Monday, December 30, 2013

Debt and disaster recovery

I first came across this report a few days ago. I still can't quite reconcile the madness of the scenario facing a country so recently devastated by super storm Haiyan. Under the Marcos dictatorship, the Philippines took out tens of millions of dollars in loans, much of which was embezzled. These corrupt politicians are then able to relocate to countries that will harbour criminals with money.

So first of all, why are there still places like this available in the world? In the digital age, it would be very simple to bring such perpetrators to justice...or at least recover the funds. I would suggest that there is no political will to deal with this.

Secondly, if a corrupt government embezzles borrowed money, why is that country paying off the debt and interest for many years after the government changes? This debt is chewing up 20% of national income. A country cannot be expected to develop under this burden. And then Haiyan hits.

At the same time as Philippines has received hundreds of millions in aid following Haiyan, they have paid 3 times as much out in debt repayments! The main creditor is the World Bank. This is insane. How can the country ever recover from this disaster when the aid is minuscule compared to the amount that is potentially available if some sense was brought to the debt negotiation table.

The Philippines is the most vulnerable nation on earth to hazards, and climate change is massively real for the people living there. Recovery from Haiyan will take some time, but the next storm will not be far behind. We need to consider the wider causes of such disasters and the potential avenues for change and more sustainable development.

Anyone have thoughts on how our global economic systems can change to decrease disaster vulnerability?

Monday, December 9, 2013

CIB W120 - Disasters and the Built Environment

A new CIB working commission was formally revealed today, W120 Disasters and the Built Environment. It will be my honor (Jason von Meding) to act as coordinator of such a dynamic research network. You can view the official newsletter release here. Dr Lee Bosher (Loughborough University, UK) will also act as coordinator of this Commission, and together we released the following statement through the CIB,
“As we move further into an age of rapid urbanisation and increased vulnerability to hazards, this commission will engage with some of the key dilemmas facing humanity. Considering the complex and highly volatile nature of disaster contexts, the commission will advocate a trans-disciplinary and culturally sensitive approach to research. To facilitate such research we aim to build a network of members spanning all global regions, bringing together academics, practitioners and leaders of business and communities.

We are delighted to build upon the rich research network and collaborative efforts initiated by TG63 over the past 6 years with the establishment of W120. We are confident that this commission can address the research agenda around ‘Disasters and the Built Environment’ in a significant way and provide a forum for cutting-edge research dissemination and dialogue.” 
The Commission will be working towards a series of objectives and outputs, and we would welcome new members or collaborators to get in touch. 

Friday, November 15, 2013

Announcing IJAR Special Issue on Post-Disaster Reconstruction

It is with great pleasure that I would like to announce the publication of a special issue of IJAR (International Journal of Architectural Research) focusing on post-disaster reconstruction. This issue has been guest-edited by three of the Disaster & Development Research Group (von Meding, Mackee & Gajendran) and represents a collection of papers that add to the body of knowledge in this research area, each composed from a built environment perspective.

You are now warmly invited to download the entire issue or individual papers here. We are delighted to publish this collection in Open Access format, allowing the works to be disseminated far and wide without restrictions. Please consider sharing with your research networks!

Thank you to all the authors and reviewers that contributed to the issue, and to the Editor-in-Chief of IJAR, Prof. Ashraf Salama, for his support and encouragement over the past 18 months.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Does our research have an impact?

As news filters through, reporting the death and devastation wreaked on the Philippines by Typhoon Haiyan, I pause to consider whether we are doing all that we can through our research to prevent events such as this from occurring? Are we really conducting studies with potential for impact in the field? 

Human tragedy unfolds around the world for the victims of disaster on a daily basis. We do not even hear about the majority of events occurring, but they do occur nonetheless. Disasters are affecting more and more people, through a combination of a) the accelerating frequency of hazards threatening human populations and b) growing global inequality, conflict and urbanisation leading to heightened conditions of vulnerability. 

