Research News

UNEP Visiting Scholar Brings Post-Conflict & Disaster Management Expertise to the Earth Institute

2010-02-04

The Earth Institute, Columbia University, is pleased to welcome Maliza van Eeden as a visiting scholar from February 8-18, 2010 through a partnership formed in 2007 between the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)’s Post-Conflict and Disaster Management Branch (PCDMB) and the Earth Institute. The purpose of the partnership is to increase exchanges and enhance research and field-level cooperation.

Van Eeden has been working for UNEP’s Post-Conflict & Disaster Management Branch since 2005 and is a South African trained lawyer. Within UNEP she initially worked at the policy level on the integration of environmental issues in UN inter-agency processes, with her focus later shifting to project implementation. She was part of the UNEP team that conducted a post-conflict environmental assessment in Lebanon, following the conflict between Hezbollah and Israel in 2006. She also has experience on disaster risk reduction, including the evaluation of UNEP’s post-tsunami reconstruction projects in South East Asia. She is currently the project coordinator for UNEP and the Secretariat for the Basel Convention’s joint project on hazardous waste management in Côte d’Ivoire, developed in response to the dumping of hazardous waste in Abidjan in 2006.

The UNEP/Earth Institute partnership has already resulted in several substantive projects, including curriculum development at the Earth Institute, summer internships for Columbia students, policy workshops and the development of guidance material. The most visible product of the partnership so far is the collaboration between the Earth Institute and UNEP on the Haiti Regeneration Initiative where Earth Institute scientists have taken a lead role in technical studies, program concept design, and communications for the envisioned 20-year ecosystem restoration project. The devastating January 2010 Haiti seismic events have created further strain on the already fragile environment, which will no doubt lead to new focal points for the projects, as well as additional potential collaborations. 

To date, the partnership objectives can be summarized as follows:

  • Strengthening the theoretical foundations of UNEP’s work on the environmental dimensions of disaster and conflict risk assessment and reduction, emergency response, recovery, and peace-building.
  • Expanding the Earth Institute’s international presence and institutional linkages to the global public service combined with identifying areas for conducting policy relevant-research.
  • Cross-fertilization between environmental academics and field-level practitioners through mutually beneficial training, teaching and research opportunities.
  • Jointly identifying, disseminating and applying best practice in environmental management.
  • Exploring options for producing comprehensive risk assessments bringing together information on natural disasters, conflict, and political instability.
  • Exploring innovative mechanisms for making data on conflict and disaster risk available to decision-makers.

During van Eeden’s visit there will be opportunities for her to meet with various Earth Institute departments (at the Morningside campus and the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory) with the objective to:

  1. Gain a comprehensive overview of all Earth Institute expertise, existing projects and research, and identify areas of work relevant to PCDMB mission,
  2. introduce PCDMB and its fields of operation to EI departments and
  3. identify additional areas for collaboration.

As part of this first visiting scholar in this exchange effort, the Earth Institute administration would like to give provide the opportunity to observe selected classes – not only for personal enrichment, but also to advise PCDMB on courses, programs and academic events of interest. Following her mission, it is planned that visiting PCDMB experts will become a more frequent occurrence at Columbia. Likewise, PCDMB is prepared to bring Earth Institute experts and scholars to Geneva or other offices for their enrichment and participation in select research. Both the Earth Institute and PCDMB have appointed focal points to facilitate partnership exchanges. Columbia faculty and staff interested in learning more about the partnership or in meeting with van Eeden should contact Louise Rosen, director of the Earth Institute Office of Academic and Research Programs, at lrosen@ei.columbia.edu.

Graduate and undergraduate students interested in potential internship opportunities through the UNEP in Geneva should contact Monika Kowalczykowski of the Office of Academic and Research Programs, at monika@ei.columbia.edu.