Natural Hazards in West and Central Africa (Earth Evolution Sciences)

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General Director : Dr. It aims to carry out research in every domain of the natural heritage and to contribute to its conservation. The research activities concern the fields of botany, ecology, geology-mineralogy, geophysics-astrophysics, palaeontology, population biology, vertebrate and invertebrate zoology. The department is also responsible for the dissemination knowledge about physical environment and natural resources of Central Africa. The main emphasis lies on the study of crustal deformation processes and mechanisms, urban geology, isotopic ratios, global climate variations, supercontinents, the evolution of Proterozoic orogenic belts, and the connection between regional geology and natural resources.

During the last decades, the study of the Earth from space air- and space borne remote sensing has opening many new perspectives in geological and environmental researches. The department has acquired a long experience in remote sensing techniques applied to geology including thematic mapping and radar interferometry InSAR.

Research in this domain largely contributed to active tectonic studies in the East African Rift, to the study of volcanoes in Africa and Philippines and to topographic mapping. Today, the remote sensing expertise of the RMCA is focused on active African volcanoes and their associated hazards. Fedchenko Glacier, Pamir. If you want to join an IGCP project, please contact the project leader. The Programme supports the investigation and scientific exchange in the following themes:.

Nature's Fury: The Science of Natural Disasters

Knowledge on natural resources - including minerals, hydrocarbons, geothermal energy, and water - and their management is the frontline of the struggle for more sustainable and equitable development. The environmentally responsible exploitation of these resources is a challenge for geoscience research.

The progress of technological development is equally bound to this premise. IGCP - Sustainable use of black soil critical zone approved in Changes in the Earth's climate and of life on Earth are preserved in the geologic record. Ice and dust records, terrestrial and ocean sediments, and sequences of fossil plant and animal assemblages all tell the story of our Planet which holds important lessons about present-day environmental challenges and the ways to mitigate and manage environmental damage.

GEOFON Program

The financial burden is not only carried by direct victims but also by friends and relatives providing relief. Blockage of the road network, affecting people and good mobility, is frequently experienced in the days following a LS, as well as the cutting of water pipes supplying larger settlements. Off-site LS impacts, especially related to high sediment loads in rivers, and downstream sediment deposition,, especially in irrigated lands, but also flash floods after a river has been temporary dammed by a LS, are also considered major problems. Locations affected by LS were perceived as non-aesthetic and people affected by them were sometimes stigmatized due to the cultural interpretation of LS events, i.

LS being interpreted as the consequence of misbehaviour of the affected households. Those most affected are generally the most vulnerable inhabitants that were living on marginal lands, i. In Limbe, however, higher social class inhabitants also build large houses on the hills and were therefore also affected by LS.

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Finally, LS events are also seen as an opportunity to raise awareness about LS risk in general among the affected communities. They were then asked to mention which strategies had already been implemented for reducing LS risks, what the problems in the implementation were and what potential alternative strategies they could think of. The design and long-term maintenance of these structural measures was often sub-optimal.


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In order to reduce risks, the Ugandan government for example envisaged massive population displacement from the slopes of Mt Elgon to less steep regions of the country e. Vlaeminck et al.

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However, this plan faces major opposition from the local population and therefore the authorities are looking for alternative solutions M. Kitutu, pers. In the cities of Bamenda and Limbe in Cameroon, stakeholders mentioned the existence of mapped risk zones, which could be used to prevent the construction of houses in LS-prone areas. However, it was difficult or impossible to get access to these maps and the methods by which they were produced was not known.

Quarter heads highlighted that existing land use planning regulations were not enforced and that illegal construction still occurred in high LS risk areas e. Diko, City stakeholders recognized that it was not part of the local culture to destroy illegally-constructed houses. Chiefs complained that no alternative land or housing was proposed to inhabitants that were forced to leave high risk zones, causing them to stay or to return later on when the hazard ebbs.

Living in an illegal settlement was, however, used as an argument by the authorities not to provide support to LS-affected households. Tree planting or seedling distribution actions were implemented in the Rwenzori and the Limbe regions by several NGOs.

Contrary to the common expression, lightning can and often does strike the same place twice.

Quarter heads in Limbe however mentioned a lack of involvement of the local population in the selection of tree species and implementation of the actions, which led to poor maintenance and the rapid decline of the plantations. This might induce a change in construction practices, such as the avoidance of cutting into unstable slopes for house construction, but might also foster the recognition of precursory evidence of ground instability e. This included the establishment of disaster management committees at the local to provincial or district scale. Although the policy frameworks of Cameroon and Uganda foresee the setting up of such committees, their effective role is questioned by the lack of means to implement risk reduction actions and provide significant support to LS victims.

In case of a large disaster, these local committees would mostly serve as intermediaries in any call for assistance from national authorities.

Financial and material support from outside the community, provided by the national government or non-governmental organizations, were often seen as the main strategies to relieve LS impacts. Sensitization was already carried out at community level, using music or theatre plays as support to communicate about LS hazards and risk reduction strategies. Although such financial compensation took place in several cases, the compensation was not always based on a systematic and fair identification of victims and assessment of damage. The lack of legal rights of the victims on the impacted land was used as an argument to refuse compensation.

The alternative housing provided was often insufficient or not adapted to local needs. The establishment of roads and bridges in safe locations or with implemented slope-stabilizing measures would reduce the chance of LS impact on the transport network. Changing the construction technology could also reduce the occurrence of LS or reduce their impacts.

Such actions were however not systematically promoted nor implemented due to the fact that LS impacts were not a political priority and due to a lack of financial means and technical expertise. The perception of local stakeholders about LS origin agrees with the literature Claessens et al. This observation is in line with landslide research performed in other landslide-prone developing regions, e. Malaysia Motoyama and Abdullah, , St. Lucia Anderson et al.

LS can have significant impacts, even if they do not lead to disasters with large numbers of casualties. Local stakeholders stress the long-term and indirect impacts of LS on the livelihood of local communities.

The bangs, crackles and hums of Earth's seismic orchestra

This is in line with previous studies stressing the long-lasting consequences of risks in developing countries Dercon, Beyond these descriptive accounts, there is a need to develop methodologies to assess quantitatively the total impacts, in order to value the impacts relative to investments required by adaptation strategies e. Klose et al. To a certain extent quantitative assessment of disaster impacts have been attempted for other disasters, such as floods, in developing countries, but not for landslides e.

Arouri et al. This indicates that risk reduction includes measures that can help reduce the probability of the hazard, the exposure of the elements at risk or the vulnerability of the affected people, but that some measures might actually contribute to several of these processes. Planting trees, for example, could reduce the hazard by stabilizing the slope Petrone and Preti, , but could also reduce LS runout distance Vaciago, , therefore reducing exposure, as well as provide a complementary and less vulnerable source of income to local inhabitants.

Local leaders highlighted that any specific action should be supported by long-term awareness raising and education actions among the local population to gain community-support for the implemented measures. A policy framework that supports the implementation of these actions, and which is properly enforced, is essential for the large scale and long-term implementation of LS risk reduction strategies. The process leading to the implementation of LS risk reduction strategies is a complex one and is limited by cultural, knowledge, and financial aspects see also Wisner et al.

Figure 4. Classification scheme of different landslide risk reduction strategies. Adapted from Vaciago et al. So far, LS risk reduction strategies are mainly limited to poorly-coordinated rescue and recovery actions after LS events, although some actions are taken for afforestation, improvement of drainage and raising awareness. Financial compensation, alternative housing and post-event stabilization measures are implemented in a non-systematic manner, and access to this help is affected by large inequalities in political power and social status which is not uncommon in a disaster-prone Global South context Collins, An analogy can be drawn between these observations and what has been observed on the implementation and adoption of measures for the prevention of soil erosion in developing countries Blaikie, These are both necessary first steps, which are needed to gain local support and build local capacities to translate the current national policies and plans into effective measures.

This activity needs to be supported by a proper evaluation of the impacts of LS and the cost-benefit evaluation of risk reduction measures, as LS are often only one of the many pressing issues within these communities. Nevertheless, we acknowledge the fact that any research is a politicized process Scott, Critical reflection on the different factors that influence discussions, like the positionalities of researcher and researched, is needed but strikingly lacking within the literature Hopkins, We are aware of the fact that often stakeholders viewed the AfReSlide project as a potential funding source.

It is therefore crucial to analyse the data bearing in mind this context. Due to the limited available data and literature on LS risk management in Equatorial Africa, the design of such a project rely on fragmentary information available in scientific and grey literature, personal contacts with local scientists and field experiences. The workshops organized in the first year of the project enabled us to have much better insights into the type, spatial distribution and frequency of LS in the project study regions.

In the Rwenzori, it contributed to the identification of three specific case study areas for which a detailed inventory of LS events and impacts is being conducted, allowing to constrain susceptibility, hazard and risk maps. In North West Cameroon, the workshop provided evidence that the Bamenda urban environment was not a priority target for research on LS risk and led to the re-orientation of the research to the nearby Bamboutos caldera, a rural area with intensive agricultural production, frequently hit by LS during the last 15 years.

The presentation of the project and the relationships established with the stakeholders during these workshops will facilitate further research aiming at evaluating the function and relationships between these different institutions and the efficiency of their action using social approaches such as focus groups. In Cameroon, the workshops evidenced that a risk zonation policy is already available and seemingly implemented at local level.

This led to the definition of more specific research questions regarding the level of implementation of these land use policies and their implication for socially vulnerable populations. LS risk is intimately connected to the relationship between the population, their land and their perception of hazardous events. AfR e Slide will aim at integrating the findings of the hazard, impact and risk reduction analyses into risk mapping and the identification of the most suitable risk reduction strategies.

Through a multi-criteria analysis based on cost-benefit and community ranking assessments of the potential risk reduction strategies, taking into account the cultural context, AfR e Slide ambitions to provide recommendations on the most effective strategies. In addition, the implementation of these recommendations will not be directly supported by financial means nor supervised by the AfR e Slide scientists. This will ensure long-term and large scale impacts of the research results and could serve local policy makers to apply for financial support.

Assessing the actual implementation and the effectiveness of these mitigation measures would be important directions for future inter-disciplinary research. People encroach on steep slopes and clear forest to get access to land for building their houses and generating a livelihood through agriculture. These anthropogenic factors greatly contribute to the occurrence of LS with devastating impacts on people and their livelihoods Che et al.

Therefore, to arrive at a sustainable development of the area, one absolutely needs to minimize or avoid LS-related damage. An effective LS hazard assessment system is required that accounts for not only the spatial and temporal distribution of future LS but also their intensity, that permits the quantitative estimation of the socio-economic consequences of LS and identifies effective risk reduction strategies, which are cost-effective, technically effective, culturally acceptable and adapted to the livelihoods of the vulnerable populations.