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Global Sustainable Development Research in Response to the Coronavirus Pandemic: supporting the vulnerable communities with whom we work

We are living extraordinary times, in which many of us are facing unprecedented challenges and adjustments in our personal lives and work practices. The current pandemic crisis, which now covers a large part of the world, is exposing existing inequalities and an unsustainable state of affairs. The poor and most vulnerable are being disproportionately hit by the multifarious effects of this crisis, which range from mental and physical health issues to socioeconomic impacts in livelihoods.
At IGSD, we are committed to helping our community of collaborators and friends in vulnerable communities around the world to respond to the current crisis. The majority of the ongoing research projects undertaken by our team are co-produced with low-income neighbourhoods housing vulnerable communities around the world (e.g. Bangladesh, Brazil, Colombia, Kenya, Nigeria, Pakistan). While the research in some projects has up to now focused on building resilience to natural hazards such as flooding and landslides, our research teams are acutely aware of the wider impacts that the COVID-19 crisis is having on our community collaborators. Informal employment does not provide a financial buffer, employment security or the option to work from home. Social distancing means for many that the income of already marginalised urban residents has come to an abrupt halt. This is added to health risks that come from the exposure to environmental hazards, for instance due to lack of access to clean water, improved sanitation and adequate housing.
As an institute, we are exploring ways that the sustainable development research community at Warwick can respond to the crisis through our research. A key area we are able to help is through supporting the self-organisation of the communities by enabling the production of citizen-generated data and maps, which can be used to assist community mobilisation and improve decision-making in response to the crisis. Below, we wanted to share with you some of the actions our research teams have been supporting in the past month.
We are also keen to hear about, learn from the experience of, and work with other researchers in Warwick’s global sustainable development community seeking to use their projects to provide support during this time of crisis. It is clear that the wide-ranging consequences of the current pandemic crisis offer an opportunity to think of how to respond to the current emergency situations whilst also attempting to “build back better” and reform the existing unsustainable underpinnings of our societies towards a new sustainable development agenda.
Please get in touch with us if you would like to help us support our partner communities or join our collaborative research efforts (further details below).
I hope you keep well and safe, with best regards


Professor João Porto de Albuquerque, Director of IGSD

URBE Latam Waterproofing Data NIHR

GCRF URBE Latam (Brazil and Colombia): Understanding Risks and Building Enhanced Capabilities in Latin American Cities

The community groups in the two partner neighbourhoods in Rio de Janeiro (Brazil) and Medellín (Colombia) of our GCRF-funded project URBE Latam have started initiatives to help the most vulnerable and respond to the crisis. URBE Latam researchers from our partners at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ) have supported the residents of the Morro do Preventório community in Rio de Janeiro to organise a “Resilience and Solidarity Forum”, with participation of community leaders, academics and NGOs. Our researchers have supported the community leaders of the Preventório Community Bank to adapt web-based tools to collect data about the most vulnerable people in their neighbourhood. This enabled them to organise volunteers and community leaders to receive donations, purchase food from small farmers/local shops, and assemble food parcels that are distributed to the community members in most need. This successful action was expanded to assist vulnerable people in neighbouring favelas (Jurujuba and Jacaré) and is making a difference in the lives of more than 400 families in our partner communities in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro. To support this initiative, we are promoting fundraising on behalf of the Community Bank Preventório and collecting donations through this website ( or paypal ( - your contribution will certainly be welcomed. The paypal link is for donations in GBP. It was impossible to set up international donations to the main account, so João has set this up and will forward on any donations to the intended recipients.

Together with community and municipal stakeholders as well as volunteer mappers around the world, URBE Latam is also supporting these initiatives in the co-prodution of base maps of the neighbourhoods for resilience mapping, using the OpenStreetMap platform. These collaborative maps of the “Wikipedia of maps” OpenStreetMap, can be generated in times of social distancing based on the remote digitisation of items visible in the satellite imagery (e.g. roads, building structures) by remote teams in collaboration with local researchers. These maps are of particular importance for the informal settlements we work with, since they are not represented in official maps. The newly generated base map will be used by our partner community leaders to coordinate the logistics of the response to the crisis, including for instance allocating volunteers to specific parts of the neighbourhood to assist the most vulnerable.
Furthermore, our co-production approach aims for the jointly developed methodologies and data produced to be owned by the communities, and thus empower the residents to have an equitable dialogue with institutional stakeholders beyond the COVID-19 crisis.

Belmont Forum/GCRF Waterproofing Data (Brazil): Engaging stakeholders in sustainable flood risk governance for urban resilience

Our researchers are building upon the contacts established during the project with community leaders, schools and universities in the cities of São Paulo and Rio Branco, trying to understand their needs and maximise the level of support provided to increase resilience in the local community and encourage self-organisation. In Rio Branco, we are working with local partners of the Federal University of Acre (UFAC) to support the co-production of base maps using OpenStreetMap. In São Paulo, we are in conversation with the community leaders of our partners in the M’Boi Mirim neighbourhood to support them in the organisation of assistance to the most vulnerable through the maps we generated with local school students. We hope that these actions will support community leaders to identify the most vulnerable members of the community and produce additional geospatial data to develop more granular vulnerability maps.

NIHR funded Global Health Research Unit on Improving Health in Slums project

In the Work Package led by IGSD in this large-scale project, we have undertaken systematic efforts in the past two years with our partner communities in eight slums in Bangladesh, Kenya, Pakistan and Nigeria to co-produce a map of the informal settlement structures and healthcare facilities. Now, the project team is undertaking stakeholder engagement (led by Professor Francis Griffiths/WMS) to understand the actions in preparation and response to the pandemic crisis, as well as how our research results could support those efforts. We are preparing our collected data to document areas of vulnerability and hope that our maps can be used to ensure equitable access to healthcare and distribution of urgent resources in the communities where we work. We will also upload the public data on building structures, road infrastructure and healthcare facilities to the OpenStreetMap platform, so that it can help inform various levels of strategic planning towards response to COVID-19 pandemic in these areas.