The 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami which killed over 240,000 people was unprecedented in the extent and depth of its destruction. It was the magnitude of this disaster that emboldened United Nations (UN) officials working in Indonesia’s Aceh Province to forgo the divisions defined by various agencies (UN Environmental Programme focusing on all things environmental and UNICEF dealing exclusively with issues around children) to invent a “sector” approach on the fly, which considered issues like Water, Sanitation and Health (WASH) as best solved by agencies working in concert – for example, the UN Development working with UN Environment and the Children’s Fund to consider how best to create biofilters for a new school’s water supply. Recognizing the expertise in different sectors and bringing them together with the community to solve a problem exemplifies the approach taken by the PlanetLab.
Since the 2004 tsunami, we have been working on understanding how disasters expose vulnerable systems and how communities exhibit resilience in the aftermath of an impact by undertaking inter- and transdisciplinary post-disaster reconnaissance work. Projects included looking into the role of indigenous knowledge in saving lives after tsunami in Sumatra (2004) and the Solomon Islands (2008), the role of post-colonial history in sculpting a deadly landscape in Haiti exposed by the 2010 earthquake there, and how roads that are meant to help communities may actually increase risk during an increasingly erratic Himalayan monsoon. The common thread that intersects each of these projects is how humans impact landscapes that in turn affect their ability to survive in the face of disaster.
We are currently working on the following projects:
- Rainforest conservation, accessible healthcare and citizen science in Borneo (McAdoo, Hsu and Orozco).
- Natural disaster trends and disease burden (esp. mental health) in the Himalaya (Aaliya).
- Decolonizing development work by way of Radical Listening (Almakky).
- Environmental change and healthcare costs in SE Asia (McAdoo and Mendenhall, AccessHealth).
- Air quality, road construction and art degradation in Nepal- (McAdoo, Prox, Bergin and Schilling, Yale).
- Lemur and human population interactions due to global change (Paietta and Prox).