8 million in need of humanitarian aid in Nepal

8 million people in need of humanitarian assistance in Nepal after a powerful magnitude 7.8 earthquake shook the country on April 25th, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian affairs (UN OCHA).

Key numbers in need of aid. Source: UN OCHA

Key numbers in need of aid.
Source: UN OCHA

Click on the image below for a link to how best to donate towards aid efforts in Nepal.

More information:
[1] http://www.unocha.org/nepal

Disaster Charter activated for Villarrica volcano


A Red Alert has been declared in southern Chile after an eruption at Villarrica Volcano this morning.

Over two thousand people were evacuated from Pucon, and another thousand from Panguipulli, two communities close to the volcano.

While no one has been harmed in the eruption, the situation will continue to be monitored for any further eruption. The ash from the volcano could also pose a hazard to health. Meteorologists currently expect the ash cloud to be blown south and across remote parts of Argentina.

disaster_charterThe Disaster Charter is an agreement between international satellite and remote sensing agencies to provide free access to data and resources to help mitigate the effects of disasters on human life and property.

The Charter can be activated by any national disaster management authority. The activation for Villarrica was requested by the  Chilean agency responsible for civil protection (ONEMI, Oficina Nacional de Emergencia del Ministerio del Interior y Seguridad Pública).

For updates of the ongoing activity check the latest status reports from ONEMI, Chile. Also, follow #Villarrica on twitter for social media updates and more images of the current activity.

Haiti – An engineering disaster

The 2010 earthquake in Haiti was one of the greatest seismic tragedies of the last few decades. The magnitude 7 struck late in the afternoon with an epicentre just west the capital Port-au-Prince on 12th January 2010.

The earthquake caused major damage in the capital and surrounding regions leaving a death toll estimated between 100,000 and 316,000. Most of these deaths occurred due to the collapse of buildings and other infrastructure.

TED Fellow Peter Haas explains why Haiti was not a natural disaster but a disaster of engineering in his TED talk, linked below.


The Costs of Disaster

The cost of disasters.

The cost of disasters.

Image from the “MANAGING DISASTER RISKS for a Resilient Future” brochure made in collaboration with the The Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR), the government of Japan and the World Bank.

Disasters can affect anyone. The price we pay during a disaster depends on the economic competence of our nation and the level of risk reduction measures that have been taken in preparation for the disaster.

Since 1980 2.3 million lives have been lost to disasters. With only 9% of these events responsible for 48% of the fatalities. Often for low-income states the cost of a natural disaster can exceed 100% of the national GDP (e.g Haiti earthquake, 2010)!

More information at: http://tinyurl.com/8esau


Global Disaster Induced Displacements in 2012

Global Disaster Induced Displacements in 2012

Over 32 million people were displaced their homes last year due to natural disasters such as floods,storms and earthquakes according to a report published by the International Displacement Monitoring Centre and Norwegian Refugee Council.

98% of these displacement were in some way related to climate change with Central Africa and Asia being the most affected regions.

From Science to Action: Lessons learnt from Haiti

Eric Calais

Eric Calais

Recently we had our first joint Climate and Geohazard Services (CGS) and Institute of Geophysics and Tectonics (IGT) seminar at the University of Leeds.

Our invited speaker was Eric Calais who was the U.N.’s Geophysicist on the ground after the 2010 Haiti earthquake. This is a short summary of some of the topics discussed in his seminar.

Science and scientists are needed on the scene of disaster risk reduction – Eric Calais

Haiti and indeed all the Caribbean countries are exposed to many numerous hazards including earthquakes and hurricanes. Of these the most reliable are hurricanes which hit the region like clockwork every summer. However earthquakes are less regular and often occur after much longer time intervals. So when it comes to hazard mitigation hurricanes trump earthquakes!

Eric started his talk with an introduction to the tectonics of the Haiti region. The countries largest city, Port-au-Prince lies about 20 kilometres north of a major strike slip fault called the Enriquillo Fault. Eric, working in Haiti earlier in his career, had predicted the fault had a chance of storing enough energy which if released all at once will result in a magnitude 7.1 earthquake.

Earthquakes are not new to Haiti. There is abundant evidence for historic ruptures including one that was recorded by British colonist in the seventeen hundreds. However due to the long recurrence time of such events the human memory of these events gradually gets lost. Therefore, the inhabitants of Port-au-Prince were not prepared when a magnitude 7.0 earthquake shook the country on the 12th January 2010.

Shake and damage map of the 2010 earthquake. Source: BBC

Shake and damage map of the 2010 earthquake. Source: BBC

The resulting devastation took the lives of nearly nearly 316,000 people according to Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive and displaced nearly a million people from their homes.

The second part of Eric’s talk focused on his experiences working with the U.N. as the chief geophysicist on the ground immediately after the earthquake.

The first important lesson learnt from Haiti is that the impacts from natural disasters are amplified by socio-economical and political issues.

UN aid in Haiti. Source: www.telegraph.co.uk

UN aid in Haiti. Source: telegraph.co.uk

It is clear that a government needs to find a balance between the gains from increased mitigation with the costs needed to achieve such mitigation levels. The maximum mitigation achievable with the minimum cost is generally the prefered option, especially for developing countries. But these decisions need to made with due consideration to the types, expected magnitude and repeat interval of each individual hazard.

The U.N. is well aware that building resilience is the key to maintaining development and reducing loss from natural disasters.

