“Advancing Disaster Risk Reduction to Enhance Sustainable Development in a Changing World” – this was the ambitious title of a two-week intensive summer course that our PhD candidate Sabrina Scherzer attended this June. Organized and hosted by the United Nations University’s Institute of Environment and Human Security (UNU-EHS), it was planned to coincide with the UN Climate Change Conference in Bonn. Participants had thus the chance to benefit from both: a tight, extensive programme during the day and the opportunity to follow the international climate negotiations in the evenings and during the weekend.

The course programme covered topics ranging from vulnerability and climate change migration to ecosystem services for disaster risk reduction, e-waste, and emergency response, and included theoretical and practical aspects. The lectures, exercises, and discussions were facilitated by UNU researchers and representatives of international organisations, such as UNISDR and ICCCAD.

A hazard simulation field exercise was one of the highlights of the course. The 20 participants, practitioners and PhD researchers from 14 different countries, were divided into four teams to address the potential disastrous effects of a major (imaginary) flood in the Bonn area. Outfitted with official UNU-EHS vests (as seen in the picture) and GPS handhelds, the teams spent the better part of a day mapping the area, identifying critical infrastructure, assessing damages and providing emergency services. What became apparent even during this short exercise is that good communication, knowledge exchange, and cooperation are essential for effective disaster response. If the participants were to take away only this insight, the course could already be deemed a success. However, there was much to be gained from this course: a fresh perspective on disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation, an expanding network, and new friends.