TalTech Researchers Help to Develop Societal Resilience to Disasters in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Thailand

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Due to different reasons – the wilderness of the natural environment, and the socio-demographic and economical situation – Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Thailand are notably vulnerable to disasters. So, disaster resilience research and innovation is essential to improve this situation.

This is the main reason why the ASCENT (Advancing Skill Creation to ENhance Transformation) project was created – to ensure that the partner country universities in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Thailand have the research and innovation capacities to tackle the challenges associated with developing societal resilience to disasters. The project coalition brings together 14 partners – six universities from the European programme countries, and eight universities from the Asian partner countries.

One of the European partners is TalTech University and especially the Building Life Cycle Research Group (BLCRG) in the department of civil engineering and architecture of TalTech University that has been actively engaged in international research projects aimed at disaster resilience for more than a decade.

Focus on Individuals and Organisations

By developing local research and innovation capacity, the ASCENT project directly contributes to disaster risk reduction and societal resilience to disasters in these countries, and indirectly, to regional and global disaster resilience, explained Irene Lill, the head of Building Lifecycle Research Group at the TalTech University.

“Since the project is aimed at developing research capacity, it focuses on improving individuals’ and institutions’ scientific contributions”, said Lill.

Emlyn David Qivitoq Witt, an associate professor at the TalTech University explained that the project achieves the aim through organising a structured set of research and innovation capacity development activities which are designed to empower individuals and organisations with the skills, competencies and credentials needed to pursue research, and to lead research at institutions aimed at reducing the impact of disasters.

Lill added that in the ASCENT project, the BLCRG’s experience of research and international collaboration for societal disaster resilience is leveraged in order to help develop similar capacities in the Asian partner institutions. Specifically, the BLCRG is responsible for leading two of the project’s work packages (Quality Plan and Dissemination and Exploitation) and it also contributes to the capacity development activities.

Strengthening the Connections

“Approximately half of these institutions have been partners of the BLCRG on previous projects and are long-term collaborators. During the project, these long-term partnerships have been strengthened and close working relationships with all of the other partners have been established as a result of the regular and intense training workshops which are a central feature of the ASCENT project”, Witt mentioned.

Lill and Witt both said the international collaboration has been excellent and this is demonstrated by a considerable number of joint project proposals which are currently being developed among the partners. The project has also fostered numerous research studies and research collaborations between the partners. By May 2018, 2 journal papers and 37 conference papers associated with the project had already been published.

So far, the project has undertaken a comprehensive research and innovation capacity survey in all of the Asian partner countries, and based on the outcomes of the survey, three training events have been designed and carried out with a fourth scheduled for January 2019.

Lill happily declared that “these have been well-attended and well-received. Policy briefs have been developed which highlight the country-specific issues identified by the survey and recommend policy initiatives that will enable disaster resilience research and innovation in each of the partner countries”, and added that a follow-up survey at the end of the project is intended to help quantify the project’s impact.

A major international disaster resilience conference was held within the auspices of the project in November 2017 and a further conference is scheduled to take place in conjunction with the 4th training event in January 2019.

Written by Marii Kangur, Estonian Public Broadcasting radionews reporter

This article was funded by the European Regional Development Fund through Estonian Research Council.

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