An important goal for the U.N. is to offer advice and embed clear resilience and mitigation strategies into governmental policy and ensure that these policies are effectively enforced.

However much of the U.N. data on human exposure to natural disasters are not entirely accurate and often out of date. Worryingly there appears to be no clear procedure for updating this information. Improving resilience becomes much more difficult without knowing the nature of the hazards faced. It is clear that the U.N. needs to invest in resources to update key data tables such as exposure and vulnerability; combining information from industry, especially the re-insurance sector, and outputs from the scientific community.

Post earthquake. Source: manongeo.wordpress.com

Post earthquake. Source: manongeo.wordpress.com

Most of the U.N. members of staff are non-scientists. Therefore, many of the on-the-spot decisions during disasters are made without a proper understanding of the underlying science.

It is clear that the scientific community have not been paying enough attention! We as scientists need to be more involved with the issues of disaster risk reduction. Scientists understand the hazards, the risks involved and to some extent what needs to be done. We just need to step forward and be more involved.

Eric ended his talk with the following call to arms:

“The gap between science products and practitioners of risk reduction requires someone to make the first step; scientists are in the best position [to take this step].”

Further Reading:

[1] http://news.sciencemag.org/scienceinsider/2010/09/on-the-ground-with-eric-calais.html
[2] http://www.unfoundation.org/who-we-are/impact/our-impact/health-data-disaster-relief/haiti-earthquake-response.html
[3] http://www.britannica.com/blogs/2010/10/5-questions-for-geophysicist-eric-calais-on-the-newly-discovered-fault-in-haiti


Plight of the Bangladeshi


Lying on the floodplains of the mighty Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna rivers Bangladesh is a rich, fertile land. These giant river systems meet in the centre of the country and flow together into the Bay of Bengal which, at over 1600km wide, is the largest delta system in the world.

Flood potential map of Bangladesh. Source smeagol.terrace.qld.edu.a

Flood potential map of Bangladesh. Source smeagol.terrace.qld.edu.a

Rising Sea Level

Bangladesh is often cited as one of the countries that will be most affected by rising sea levels from human induced climate change and with good reason. Two thirds of the country lies less than 5m above of sea level. With vast regions to the south much less than a 1m above sea level. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 2007 report claimed that just 1m rise in sea level could directly expose nearly 14 million people and result in potentially 20% land loss! Although it is unlikely that the actual figures will be so high, the numbers are worrying large.


Most of the country receives on average more than 2.5m of rainfall a year, 80% of which falls in about 4 months during the peak monsoon season. Contrast that with the UK, which in 2012 had an annual rainfall of less than 1.3m. Combine this with poor flood defences and you have large annual floods. The flood waters bring nutrient rich clays and silts from the high Himalayas and deposit them on the river floodplains during these events. These rich soils produce vast harvests of rice and other crops. Not surprising then that agriculture is the most common livelihood.

Floods in Bangladesh. Source NASA

Floods in Bangladesh. Source NASA

However floods, once welcomed by farmers and their families are now harbingers of disaster. Human induced climate change has resulted in more erratic monsoonal weather patterns with often larger the normal volumes of water being delivered in shorter time intervals. The resulting floods have had devastating effects on the Bangladeshi people. In 2012 three large floods hit the country in swift succession between the months of July and September directly affecting more than 5 million people. These are now a common annual occurrence.


Bangladesh is also annually subject to devastating tropical cyclones, tidal bores and tornadoes. Some of the worst natural disasters in recorded history were results of cyclonic storms in the Bengal region. Among them, the 1970 Bhola cyclone which claimed over 500,000 lives! Worryingly new research into the effects of human induced climate change has shown that large cyclonic storms will become a more common occurrence in the years and decades to come.


The foothills of great Himalayan mountain belt has historically been the location of many large earthquakes. Earthquakes in the continents tend to be more infrequent compared to regions such as Japan and California. However this makes them more unpredictable and often unexpected. But when one does occur it can result in significant ground shaking. The 1897 magnitude 8.1 and 1950 magnitude 8.7 Assam earthquakes were two of the biggest to hit the region in recent times.

Aftermaths of an earthquake. Source crschools.net

Aftermath of an earthquake. Source crschools.net

Bangladesh has a population of over 160 million and among the highest population density of any country in the world. With the majority of the country built on river floodplains combined with widespread corruption and ignorance a large earthquake could quite possibly result in the greatest natural calamity to have ever hit the country!

So what can we as earth scientists do?

Bangladesh needs to increase its resilience if its people are to survive the multitude of natural hazards they face. Earth scientists are well placed to understand the risks involved from these hazards and can play a key role in all aspects of building a resilient infrastructure.

Climate science research is ongoing and needs to continue to better understand the affect human induced climate is having and will have on the annual monsoon. This knowledge then needs to be translated into rainfall variation and flooding potentials. The socio-economic issues of a rising sea level can be addressed by the sustainability community. How can we feed millions of people displaced as a direct result of climate change? How can we provide clean drinking water in flood prone regions? The hydrogeologists and geochemists can help find sustainable clean, arsenic free water sources for drinking and farming during the non-monsoon season. The seismologists and earthquake scientists can better assess the seismic risk; produce more accurate hazard maps and importantly identify the active faults within the region.

These are to name but a few of the ways earth scientists can get involved. I believe it is our moral duty to translate the practical aspects of our science into real benefits for people. Only then can we ever hope of helping these people.


Source news24ca.com

Source news24ca.com

Further Reading: