Update: 14 December 2016 - An additional seven projects have been funded, bringing the number of funded projects to 29, worth around £5·4 million (100 per cent full economic cost).
Three of the UK’s research councils have funded 22 projects that will help communities in some of the poorest regions of the world understand, prepare for and manage a range of natural and man-made environmental hazards.
The Building Resilience research programme will take an inter-disciplinary approach to understanding what causes environmental dangers like droughts, land degradation, volcanoes, earthquakes and flooding, and build in preparedness to help countries cope.
The projects, worth just under £3.5 million, and funded by NERC, the Arts and Humanities Research Council, and the Economic and Social Research Council, are funded under the Global Challenge Research Fund (GCRF), a £1.5 billion fund announced by the UK Government in 2015 to support cutting-edge research that addresses the challenges faced by developing countries.
NERC’s Chief Executive, Professor Duncan Wingham, said:
"A combination of conflict, climate change, environmental degradation, population growth and urbanization means an increasing number of people are vulnerable to a wide range of environmental hazards, and it is developing countries that are often most at risk, yet least able to cope. For some countries, a natural disaster can lead to years of development progress being wiped out. So it makes economic sense to invest in preparedness rather than deal with the consequences of these hazards."
The 22 projects will explore the combination of circumstances - such as conflict, poverty and governance - that alter the capacity of a community to prepare for and respond to both sudden and slow-onset environmental hazards. Sudden, natural environmental hazards include earthquakes, volcanoes and landslides, while slow-onset hazards include droughts, climate change, environmental degradation and desertification.
The research will also address the many social issues connected to these hazards, such as conflict and fragility, poverty and famine, urbanisation, economics, and health and disease risks. They will take a holistic approach, bringing together environmental knowledge, and taking into account the socio-economics, infrastructure, governance, history and culture of communities.
The projects include collaborations with a large number of aid organisations, such as Oxfam, Concern Worldwide, Practical Action and CARE International.
Only last month, hurricane Matthew killed almost 900 people and left tens of thousands homeless in Haiti. Ethiopia’s northern highlands experienced the worst drought for decades with unusually heavy downpours threatening to ruin crops and exacerbate food insecurity as flash flooding turned roads to rivers and swamps fields. And super typhoon Haima caused widespread destruction in the Philippines with houses destroyed as communities took shelter from sustained winds of more than 225km/h.
Chief executive of ESRC, Professor Jane Elliott, said:
"I am delighted with the spread and depth of the awards which together balance the need to address both sudden and long-term environmental hazards. The imaginative and innovative proposals that have been funded demonstrate the importance of using interdisciplinary approaches to tackle real-world problems."
Chief executive of AHRC, Professor Andrew Thompson, said:
"This opportunity for the AHRC to partner with ESRC and NERC in the ‘Building Resilience’ research programme demonstrates the value of the Research Councils working together. As the consequences of environmental hazards are not only physical, social, and economic, but also cultural and humanitarian, the AHRC will bring vital expertise to this project. This cross-council initiative offers a holistic approach to environmental hazards, and enables the many aspects of the impacts to be examined from variety of perspectives and specialisms, including those of the arts and humanities."
The funded projects allow for foundation-building activities that stimulate the creation of inter-disciplinary research communities, scope resilience challenges where an interdisciplinary approach is required, define research and innovation gaps, and enable broader, deeper and more effective collaborations with beneficiaries and users (eg policy-makers, practitioners from humanitarian and development organisations, local communities) at the forefront of building resilience.
The projects, listed below, started this month.