GW Announces Initiative to Strengthen Disaster Resilience in Developing Countries

The interdisciplinary effort will combine education, research and training to help local leaders respond to natural and man-made disasters.

January 13, 2017

A multimillion-dollar initiative at the George Washington University will combine education and research with on-the-ground training programs in developing countries to prepare local leaders to respond to and recover from disasters.

The new program based in GW’s Elliott School of International Affairs will operate projects in more than a dozen countries to improve disaster resilience when nations face conflict, extreme weather, terrorism or other natural and man-made disasters.

The Initiative for Disaster Resilience and Humanitarian Affairs is an interdisciplinary effort bringing three experts to GW to expand efforts to educate, train and equip leaders worldwide to prevent, prepare and respond to disasters.

Disaster resilience addresses immediate needs in an area and provides a plan for how local leaders will learn and respond to future disasters and improve capacity to support themselves.

Ky Luu, J.D. ’00, leads the initiative. Mr. Luu previously founded the Disaster Resilience Leadership Academy at Tulane University, which will collaborate with the new GW initiative. Mr. Luu also directed the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance.

“Today we live in a world where five times more people are affected by disasters than a generation ago, and armed conflict and terrorism have forced more than 65 million people from their homes,” Mr. Luu said.

“Our current operational model where we are dependent on international actors to intervene in humanitarian crises in Syria, Nigeria and South Sudan is not sustainable," he said. "There is an urgent need to build the capacity of local stakeholders to become viable partners for the international community in the short term and to assume a leadership role in setting the priorities and policies that will reduce disaster risks and promote humanitarian principles and practices in the long term.”

A large part of the initiative’s work involves research to better understand the social, economic, environmental and infrastructure factors that enable communities to withstand and respond to disasters such as droughts, floods, hurricanes and conflicts.

The initiative also convenes and facilitates leadership training to address root causes of vulnerability to strengthen disaster resilience across 14 countries in Africa, Southeast Asia and South America. Initiative staff members work closely with Makerere University in Uganda's capital, Kampala, and with the ResilientAfrica Network, a U.S. Agency for International Development-funded partnership working to strengthen resilience in African communities.

Other projects will draw upon expertise from across GW’s faculty in fields such as anthropology and public health.

In partnership with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the initiative works with other universities to develop data-driven programs to equip leaders to address root causes of vulnerability and to strengthen disaster resilience.

The initiative is supported by several government and foundation grants, including about $4 million in previous funding that will be transferred to GW. These activities are part of a larger $25 million effort by local and international partners.

The initiative is housed in GW’s Elliott School of International Affairs. It serves as  an example of the school’s focus on the scholarship, teaching, ethics and practice of international affairs so that applied work in the field can inform practice and policy by integrating real-world impact into GW’s teaching and research.

“Questions of humanitarian assistance--from responding to natural disasters to managing the flow of refugees--are a critical part of the international affairs landscape,” said Reuben E. Brigety II, dean of the Elliott School. “With the arrival of Ky Luu and the Initiative for Disaster Resilience and Humanitarian Affairs in the Elliott School, GW will become a clear leader in training young people and finding solutions for the world's toughest humanitarian challenges.”

Interdisciplinary opportunities with GW’s School of Engineering and Applied Science and Milken Institute School of Public Health, as well as other departments such as anthropology, geography and the Global Women’s Institute, factored heavily in the decision for the initiative to form at GW. The program’s base at GW allows it to build a strongly integrated research component and, eventually, curricular and student opportunities, including research assistant positions.


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