Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Earthquake Risk Reduction in Bangladesh by Dr Susanne Sargeant

As a seismologist at the British Geological Survey, and a NERC Knowledge Exchange fellow, my work focuses on finding ways to ensure that our scientific understanding of earthquakes has maximum impact on decision-making (from government to community level) and people’s behaviour. In Bangladesh I’m working with Concern Worldwide to increase the way in which earthquake information is used in their operations.
Last month I was in Dhaka with Willie McMartin*, Operational Director for the International Rescue Corps (IRC), to deliver an earthquake risk management training course to country staff from Concern, Plan International, Oxfam, Save the Children, Islamic Relief and Action Aid.

Participants on the earthquake risk training course
Between us, we hoped that during the training it would be possible to:
·         increase general understanding of earthquakes
·         raise awareness of the earthquake threat in Bangladesh
·         consider the potential impact on these organisations, their staff and operations,
·         help the participants to be better prepared when an earthquake happens either at home or at work.
To be honest, it was a bit of an experiment. This is the first time that Willie and I have worked together (and the first time I had delivered any training) and we weren’t sure how our different fields of expertise would fit together. Luckily, we’re both happy to improvise and as it turned out, we (Willie, the participants and I) spent a really rewarding three days working together and learning from each other. In fact, we’ve now set up a working group so that we can continue to work together and share information.

Willie & I also visited pupils at Alhaz Abbasuddin High School where they gave us a first aid demonstration as part of an earthquake preparedness project facilitated by Concern Worldwide

Willie (centre) and me (far left) and the pupils and teachers at  Alhaz Abbasuddin High School

As a hazard scientist, I learnt a valuable lesson from my visit: living somewhere where a potentially devastating earthquake could happen is frightening – especially when you have no control over construction practices and compliance with building codes. That’s where someone like Willie comes in, with the experience and understanding to give people hope that there is something they can do to protect themselves and their families if an earthquake happens tomorrow.  Implementing building codes and issues around non-compliance are tougher nuts to crack.
Typical construction in Dhaka
by Susanne
* IRC do amazing work. Their dedicated volunteers regularly respond to a whole range of international disasters and since 1985 Willie has been involved in the response to 24, including many earthquakes (e.g. Armenia 1988, El Salvador 2001, Gujurat 2001, Muzaffarabad 2005). Willie kept a daily blog of the  Bangladesh training trip that you can read here, lots of great photos!

An extra word from Lauren
For Dhaka travel tips, earthquake history and facts about the hazard and vulnerability of Bangladesh and it’s people keep an eye out for Susanne’s guest post on the Geology for Global Development blog. This [Geology for Global Development] is a wonderful organisation founded by geologist Joel Gill in 2011 and Susanne sits on the advisory group. I can’t say it better than they say themselves….
Geology for Global Development (GfGD) recognises the significant contribution good geoscience can make to international development and fighting poverty by reducing risks from geological hazards, sustainably exploiting the Earth's resources, and improving environmental conservation. We therefore aim to encourage and support young geoscientists in the growth of appropriate skills and knowledge in order that they make a positive, effective, and greater contribution to international development throughout their careers.”

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