British civil engineers are being called upon to develop overseas training initiatives or deliver guidance in times of trouble. And courses teaching skilled professionals the rudiments of humanitarian assistance are proving a big hit. Mike Walter reports.
Many consultants based in Britain are providing training to engineers in developing countries so that civil and structural projects can be suitably delivered and maintained for the benefit of future generations. Training is also an important factor in helping to rebuild communities following a natural or manmade disaster, educating local professionals in suitable rebuilding strategies after earthquakes, floods and war have taken their toll.
Richard Levett of Scott Wilson has just returned from Vietnam where he project managed a five month, full time training programme for the Vietnamese government's ministry of transport.
The 'Retraining for roads professionals' programme was based around courses delivering the latest thinking in road design, thin surfacing materials, bridges and tunnels.
Levett led a team of 21 professionals and engineers to the city of Hanoi. The team included a professor from Nottingham University and representatives from the highway research body TRL, Scott Wilson Pavement Engineering and US consultant Booz Allen & Hamilton. The courses were presented in both English and Vietnamese and were attended by more than 400 highways managers, staff and supervisors.
'We provided interactive training with slides and overhead projectors, ' said Levett. 'Vietnamese engineers are more used to 'chalk and talk' based lectures and we were initially advised that our style would not work. But we persevered with what we believed would be a good approach and they took to it well.
'Vietnam is investing heavily in roads and bridges and the objective of our training was to help its engineers better implement their projects, ' he added.
In Egypt, Mott MacDonald is working with the country's ministry of water services and irrigation to deliver training and provide teaching material for around 1,000 technical staff involved in design, construction and maintenance.
Mott MacDonald's director of water and environment, Jim Perry says: 'We call these schemes 'capacity strengthening projects'. We provide an advisory role, train professionals who will be trainers themselves and provide course material.'
Consultants working overseas to help rebuild communities following a natural disaster include Babtie, which is currently in the Indian state of Gujarat, devastated by a massive earthquake last January. A 12 strong team is helping to devise disaster management and earthquake design strategies and provide seismic advice to government officials, local engineers and builders.
Babtie Group chief earthquake engineer Alan Stewart says: 'India has a number of highly skilled seismic engineers but there are simply not enough to serve the huge population. A key element of our project is to advise and empower local professionals.'
Part of the training, says Stewart, is to help local engineers develop policies for building earthquake resistant structures and understand how to deal with different types of buildings.
Another firm working closely with local engineers to pass on skills and disseminate knowledge is the International Management Consultancy arm of consultant WSP. Director Albie Hope says that teams working to construct hurricane proof structures in the Bahamas and Bangladesh must involve local people in any decision making.
'If you start imposing ideas on people without listening to their views, there is only a slim chance that projects will become truly sustainable once they take ownership of them, ' he says.
John Bally of Montgomery Watson Harza, which provides water and wastewater solutions overseas, adds: 'It is very important to make sure local people understand how to operate any new system and we provide them with training to make sure that a system does not deteriorate once we leave.'
Professionals working overseas, especially in countries ravaged by war, must not only help others but help themselves by remaining secure in hostile areas. Disaster relief agency RedR, for instance, has established security management workshops for engineers working in countries including Kosovo, Rwanda and Columbia.
New courses set up by universities for professionals working in disaster areas include a diploma in humanitarian assistance launched this May by the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine. The six week course is designed for students from a variety of backgrounds who wish to broaden their understanding.
An established and popular course in the field of international assistance is the one year full time MSc in development practices at Oxford Brookes University. The course, which can also be studied to graduate diploma level, enhances students' knowledge of community development, global politics and law and is designed to give them an understanding of the built environment so they can help mitigate risk, safeguard health and build communities.
INFOPLUS www. redr. org. uk www. liv. ac. uk/lstm/dha www. brookes. ac. uk/courses/ 2002/pgcorses/msc_gdip_ develprac. html