanitarians, particularly from regions vulnerable to natural disasters
  • Recruiting and training Ph.D. students
  • Conducting scientific research in disaster risk reduction and emergency response, including rigorous validation and peer reviews
  • Fostering dialogue and mutual under-standing among scientific and humanitarian communities at an annual international conference
  • Training humanitarians, governments, and international organizations that fund and direct humanitarian programs on effective, integrated disaster response preparedness
  • Developing Bachelor’s and Master’s courses focused on integrating science into humanitarian programming, including gender-specific issues