The ACC is part of a new international programme of interdisciplinary research which aims to reduce disaster risk in urban sub-Saharan Africa.

The Urban Africa Risk Knowledge project (UrbanARK) is a three-year programme awarded £3.3 million of funding from the UK’s Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and Department for International Development (DfID).

UrbanARK will work in Dakar (Senegal), Ibadan (Nigeria), Karonga (Malawi), Mombasa and Nairobi (Kenya) and Niamey (Niger) to better understand the nature and scale of disaster risks in urban centres. By studying the interaction of environmental hazards – such as earthquakes and temperature extremes – in areas with poor housing and marginalised communities, the research aims to break the cycles by which vulnerability and incapacity to cope with hazards accrue in society.

Led by Professor Mark Pelling of King’s College London, the research also engages the private sector and will work with community organisations and local research partners. The project brings together academics, the private sector and practitioners, and aims to make recommendations for managing and reducing risk in these challenging urban environments. Urban planners, developers and humanitarian agencies will work closely with people at risk, and will enable a research process that can highlight disaster risk drivers embedded in contemporary and emerging development trajectories – and allow the consideration of alternatives to break cycles of risk accumulation.

The project is funded as part of the ESRC-DFID Poverty Alleviation Programme. This suite of work aims to provide a more robust basis for international development and enhance the quality the quality impact of social science research on poverty reduction. By funding academics investigating critical but relatively under-researched themes, it is hoped that UrbanARK and other ESRC-DfID projects (such as the ACC-led project on urban food systems) will each form a hub of research excellence, driving forward innovations in theory and making a significant social impact.

UrbanARK links African and international experts in hazards and climate modelling, social history, urban planning and governance, epidemiology and urban loss assessment. Local workshops and science meetings will open the programme to wide participation. The project runs from January 2015.

UrbanARK’s Africa-based researchers are from the African Population and Health Research Centre, University of Ibadan, Mzuzu University, Université Abdou Moumouni, and the University of Cape Town. Practitioners in the project are ARUP, International Alert, Save the Children and UN-HABITAT. The international research partners are King’s College London, the Development Planning Unit at University College London, and the International Institute for Environment and Development.