standard PhD Fellowship to Investigate Community Resilience to Natural Hazards

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Hanna Ruszczyk in Nepal.

Durham postgraduate researcher Hanna Ruszczyk has been awarded a PhD fellowship for her research on community resilience and earthquakes.

Hanna’s postgraduate award has been made possible thanks to a generous gift from a Durham alumnus. Hanna’s research, will investigate the role of resilience in disaster risk reduction. She will study how resilience strategies can be operationalised within urban communities vulnerable to seismic hazards in Nepal and Bihar, India. Her PhD programme is based in the Department of Geography, linked to IHRR and is supervised by Dr Katie Oven and Dr Colin MacFarlane.

For her PhD, Ruszczyk is making a comparative analysis between Nepal and Bihar, which will investigate how to build individual and community level capacity for resilience. Both have their own particular strengths and weaknesses when it comes to adapting and building resilience to natural hazards. ‘I’m looking at how they can learn from each other’, said Ruszczyk. ‘There is a clear social element of resilience, but what are the most important components of resilience to be aware of?’, she asks.

Resilience is currently defined in many different ways by practitioners, but coming to a consensus about what resilience actually is could assist the communities they work with. ‘Practitioners have a sophisticated understanding of resilience, but in some cases may be too close to their work to give an adequate assessment’, said Ruszczyk.

One of the reasons for defining resilience is that without a solid definition attuned with the work of practitioners and the daily lives of people afflicted by hazards, the concept could fade into the background without making much of an impact on the ground. Ruszczyk ‘s research will analyse and attempt to put into practice community resilience in order to see if it has a wider application within urban settings. She will be working closely with members of the Earthquakes without Frontiers Nepal/India team which includes Dr Katie Oven, Professor Alex Densmore and Professor David Petley (Durham University), Samantha Jones (Northumbria University) and Harry Jones (Overseas Development Institute).

Ruszczyk has worked as project manager for two UN agencies, the United Nations Development Programme and the International Labour Organization. She then completed a Masters by Research at Durham University through a study of local understandings of resilience in Nepal. She will present this work to NGO practitioners in disaster risk reduction at a special symposium in December in Kathmandu on community based disaster risk reduction and management resilience. This knowledge exchange will help her to develop her approach to resilience and extend the network of partners who she plans to work with for her PhD research.

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