Volcano erupting at night spewing orange lava

Scientists from the University of Plymouth are working as part of a new £20 million initiative aimed at reducing disaster risk for the poor in tomorrow’s cities.

The UKRI GCRF Multi-hazard Urban Disaster Risk Transitions Hub will coordinate research and policy teams in Istanbul, Kathmandu, Nairobi and Quito, supported by UK and international scientists.

Led by the University of Edinburgh, it will aim to enhance sustainable urban development, catalysing a transition from crisis management to disaster risk-informed planning and decision-making in cities in developing countries.

This, it is envisaged, will be achieved through partnerships in and between targeted cities, and globally through collaborating international governance organisations.

Professor of Geoscience Communication Iain Stewart will be helping to lead the communications focus of the hub, building on existing expertise at the University of Plymouth.

Researchers have previously focussed on studies into volcanoes, tsunamis, landslides, earthquakes, and effectively communicating with communities at risk of natural disasters.

Professor Stewart, Director of the Sustainable Earth Institute, said:

“Natural disasters affect people all over the world, and barely a month goes by without news of devastation to homes and people as a result of earthquakes, volcanoes or flooding. This hub provides a great opportunity to look at how those communities are communicated with, to ensure it is done in the most effective way now and in the future.

“It connects world-leading natural and social scientists with at-risk cities in a range of developing countries. It will enable us to learn from those directly impacted by disasters, at the same time seeing whether there is common ground across the range of natural threats.”

Iain Stewart, Director of the Sustainable Earth Institute
Earthquake damage in Istanbul
Kathmandu (Getty Images)
Nairobi (Getty Images)
Quito (Getty Images)

UK Research and Innovation’s Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) is a £1.5 billion fund announced by the UK government in late 2015 to support cutting-edge research that addresses the challenges faced by developing countries.

More than two billion people are currently living in areas exposed to floods, earthquakes, landslides, volcanoes and cyclones in cities of low-to-middle income countries. That figure is expected to double by 2050.

Urban systems are also expanding rapidly throughout the developing world, and 60 per cent of the area expected to be urban by 2030 is yet to be built. This rapid urbanisation provides a time-limited opportunity to plan disaster risk out of tomorrow’s cities.

The Hub will unite leading researchers with inspiring community and government leaders and will work at an unprecedented high-resolution to influence planning and to deliver real impact through interdisciplinary research.

Professor John McCloskey, from Edinburgh’s School of GeoSciences, will be leading the new hub. He said:

“The scale of this GCRF research investment allows us to grasp this time-limited opportunity and the Hub brings together over 100 scientists, engineers and policy makers, fielding high-quality, international, multi-disciplinary teams to address this currently intractable global challenge. We will work in four major cities, chosen for their existing commitment to building disaster resilience, but intercity learning and collaborations with UN agencies will ensure that the project will be much greater than the sum of its parts.
“Historical compromises need not be repeated. The GCRF Hub provides a generational opportunity to change the future for the poor in tomorrow’s cities. We approach this opportunity with massive excitement, enthusiasm and belief.”

Thermal image of Plymouth taken by Matthew Fox, Environmental Building Group - Special Commendation in Visions of Sustainability 2015

Sustainable Earth Institute

The Sustainable Earth Institute is about promoting a new way of thinking about the future of our world.
We bring researchers together with businesses, community groups and individuals to develop cutting-edge research and innovative approaches that build resilience to global challenges. 
We link diverse research areas across the University including science, engineering, arts, humanities, health and business.

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