NERC partners with ESRC and AHRC to fund projects that will help developing countries cope with environmental hazards

Update: 14 December 2016 - An additional seven projects have been funded, bringing the number of funded projects to 29, worth around £5·4 million (100% full economic cost).

22 November 2016

Three of the UK's research councils have funded 22 projects that will help communities in some of the poorest regions of the world understand, prepare for and manage a range of natural and man-made environmental hazards.

People walking in a flooded street in Kampung Melayu, Jakarta, Indonesia

Residents walking across a flooded street in Jakarta, Indonesia in January 2014

The Building Resilience research programme will take an inter-disciplinary approach to understanding what causes environmental dangers like droughts, land degradation, volcanoes, earthquakes and flooding, and build in preparedness to help countries cope.

The projects, worth just over £3·5 million, and funded by NERC, the Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and the Economic & Social Research Council (ESRC), are funded under the Global Challenge Research Fund (GCRF), a £1·5 billion fund announced by the UK government in 2015 to support cutting-edge research that addresses the challenges faced by developing countries.

NERC's chief executive, Professor Duncan Wingham, said:

A combination of conflict, climate change, environmental degradation, population growth and urbanisation means an increasing number of people are vulnerable to a wide range of environmental hazards, and it is developing countries that are often most at risk, yet least able to cope. For some countries, a natural disaster can lead to years of development progress being wiped out. So it makes economic sense to invest in preparedness rather than deal with the consequences of these hazards.

The 22 projects will explore the combination of circumstances - such as conflict, poverty and governance - that alter the capacity of a community to prepare for and respond to both sudden and slow-onset environmental hazards. Sudden, natural environmental hazards include earthquakes, volcanoes and landslides, while slow-onset hazards include droughts, climate change, environmental degradation and desertification.

The research will also address the many social issues connected to these hazards, such as conflict and fragility, poverty and famine, urbanisation, economics, and health and disease risks. They will take a holistic approach, bringing together environmental knowledge, and taking into account the socio-economics, infrastructure, governance, history and culture of communities.

The projects include collaborations with a large number of aid organisations, such as Oxfam, Concern Worldwide, Practical Action and CARE International.

Only last month, Hurricane Matthew killed almost 900 people and left tens of thousands homeless in Haiti. Ethiopia's northern highlands experienced the worst drought for decades with unusually heavy downpours threatening to ruin crops and exacerbate food insecurity as flash flooding turned roads to rivers and swamps fields. And Super Typhoon Haima caused widespread destruction in the Philippines, with houses destroyed as communities took shelter from sustained winds of more than 225km/h.

Chief executive of ESRC, Professor Jane Elliott, said:

I am delighted with the spread and depth of the awards which together balance the need to address both sudden and long-term environmental hazards. The imaginative and innovative proposals that have been funded demonstrate the importance of using interdisciplinary approaches to tackle real-world problems.

Chief executive of AHRC, Professor Andrew Thompson, said:

This opportunity for the AHRC to partner with ESRC and NERC in the Building Resilience research programme demonstrates the value of the research councils working together. As the consequences of environmental hazards are not only physical, social and economic, but also cultural and humanitarian, the AHRC will bring vital expertise to this project. This cross-council initiative offers a holistic approach to environmental hazards, and enables the many aspects of the impacts to be examined from variety of perspectives and specialisms, including those of the arts and humanities.

The funded projects allow for foundation-building activities that stimulate the creation of inter-disciplinary research communities, scope resilience challenges where an interdisciplinary approach is required, define research and innovation gaps, and enable broader, deeper and more effective collaborations with beneficiaries and users (eg policymakers, practitioners from humanitarian and development organisations, local communities) at the forefront of building resilience.

The projects started this month.

GCRF successful projects, with partners (PDF, 123KB)

Further information

Tamera Jones
NERC media office
01793 411561
07917 557215


1. The 22 projects include:

  1. An interdisciplinary study to explore the resilience of young people living in a drought-challenged area of South Africa to understand the complex relationships between drought, social-ecological systems - family, school, government, the physical environment - and resilience. Led by Professor Angie Hart of the University of Brighton.
  2. A project that aims to improve the self-recovery process after sudden and slow-onset natural disasters. Bringing together scientists, engineers and humanitarian practitioners, communities will be more resilient and family homes will be safer and better able to resist hazards, avoiding injury, death and economic loss. Led by Dr John Twigg of the Overseas Development Institute.
  3. Another project will bring together social, political, cultural and environmental histories to track resilience in vulnerable tropical coastal communities along Colombia's Caribbean Sea coast over a 200-year period. The area is affected by a range of environmental pressures including sea level rise, warming climate and reduced precipitation, as well as more frequent and severe floods and droughts. Led by Professor Piran White of the University of York.
  4. The full list is available on NERC's Grants on the Web website - external link

2. NERC is the UK's main agency for funding and managing research, training and knowledge exchange in the environmental sciences. Our work covers the full range of atmospheric, Earth, biological, terrestrial and aquatic science, from the deep oceans to the upper atmosphere and from the poles to the equator. We coordinate some of the world's most exciting research projects, tackling major issues such as climate change, environmental influences on human health, the genetic make-up of life on Earth, and much more. NERC is a non-departmental public body. We receive around £330 million of annual funding from the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS).

3. The Economic & Social Research Council (ESRC) is the UK's largest funder of research on the social and economic questions facing us today. It supports the development and training of the UK's future social scientists and also funds major studies that provide the infrastructure for research. ESRC-funded research informs policymakers and practitioners and helps make businesses, voluntary bodies and other organisations more effective. The ESRC also works collaboratively with six other UK research councils and Innovate UK to fund cross-disciplinary research and innovation addressing major societal challenges. The ESRC is an independent organisation, established by Royal Charter in 1965, and funded mainly by the government.

4. The Arts & Humanities Research Council funs world-class, independent researchers in a wide range of subjects: history, archaeology, digit content, philosophy, languages, design, heritage, area studies, the creative and performing arts, and much more. This financial year the AHRC will spend approximately £98 million to fund research and postgraduate training in collaboration with a number of partners. The quality and range of research supported by this investment of public funds not only provides social and cultural benefits and contributes to the economic success of the UK but also to the culture and welfare of societies around the globe.