In the face of a hurricane: UNU-EHS graduate on standby for Dorian response

  • 2019•09•06     Dutch Caribbean

    © NASA

    Former UNU-EHS’s Joint Master’s Programme student Lena Huhn is currently taking part in a large-scale simulation exercise in the Caribbean, organized by the International Disaster Management Exercise (IDMEX) Consortium and featuring the United Nations, the European Union, and the Dutch Navy. The main goal of this scenario-based joint exercise is to collaborate towards better disaster preparedness in the Dutch Caribbean, which is facing an uncertain climate future.

    But now this simulation may become reality, with Hurricane Dorian devastating the Bahamas and threatening the US coastline. All participants of the exercise, most of them with comprehensive experiences in international disaster management, are on standby to support real emergency response activities. Lena Huhn, a Disaster Risk Management Advisor at Prepared International (PPI), one of the Consortium partners, will continue to report from the Caribbean area and provide first-hand information regarding the impact of hurricane Dorian in the region and from the simulation exercise. “We observe changes in the frequency and magnitude of weather-related disasters and disaster response mechanisms, as well as the humanitarian relief that supports them, which need to be as agile and fit as possible to act in this new climate reality. Hurricane Dorian and the path of destruction he left behind exemplifies this new climate reality.”

    The participants of the Caribbean Coast exercise will be facing this particular context in the next two weeks and be challenged to facilitate an effective response to a fictive scenario: A volcanic eruption on the island of Saba has caused severe damage on the island, and a subsequent tsunami has had mass impacts throughout the region. Harbors and airfields are out of service after the impact and the news only reach the media today. International reporting on the situation has been initiated. The Government of the Netherlands is assessing the possibility of deploying assistance to the local response authorities.

    The knowledge and experiences gained from her studies at UNU-EHS has trained Lena well for such activities. The Master’s Programme at UNU-EHS prepares the students for roles such as Lena’s, with field exercises and site excursions, in addition to classroom lectures. “The Joint Master’s Programme has provided a valuable foundation of both knowledge and skills, on which I was able to build since my graduation. It has taught me the importance of bridging disciplinary gaps and shown best practices of how to conjoin academia and the operational reality of humanitarian relief. Both elements are essential in order to face current and future developments and dynamics of disaster scenarios, with climate change leading to a new reality of natural extreme events.”

    “We are of course very proud to see the successful careers of our Joint MSc. students and we appreciate that our Master’s Programme motivates a number of our students to engage within the international humanitarian relief sector,” says Prof. Joerg Szarzynski, former Academic Director of the Joint Master Programme at UNU-EHS, who was Lena’s supervisor.

    The International Joint Master’s Programme in “Geography of Environmental Risks and Human Security” is jointly offered by UNU-EHS and the Department of Geography at the University of Bonn.