Building Resilience to Environmental Hazards

Earthquake in China

The Building Resilience to Environmental Hazards programme takes an inter-disciplinary approach to understanding resilience to natural and man-made environmental hazards in a range of developing world contexts.

The programme is part of the Global Challenge Research Fund (GCRF), led by NERC, the Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and the Economic & Social Research Council (ESRC).

The focus is on how to build resilience in relation to both sudden and slow-onset environmental hazards (for example land-degradation, deforestation, drought, hurricanes, climate change) taking into account the intersections and relationships with other contexts such as conflict and fragility, poverty and famine, urbanisation, economics and health / disease risks.

The aim is to create inter-disciplinary international research communities; to enable broader, deeper and more effective collaborations with organisations at the forefront of the development agenda and to test new innovative ideas and inter-disciplinary approaches for addressing the issue of developing resilience.

Building Resilience event highlights the benefits of interdisciplinary collaboration

13 Mar 2018

Researchers from across the UK, the globe and from a wide variety of disciplines gathered last week to address the building of resilience to environmental hazards, both natural and man-made, in developing countries.

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GCRF logo

The World Bank estimates that for some developing countries the cost of recovery from hazardous events each year is greater than their GDP - years of development investment and progress can be wiped out. "Disasters can hit developing countries with an economic force that can roll back development gains and exacerbate inequality."[1] A combination of conflict, climate change, environmental degradation, population growth and urbanization means that an increasing number of people are vulnerable to a wide range of hazards, and it is developing countries that are generally most at risk yet least able to cope. Recent studies have shown that it makes economic sense to invest in preparedness, rather than deal with the consequences of these hazards. As a result, there is greater emphasis on prevention and enhancing preparedness of vulnerable communities so that they are more resilient.

Building resilience is about making people, communities and systems anticipate and be better prepared to withstand catastrophic events - both natural and man-made - as well as more able to absorb and bounce back more quickly and emerge stronger from these shocks and stresses. Resilience is central to addressing the goals of the Sendai Framework, COP 21 Paris Agreement and the UN Sustainable Development Goals, as well as to designing more effective development interventions today.

Building resilience rests on the ability to take a holistic approach which encompasses environmental knowledge, socio-economics, infrastructure, governance, and the history and culture of a community or region that is affected. It requires inter-disciplinary research and recognition of the importance of engaging with local actors to understand what knowledge is required and how it can be implemented to design solutions that help all parts of society.

Challenges & themes

The funding call had a number of themes within it:

  • Underlying drivers of disaster risk - Often it is not the magnitude of a single event which determines whether a 'disaster' will occur but a combination of circumstances. Characterising the contributing factors and processes leading to disaster risk, including changing environmental drivers, as well as the consequences of poverty and inequality, urbanisation, land management, compounding factors and the intersections with issues such as cultural beliefs, social practices and historic experiences.

  • Understanding of and ability to forecast environmental hazards - Increasing our understanding of the myriad of drivers of environmental hazards, how these drivers interact, and how these might lead to changes in the frequency and severity of events in future. Knowledge about environmental hazards needs to be combined with information about the exposure and vulnerability of communities to identify the most 'at risk' zones so the research can contribute to the development of the early warning systems and adaptation and mitigation strategies.

  • Risk Communication - In some cases our understanding of hazards and risks and our ability to forecast events is good, however often this information is not used by vulnerable communities. Research is needed into what information decision-makers require - and to understand what information and approaches to communication are appropriate for different actors and cultures.

  • Governance - What organisations/actors have responsibility for risk assessment, planning, action and response? Who owns a risk; who has responsibility to act upon it? How might local communities and actors be empowered to make choices about how to build resilience and what are the constraints on this? Who is excluded or marginalised in the process of building resilience and how might more inclusive participatory processes be developed? How does building resilience intersect with issues of gender, voice, power and inequality?

  • Incentivising action and measuring resilience - Evidence on the economic, welfare and environmental value generated is required to support actions to build resilience.

  • Cultural implications in building resilience - Perception of risk and ability to recover is heavily influenced by culture and historical experience and coping strategies will be learned, understood and applied differently in different historical and cultural contexts.

  • Resilient systems (of system) - There is potential to enhance the resilience of new and existing infrastructure systems, including water and sewerage, energy, health, education, housing / shelter, transportation and telecommunications infrastructure to ensure that they remain safe, effective and operational during and after disasters in order to provide live-saving and essential services.

  • Build back better / greener - Recovery from disasters creates opportunities to build back better / greener with resilience or for transformative change to new futures but this is often not given sufficient attention in the rush to re-build.

  • Improving effectiveness of research engagement and uptake - Critical to achieving impact in the developing world is the development of innovative, responsive approaches to strengthen links between the research community and governments, local actors and practitioners at all levels, to enable contextually relevant evidence informed decision-making.

  1. Safeguarding Development from Natural Disasters, World Bank - external link


2016 - 2018

Can I apply for a grant?

No, there are no current funding opportunities.


Initially £3 million, and increased to £4·5 million. Joint NERC / ESRC / AHRC funded.

Programme awards

29 projects have been funded. Award details are shown in our online grants browser - Grants on the Web.

View details of funded applications - external link