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Send senior engineers to help Vanuatu, urges ICE chief

ICE president David Balmforth has urged companies to put forward senior engineers to help with the response to the cyclone in Vanuatu.

Balmforth said firms should be acting to help organisations such as engineering charity RedR with the relief effort in disaster zones.

Infrastructure has been devastated across the Pacific islands that make up Vanuatu after they were hit by winds of up to 300km/h on Friday 13 March.

“When the president [of Vanuatu] is asking for international help, that is something we should respond to,” said Balmforth.

“RedR focuses on how to get engineering expertise into relief efforts and we can support organisations like this a little bit more.

“Often younger engineers are put up but could companies do more to make more experienced engineers available?”

Three engineers trained by charity RedR’s Australian branch had travelled to the Pacific disaster zone by Monday to provide help with the immediate recovery effort, and more were expected to follow.

RedR lecturer in post-disaster reconstruction Maggie Stephenson told NCE helping local people create emergency back-up systems was a critical part of the longer-term response.

“We need to help people prepare for next time a disaster strikes,” she said. “They need reserve water supplies, for example, to help them create resilience.”

Balmforth said storms such as Cyclone Pam would become ever more frequent and could affect developed countries as well as poorer ones.

“We are moving into a new era of weather, with the effects of climate change, and the extremes of the past will become the norm in the future,” he warned.

“Vanuatu has basic systems because it can’t afford better infrastructure. It is a vicious cycle and the question is how we help countries afford to spend money on the infrastructure that will help lift them out of poverty.

“We need to see better connectivity between civil engineers and the banks, and also a greater focus on how we can build physically stronger infrastructure without increasing cost.”

Engineers need to think more clearly about how to build independent infrastructure to minimise the effect of extreme events on communities, Balmforth said.

“We need block points in the chain of cascading failure,” he said. “We are not good at answering the ‘what if’ questions.”

The ICE last year launched its Shaping the World fund, which aims to bring together the best civil engineering minds across the globe to help alleviate the effects of challenges such as population growth and climate change.

The goal is to ensure future infrastructure is resilient, adaptable and available to all, through a number of projects themed around knowledge, influence, professionalism and inspiration.

Balmforth said this week: “We are working in 200 medium sized cities around the world on how we can support them to start to develop resilient infrastructure in a low carbon way. These are the long-term challenges.”

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