A bold step forwards

17 February, 2014

Integrating science into development and humanitarian work

Dr Kate Crowley

Dr Kate Crowley talks about the recently published guidelines.

Dr Kate Crowley is Disaster Risk Reduction Advisor at CAFOD and co-authored the guidelines on ‘Integrating science into humanitarian and development planning and practice to enhance community resilience’.

At first glance it seems an obvious idea – the right scientific knowledge should be incorporated into efforts of resilience building and international development. Yet for many years it has taken the hard work of intrepid practitioners and scientists to highlight the gains to at risk communities of being allowed to access, understand and use science-based information alongside their existing knowledge.

As a result there have been some incredible success stories where scientific data and information have transformed peoples’ understanding and behaviour towards their environment.

At CAFOD we understand the importance of science partnerships and its power to transform poor people’s lives. We have a long standing partnership with University College London (UCL) and are currently exploring the use of hazard exposure models for emergency scenario planning in Cambodia and multi-hazard decision making in the Philippines. In Bolivia we support local scientists and communities to explore the impact of climate change on water resources and design adaption options. In Bangladesh we have brought the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology together with our partner, Caritas Bangladesh, to trial new solar powered water purification systems for people living in areas where their only source of drinking water is salt water.

Enabling vulnerable communities to understand and take ownership of external information is vital for the sustainability of risk reduction initiatives. Scientific data, information and knowledge should not be kept, locked away within complex and impenetrable databases; instead this information should be shared freely and applied by those who need it the most.

In the Philippines, Christian Aid and their partners have worked together on the Big River Rising project to help extremely vulnerable people living along a major river system in Manila build a strong relationship with local scientists. Through this partnership they have trained local people to be flood monitors, designed a local early warning system and evacuation plans.

In another example of integrating science into resilience building Concern Worldwide have partnered with the University of Greenwich’s Natural Resource Institute to better understand farmers’ perceptions of climate change in Sierra Leone and are currently working with scientists from the University of Ulster to better understand and prepare for earthquake aftershocks.

Linking communities and practitioners with scientists has not always been easy and despite the above success stories there is still a long way to go towards fully integrating scientific knowledge into humanitarian and development efforts. The first step is to de-mystify science and allow our own colleagues to understand and apply different sources of information within their work and that of our partners in the world’s poorest countries.

These new guidelines take a bold step forwards in communicating the use of science, the opportunities and pitfalls. With the support of ‘science champions’ within NGOs, research institutes and donors the use of science for resilience building will continue to help the poorest and most vulnerable people of the world.

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