The first international two-day Summer University on Disaster Risk Management was held in Khorog, the capital of the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region (GBAO) last month.

According to press release issued by the University of Central Asia (UCA), the Summer University was organized by UCA’s Mountain Societies Research Institute (MSRI), and jointly conducted with the University of Bern in Switzerland, the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences Vienna and the Aga Khan Agency for Habitat (AKAH).

The event was reportedly funded by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) under its Creating Opportunities in a Safe Environment development project, aimed at fostering self-sustaining and resilient communities in the Pamirs.

The Khorog Summer University “has brought together several different disciplinary perspectives, including assessing the impact of climate change, and new risks,” said Dir. Margreth Keiler, Associate Professor of Geomorphology, Natural Hazard and Risk Research from the Institute of Geography at the University of Bern.

She was in Tajikistan to teach some of the Summer University courses, including hazard assessments, hazard mapping, and new approaches to hazard management, which can contribute to sustainable development of mountain societies in this region.

The Summer University aims to embed disaster risk management within development planning.  It also offers both scientific and practical skills in disaster risk management and a sound technical, conceptual and comprehensive understanding of disaster risk and mountain hazards.

Twenty-seven participants from Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, India and Europe attended the Summer University.  They are from academic and technical backgrounds, and some work at government institutions in Central Asia, including Tajik Hydromet, the Department of Geology, and the Committee for Emergency Situations and Civil Defense of Tajikistan.

With a strong emphasis on field work, the Summer University curriculum also includes a case study on the Barsem debris flow which took place in GBAO in 2015.  Additional themes include climate change, vulnerability, exposure and risk, multi-hazard and community-based risk management, risk-informed development, and eco-system based approaches.

To ensure the link between development planning and sustainable development, the Summer University was followed by a Policy Forum, where the findings of the Summer University were presented and discussed with senior representatives from relevant ministries of the Government of Tajikistan.

The Summer University combines Switzerland’s’ internationally renowned expertise in disaster risk reduction, the Aga Khan Agency for Habitat’s 15 years of experience working on hazard assessment and disaster preparedness in the mountainous communities of Central Asia, with the University of Bern’s academic expertise in disaster risk reduction and hazard mapping.  In-depth applied research and technical knowledge of Khorog and the surrounding areas is being provided by UCA’s Mountain Societies Research Institute.  The Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) facilitated this collaboration, as Disaster Risk Management is an integral part of SDC’s working methodology.  Each project in a country at risk is evaluated to determine how vulnerable it is to potential disasters, and activities are planned to mitigate identified risks. The SDC aims to integrate disaster risk management into development.