The challenge of preserving heritage amidst disasters
Newsletter - February 2016
The 2009 L’Aquila earthquake in Italy damaged or destroyed so much of that historic city’s medieval and Renaissance architectural heritage. There was loss of life, widespread homelessness and damage to the economy. But I was struck by the importance of heritage when I joined a team of engineers that surveyed the damage in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake. Human resources were limited so we walked the city with a group of archaeologists from Paris. Amid all the destruction, they were relieved to find that the Fontana delle 99 Cannelle, the Fountain of the 99 Spouts, completed in 1272 as a monument to the ’99 founding castles’ of the new city, survived. But with a new siege of Aleppo in Syria about to begin, we are reminded that it is not just natural disasters that destroy our heritage. Aleppo’s people have suffered terribly, while fighting between the government and opposition has brought destruction in 2012 and 2014, including to the  Al-Madina Souq, the world's largest covered historic market. London also has a pivotal role as a centre for the world’s art market, and for the illicit market in looted artefacts.
Thirteenth century Fontana delle 99 Cannel escaped destruction in the 2009 L’Aquila earthquake although there was substantial damage to the adjacent square (insert), with a returning local resident aghast at the state of his home. 
Donald Rumsfeld’s response to the looting of the Baghdad museum was, ‘Stuff happens and it’s untidy, and freedom’s untidy, and free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes and do bad things”. By contrast UNESCO has called for action, as hundreds of World Heritage sites are virtually defenceless with respect to potential disasters. But as heritage is so bound with cultural identity, as writer and broadcaster Tiffany Jenkins [Archaeology on the front line, Tiffany Jenkins, spiked-online] has argued this can become more about outsiders and unelected officials intervening in conceptions of identity, and shaping other people’s past and future. Humanitarian workers often have the necessary experience in dealing with ethical problems arising from these complex situations.

With this is mind, the UCL Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction are organising a Discussion Forum on Heritage and Disaster on Wednesday 9th March from 6.00pm at UCL [see below, right for details]. We have brought together an expert panel, including from the new UCL Institute for Sustainable Heritage, to address why the protection of cultural heritage is important and how we can protect and enhance its resilience to disasters. We hope you can join us in what promises to be a lively and engaging discussion.

We are delighted to welcome Dr Farnaz Arefian and Sarah Schubert who have been jointly appointed as IRDR Enterprise Managers. Their role is to develop a structured approach to our enterprise activities, seeking out business needs, developing a programme of continuing professional development  and to build long-term commercial and social enterprise partnerships in the area of risk and disaster reduction. Do please get in touch with them (,

Peter Sammonds
Director, UCL Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction
IRDR Research Fellow Dr Zehra Zaidi has won the 2016 Marie Skłodowska-Curie European Fellowship to be based at the Euro-Mediterranean Centre on Climate Change (CMCC) in Italy. Zehra will construct methodologies for assessing local level disasters impacts in Europe with special attention placed on small-scale events.

IRDR Research Fellow Dr Zehra Zaidi has won a UCL Research Catalyst Award to conduct research on institutional disaster risk reduction strategies with the National University of Colombia (Manizales). This award is sponsored by Santander Universities, and promotes global engagement and the creation of research links between UCL departments and universities in Latin America.

David Alexander, Gianluca Pescaroli and Robert Wicks won a UCL Knowledge Exchange Champions award from UCL's Higher Education Innovation Fund to fund their work addressing the Resilience of London’s Critical Infrastructure during Cascading Disasters and Space Weather Incidents 

Serena Tagliacozzo, IRDR PhD student,  won a British Council Researcher Links grant to attend a workshop in Yogyakarta in February on " Disaster Risk Reduction, Resilience, Culture and Well-being”.
Natural hazards such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tsunami, floods and storms destroy lives and damage economies across the globe; pandemics have the potential to bring death and suffering on an unprecedented scale; while climate change may increase the severity of both natural and health disasters.

How society sees risk, how to link understanding of the causative mechanics to statistical approaches, and how to increase resilience and reduce the risk of disasters are common themes cutting across research in natural, environmental, health and technological hazards.

Reducing global risks and disasters presents a colossal challenge that requires coordinated and collaborative action.
UCL is uniquely well-placed to lead research and teaching in risk and disaster reduction, with at least 70 academics across 12 departments and seven faculties involved in world-class research and practice in the field.

