Economic and Social Research Council
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New research tackles disaster risk in urban Africa

A new programme of research, which aims to reduce disaster risk in urban sub-Saharan Africa, has been awarded £3.3 million of funding from the UK’s Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and Department for International Development (DFID).

Urban Africa Risk Knowledge (Urban ARK) is a three-year programme which will work in cities in Senegal, Nigeria, Malawi, Kenya and Niger to better understand the nature and scale of disaster risks in urban centres. By studying the interaction of environmental hazards, such as earthquakes and temperature extremes, in areas with poor housing and marginalised communities, the research aims to break the cycles by which vulnerability and the incapacity to cope with hazards accrue in society.

Led by Professor Mark Pelling of King’s College London, the project also engages the private sector and will work with community organisations and local research partners. Bringing together practitioners including Arup and Save the Children, the project will seek to provide recommendations to manage and reduce risk in these challenging urban environments.

Professor Pelling said:

“The Urban ARK programme of work is international and interdisciplinary. Working closely with those at risk, urban planners, developers and humanitarian agencies will enable a research process that can highlight disaster risk drivers embedded in contemporary and emerging development trajectories – and allow the consideration of alternatives to break cycles of risk accumulation.”

The project is funded as part of the ESRC-DFID Poverty Alleviation Programme, which aims to provide a more robust basis for international development and enhance the quality and impact of social science research on poverty reduction. By funding academics investigating critical but relatively under-researched themes, it is hoped that Urban ARK and other projects will form a hub of research excellence in each of their areas of study, driving forward innovations in theory and making a significant social impact.

Professor Jane Elliott, Chief Executive of the ESRC, said:

“It’s important to be funding these projects to examine and understand such key areas in international development. By partnering with organisations with local knowledge and expertise in these regions, we can ensure the ESRC is both creating a real impact and building capacity for future, high-quality social science research.”

Urban ARK brings together African and international experts in hazards and climate modelling, social history, urban planning and governance, epidemiology and urban vulnerability and loss assessment, and will provide local workshops and science meetings to open the programme to wide participation. The project runs from January 2015 for three years.

Further information

ESRC Press Office

Notes for editors

  • Urban ARK is being funded by the DFID Humanitarian Innovation and Evidence Programme and ESRC.
  • The DFID Humanitarian Innovation and Evidence Programme is investing in research to increase understanding of the context and what works most effectively in emergencies, bringing in the expertise of world-class research commissioning bodies, testing new interventions, and improving the accessibility and use of evidence for humanitarian practitioners and policymakers.
  • The Economic and 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. In 2015 it celebrates its 50th anniversary.
  • Urban ARK brings together researchers from Africa (African Population and Health Research Centre, University of Ibadan, Mzuzu University, Université Abdou Moumouni and University of Cape Town) with practitioners (ARUP, International Alert, Save the Children and UN-HABITAT) and international research partners (King’s College London, Development Planning Unit at University College London and the International Institute for Environment and Development).
  • Urban ARK will work in Dakar (Senegal), Ibadan (Nigeria), Karonga (Malawi), Mombasa and Nairobi (Kenya) and Niamey (Niger).


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