As Typhoon Haiyan sadly demonstrates, we cannot prevent hazards of brutal force from coming into contact with human populations. What we can do is determine the conditions of the people affected. As long as we allow an elite group of individuals to control the global economy and corporations to set government agendas, it is difficult to see the majority of people desperately exposed to hazards ever improving their conditions. 

Greed and an attitude of entitlement. Such characteristics, present among those with power to change high level systems, indirectly cause immeasurable suffering, trapping billions in a vulnerable state. The endless capitalist quest for new markets to exploit and resources to plunder leaves us little room to develop solutions to the underlying issues of vulnerability. 

For this reason I believe that science must grow more vocal in its criticism of systemic abuses and inequalities. Our research must be undertaken with this context to the fore, not ignorant of it. 

For some researchers and academics, offering an argument on such issues will be well outside of familiar intellectual territory. However, I would suggest that no matter how many new tools we provide for storm prediction; no matter how many management frameworks we develop for efficient response and recovery; no matter how well we build community capacity, capital and resilience; the cycle of vulnerability will be perpetuated indefinitely if we ignore the root causes. 

Therefore be bold, deviant and passionate as you advocate for the vulnerable and build evidence to bring about change. 

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Upcoming Papers

Two papers have been generated by the team in the area of disaster management for the upcoming AUBEA conference to be held in Auckland from 20-22 November. The first is an agenda setting paper, exploring the context of New South Wales and its exposure to disaster risk, a particularly timely output as we are currently experiencing extreme wildfire conditions in the region and the debate around climate change and resilience is on the table once more. The second paper explores the conditions that must be created in order to fully engage the commercial construction industry in post-disaster reconstruction. The study identifies the key barriers to engagement and argues for extensive benefits to both the humanitarian sector and the construction industry through closer collaboration, formulating a framework to define a potential path forward. The full papers will be presented at AUBEA and will be available thereafter. 


J. Von Meding1, R. Le Goff1, G. Brewer1, J. MacKee1, T. Gajendran1, S. Crick2
1University of Newcastle, Australia
2Parsons Brinckerhoff


J. von Meding1, A. McVeigh1, Z. Amiri2, C. Burke3
University of Newcastle, Australia
2 Alaodoleh Semnani Institute of Higher Education, Iran
Queen’s University Belfast, UK     

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

An Introduction

It's a little bit daunting to start a new blog, with zero readers and zero backlinks. However, every great endeavour must start somewhere so we, a group of researchers at the University of Newcastle, Australia, have decided to start a blog relating to our research on disasters and development. Our group is based within the School of Architecture & Built Environment and we are part of the Centre for Interdisciplinary Built Environment Research.

The researchers that make up the group each have their particular expertise and body of work, but we have collectively been drawn to this area of research though an interest in some of the key issues facing humanity, and we believe that while the built environment voice is particularly valuable, it is not always heard on these issues.

As we face up to mounting challenges in the way of more frequent and powerful hazards, researchers from all disciplinary backgrounds are realising that we must do our utmost to not only develop effective processes and innovative technologies for disaster response and recovery, but more importantly we must strive to prevent disasters from occurring through disaster risk reduction and preparedness activities.

At the heart of the matter, disasters are a product of extreme human vulnerability and we must go beyond treating the symptom to investigating the disease. Though a built environment lens, our group will explore systems of inequality and injustice that ensure that vulnerability cannot be adequately addressed through aid or goodwill gestures. We recognise that a broad appreciation of the economic, social, ethical, cultural and political dimensions are a basic necessity for any discourse on disasters and development.

This blog will chart the progress of our various research projects and allow a platform for all members of our growing team to contribute to an important dialogue. This will be a place to open up some of the frequent discussions had at UoN in corridors, offices and coffee shops for wider comment and public debate.

On the right you will find researcher profiles that introduce the members of the group. The intention is to develop the site to include relevant publications and activities. Please bear with us as we build the site and make sure to enter your email address (on the right hand side) in order to receive updates.

Thanks on behalf of the group