To maximise the impact and value of our activities in risk and disaster reduction, and to increase and enhance interdisciplinary collaboration and cooperation, we aim to bring together individual areas of expertise, under the umbrella of a UCL Institute for Risk & Disaster Reduction, built around established centres across UCL.
We also seek to contribute to the UCL Grand Challenges of Global Health, Sustainable Cities, Intercultural Interaction and Human Wellbeing.
Reducing global risks and disasters presents a colossal challenge that requires coordinated and collaborative action. UCL is uniquely well placed to lead research in risk and disaster reduction, with at least 70 academics across 12 departments and 7 faculties involved in world-class research, teaching and practice in the field. The Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction, responding to the UCL Grand Challenges, brings together this wealth of knowledge and expertise, and through research, teaching and knowledge exchange aims to overcome the barriers to understanding risk and reducing the impact of disasters.

To find out more about risk and disaster reduction research at UCL - or to register your own activity - please visit Our Page. Here you have the option to stay involved through different mailing lists, and to become a member of the Institute.
New IRDR MSc programme in Risk and Disaster Science
We are launching a new MSc programme in Risk and Disaster Science in September this year, which aims to meet the growing need for scientific experts trained in disaster science in sectors ranging from finance to humanitarian response. Applications are now open. More details here.
UCL Geology for Global Development is Back
The UCL GfGD group is back with a new series of seminars and talks from a range of speakers for the coming year (including the IRDR's very own Peter Sammonds) and the possibility of an exciting humanitarian project starting in the summer. Please contact Emma if you are interested in getting involved, or alternatively come and chat to us at the IRDR Careers and Opportunities Fair on the 1st March (see below for details).
International Workshop on "Resilience of Groundwater Systems to Climate Change and Human Development" 
is taking place in Bangkok, Thailand from 7th to 11th February, 2016. IRDR Research Fellow, Dr. Mohammad Shamsudduha (Shams) is coordinating this workshop. This bilateral workshop enables early career researchers and academics from both UK and Thailand to brainstorm on groundwater resilience - an issue critical for adaptation to climate change and human development. The workshop is co-convened by UCL IRDR and King Mongkut’s Institute of Technology Ladkrabang (KMITL), Thailand.
UCL IRDR academics raising awareness and influencing policy 
On 13th January 2016, David Alexander participated in a panel discussion at The Guardian newspaper on reconstruction after disaster. The event, which was given to an invited audience of NGO representatives and government officials, was sponsored by the UK Crown Agents. Find out more…
In Geneva on 28th January 2016, David Alexander gave a talk at the UNISDR Science and Technology Conference on Implementing the Sendai Framework.
UCL IRDR Careers and Opportunities Fair
Tues 1st March, 17:00 – 20:00 UCL Roberts Building G06 LT and Foyer
Talks and exhibitor stalls presenting opportunities to get involved in the field of risk and disaster reduction. The opportunities presented will include job opportunities in the commercial, humanitarian and government sectors, volunteering and internships, postgraduate study and involvement in student societies. This event is open to UCL students, staff and members of the public looking for opportunities in this field. The event is free, but you need to register. Full listing of talks, exhibitors, and registration details here 
Panel Discussion on Heritage and Disasters
Weds 9th March; panel discussion 18:00 – 19:30, UCL Cruciform LT2; drinks reception, 19:30 – 21:00, UCL N Cloisters 
In our first public event of 2016 we bring together a panel with first hand academic and practical experience to discuss cultural heritage from a disasters perspective. The panel includes William Brown, National Security Adviser, Arts Council England; Sergio Olivero, Head of Energy and Security Research Area, SiTI, Italy; Kalliopi Fouseki, Senior Lecturer at the UCL Institute for Sustainable Heritage (ISH); Jonathan N. Tubb, Keeper, Middle East, The British Museum; and Farnaz Arefian, UCL IRDR Enterprise Manager and Founder of ‘Silk Cities’ Platform. This event is free to attend and open to all interested parties and members of the public, but you need to register. Register and find out more here 
Geology for Global Development Seminars
Peter Sammonds will deliver a talk to UCL Geology for Global Development on Thursday 9th March from 5.00pm in the UCL Roberts Lecture Theatre 421 on “Hazard Risks in the Himalaya - Challenge for Development”.
UCL IRDR 6th Annual Conference 
Weds 15th June, 09:00 – 20:00, UCL Gustave Tuck Lecture Theatre and South Cloisters.
We welcome researchers, practitioners, NGOs, city professionals and the interested public to a day of thought-provoking discussions where our in-house and guest experts will present and discuss the latest research and issues in risk and disaster reduction. More details here.
UCL IRDR Academic Summit
Thurs 16th June, 09:00 – 17:00, UCL Gustave Tuck Lecture Theatre. Organiser: Professor David Alexander. More details soon.
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