How international partnerships protect the most vulnerable from disaster risks


GWB India Landslide project team taking measurements in the field.

From the devastating floods in Libya to earthquakes in Afghanistan, 2023 has been with events that have adversely impacted the most vulnerable populations in fragile states globally. Thousands of lives have been lost and the estimated infrastructure damage is several billions of dollars. In the United States alone, disaster events including drought, floods, hail storm, hurricanes, wildfires, and winter storms exceed losses >$1 billion for each event.

According to the United Nations University research team’s opinion piece, research and planning can help minimize threats to infrastructure and people from extreme weather and events.  This is where Society of Exploration Geophysicists (SEG)’s humanitarian program Geoscientists without Borders (GWB) has been lending a hand through it’s global reach. From Guatemala in South America to Java, Indonesia in Asia, GWB is helping communities become resilient in the face of disasters such as volcanic eruptions, landslides, earthquakes, tsunamis, and ongoing conflicts.

Here are some of the ways GWB is helping to minimize the threat to communities in need:

Partnership as the key to resilience: GWB’s three volcano early warning systems projects in Guatemala demonstrate that international partnerships among institutions result in building long-term resilience locally. Guatemalan agency INSIVIMUH (equivalent of NOAA in the US) has been GWB’s local institutional partner since the start over a decade ago. From Pacaya volcano to Santiaguito to Motagua-Polochic fault system in Zapaca, GWB’s project leads are working with local agencies and communities for knowledge transfer, geoscientific tools, and techniques’ application as well as training and capacity building. With the current project’s work, an additional broadband seismometer and infrasound sensor will significantly bolster INSIVUMEH’s monitoring capacity for an Early Warning System (EWS). It is aimed at helping 10,000 people within the 5 km radius of Pacaya volcano complex. The new instrumentation provided through this project will be a significant improvement of INSIVUMEH’s earthquake and volcanic monitoring infrastructure. In addition, the educational and training opportunities that this work provides will increase local expertise in geohazards and ensure longevity of these improvements. GWB project leads continue working in partnership with INSIVUMEH towards progress that is made possible through a collaboration of various universities, nonprofits, government organizations, and our donors.

GWB Java, Indonesia Tsunami project participant with community members.
GWB Nigeria-ABU water project project participants conducting VES measurements.

Working on post-2030 vision: The United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (UNSDGs) had the target date of 2030. According to a recent report by Sustainable Development Solutions Network we are off track. While it is important to understand the causes for this, it is equally or even more important to work toward positive steps we can take now to build more resilient and sustainable communities. This includes working with the communities in need now to envision and enable them for a post-2030 future. One of GWB’s central pillars are partnership building to achieve long-term sustainability. This is ensured by local and international students’ involvement and hands-on training via partnerships and knowledge transfer that takes place between the lead organizations and in-country partners. It also includes the targeted communities via their training and capacity building. Most recently this process took place in GWB’s Nigeria water projects to benefit a community of 600 people and continues in a recently awarded water project in India. 

Data, planning, and financing- Any successful GWB project is grounded in applied geosciences data. All GWB project leads have either already done some reconnaissance at the field site to collect data points, identified a community in need via their previous travels, or have local connections to know where a critical need exists.  The success and long-term sustainability of GWB projects are based on data, assessment, planning, and implementation of appropriate geosciences technology at different levels. GWB’s financial support accelerates a more integrated, innovative, and systems-based approaches. These steps are integral to Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) and achieving long-term sustainability. GWB fosters the needed connections between various partners to make any project possible and successful. This opens numerous opportunities to link efforts toward achieving UNSDGs for all. Principal investigators in GWB’s Uganda water and Java tsunami projects are successfully demonstrating this.

In conclusion We must remember that it takes dedicated individuals, their partners, both experts as well as institutional, teams and decision-makers to continue driving the geosciences-based agenda and showcase DRR and WASH to ensure any community’s long-term resilience in fragile environments. Through GWB’s funding support the project teams are able to foster right partnerships and build a strong foundation for strategic cooperation making it easier to tackle the complex, multi-dimensional, and transdisciplinary challenges that these vulnerable populations face today.  The next generation of young geoscientists have a significant role to play as they see global challenges as integrated, bring the energy and develop/invent innovative ways for connecting issues, people, solutions, and actions. With the generous support of GWB’s individual and institutional supporters it is possible to provide stability to all those who need it the most.

By: Pallavi Bharadwaj, GWB Program Manager
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