Urban ARK – Mark Pelling leads new grant in Geography at King’s

The Urban Africa Risk Knowledge (Urban ARK) programme seeks to open up an applied research and policy agenda for risk management in Urban Africa. With £3.3m in support from DFID-ESRC this three year programme of work highlights urbanization processes that generate human vulnerability and exposure to hazard, as well as examples of capacity building and learning. Field work will be undertaken in sub-Sarahan Africa including Niamey (Niger), Dakar (Senagal), Nairobi and Mombasa (Kenya), Karonga (Malawi) and Ibadan (Nigeria). We focus on those at risk, especially in low-income and often informal or illegal settlements, but also on large scale planed urbanization projects and how these reshape the social and environmental geographies of cities and consequent risk profiles.  Disaster risk is our primary focus but we understand that from the perspective of those at risk avoiding – or suffering from – harm risks are multiple and we will contextualise our work on natural hazards alongside work on social and political violence and public health concerns. Research is a collaboration between city level researchers, international teams and practitioners.

This is the official press release:

Urban Africa: Risk Knowledge (Urban ARK) is a three year programme of research and capacity building that aims to reduce disaster risk in urban sub-Saharan Africa by breaking cycles of risk accumulation. The programme aims to do this by building a community of practice including sub-Saharan, African and international researchers and practitioners that can provide a structured assessment of risk accumulation and reduction dynamics. This will require a detailed understanding of risk to women, men and children in a diverse range of urban contexts in low-income countries in Africa, and of how the nature and scale of these risks are changing in the context of urban growth and change, poverty and climate change. The consortium will work: Dakar (Senegal), Ibadan (Nigeria), Karonga (Malawi), Mombasa (Kenya), Nairobi (Kenya) and Niamey (Niger). The cities offer broad regional coverage (three in West Africa, three in East Africa), a range of city population sizes and in-land and coastal locations. ARUP, UN-HABITAT, Save the Children and International Alert are also consortium members providing access to the cutting edge of practitioner science and for this to be shaped through the research process.

Urban ARK’s research questions are: (1) What is the nature, scale and distribution of risk across the whole spectrum of hazards in urban centres, and what are their inter-linkages? (2) What are the underlying factors driving risk accumulation in the context of urban growth and change, poverty and climate change? (3) What institutional arrangements and good practices in local governance and in urban planning and management are capable of reducing risk and building resilience in this context?

These questions respond to what we know about disaster risk in urban sub-Saharan Africa: that vulnerability and loss is under-reported because of a lack of baseline systematic data collection, but that it is growing as urban populations and assets increase and local environments become more hazardous, and that risk and loss is unevenly distributed. In the dynamic and data poor contexts of cities in much of sub-Saharan Africa it is important to demonstrate a range of potential methodologies to open new possibilities for monitoring risk that can cover everyday, public health through to small and rare, catastrophic events. At the same time the varied decision-making cultures in this region make it important to uncover the historical pathways and decision-points that have determined city form and function, local and city wide capacity and ultimately generated trajectories for risk accumulation or reduction.

Urban ARKs work programmes (WP) provide a structured way through these challenges: WP1 develops four distinct vulnerability, capacity and loss assessment tools with additional work focussing on interactions between violence and conflict with disaster risk in the city to stimulate critical comparative analysis of risk monitoring and assessment tools that are appropriate for the capacities and needs of urban sub-Saharan Africa. WP2 brings physical science and its modelling skills to examine multi-hazard and climate change impacts on urban planning, and to work with urban planners to improve science policy communication. WP3 takes a broad view of urban governance, focussing on historical trajectories in urban development and disaster risk management to uncover underlying root causes that need to be discussed and considered before contemporary development paths can avoid reproducing new risk. WP4 brings this learning together with an action research agenda to work with key actors to better understand and help inform contemporary decision-making and planning for the future. Future planning is core to our mission with two dedicated PhD students, training workshops and visiting fellows as well as an Open Science conference to foster early career researchers in this rapidly growing policy area.

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