UArizona researchers expand humanitarian and resilience efforts with grants from USAID

Men walking down a street in Bangladesh

Tim Finan walks the streets of Bangladesh, one of the places where UArizona researchers are helping USAID develop methods to measure the effectiveness of the federal agency's disaster and humanitarian assistance programs.

Zack Guido

University of Arizona researchers with the Arizona Initiative for Resilience and Development are undertaking three projects with international impact thanks to grants from the United States Agency for International Development, or USAID.

The Arizona Initiative for Resilience and Development, or AIRID, connects university researchers with communities, countries and other research partners to develop solutions and build resilience to global stresses such as climate change, COVID-19, and the rising cost of food and fertilizer due to the war in Ukraine, to name a few.

With the funding from USAID, AIRID researchers will further their research and outreach goals through deepened collaboration with partners and communities across the globe.

"This is a critical moment when scholars need to get engaged because the urgency of crises that are happening around the world," said Gregory Collins, associate vice president for resilience and international development and a research professor in the Arizona Institute for Resilient Environments and Societies, or AIRES. "This is a huge step forward across three different grants to get our university community more deeply engaged with policymakers in these countries, with foreign policymakers in the U.S. government and, critically, with communities and local researchers."

"These three new USAID awards are important in that we are able to connect UArizona's collaborative, interdisciplinary work around resilience to opportunities where we can make a positive impact globally," said Elizabeth "Betsy" Cantwell, senior vice president for research and innovation. "Our mission as Arizona's land grant institution means that we practicalize the power of science and the expertise of our researchers to discover solutions that meet societal needs across our state and beyond."

Generating data for humanitarian solutions

Through a $1 million project called Enhancing Evidence for Humanitarian Action in the Face of Climate Change, UArizona researchers are helping USAID develop methods to measure the effectiveness of the federal agency's disaster and humanitarian assistance programs, particularly in Bangladesh and Kenya.

The project includes examining early warning systems, which provide advance notice of events that could cause widespread hardship to communities. Researchers are also interested in disaster risk reduction and how to minimize damage from a disaster through preparation, response and recovery, as well as how to adapt to changes in weather and climate. 

"We're trying to think of these problems comprehensively within a resilience framework and bring different disciplinary perspectives together in teams to generate creative thinking," said Zack Guido, principal investigator for the project and director of International Programs in AIRES.

Research collaboration in Africa

Funded in 2019 with a $5 million grant, the university's Humanitarian Assistance Technical Support, or HATS, provides technical support for disaster management and humanitarian assistance to USAID's Bureau of Humanitarian Assistance.

In this year's round of grants, the bureau added an additional $2 million to UArizona to be able to fund research opportunities on resilience and climate change adaptation for African researchers. Under this project, UArizona researchers will partner with individual universities to build local research capacity and disseminate the research results.

"This project represents a major step in the effort to create equitable, effective partnerships with higher education institutions in Africa and elsewhere," said Tim Finan, a research anthropologist in the Bureau of Applied Research in the School of Anthropology, who leads the HATS management team with Corrie Hannah, an AIRES research scientist.

The project is jointly managed by UArizona and Stellenbosch University in South Africa.

Examining climate adaptation globally

USAID is awarding up to $38 million to the Climate Adaptation Support Activity, which is a collaboration between USAID, UArizona, Tetra Tech, Columbia University, Clark University, Meru Labs and the University of Maryland to work on global-scale and country-specific research questions.

UArizona researchers will investigate topics such as the intersection between climate adaptation, health, food security, governance and the environment. The work will involve research across fields like agriculture, public health, climate sciences, geography and natural resources.

"UArizona faculty have a unique contribution to make to these research efforts given the relevance of place-based research in the desert southwest to other arid environments on the front lines of the climate crisis," Collins said.

Across all three projects, AIRID is energized by their multidisciplinary approach to solving problems and collaborating with communities around the world, he added.

"I am proud to see University of Arizona researchers participating in international development," said University of Arizona President Robert C. Robbins. "I have always said we are a global land-grant university, and we have always made a point of applying our research strengths to serve people around the world. It is no surprise that our expertise and experience learning about and adapting to a hot and dry environment can help others in similar climates and situations across the globe." 

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