This week’s guest blogger is Joel Gill, Director/Founder of Geology for Global Development. Joel has been studying geology since the age of 14 and collecting rocks since long before that. His enthusiasm for the subject led him to study for an undergraduate degree in Natural Sciences at Cambridge University, specialising in Geological Sciences, and a postgraduate MSc in Engineering Geology at the University of Leeds.
As part of his study Joel undertook fieldwork across the UK, and overseas in Greece and Chile – applying his skills and knowledge to active seismic and volcanic regions, areas affected by modern and historic landslides, and areas with important economic geology. In addition to this Joel has also worked on water projects in East Africa (Tanzania and Uganda), overseeing evaluations of failed shallow wells and surveys for new wells. Since September 2011, Joel has been studying for a PhD within the Environmental Modelling and Monitoring Research Group, in the Department of Geography at King’s College London. His work hopes to reduce the impacts of natural disasters through developing multi-hazard models for small urban areas.
Across the world millions of people are living in severe poverty, without access to any of the basic needs that many of us take for granted – a clean water supply, a reliable food source, safe shelter and suitable infrastructure. This lack of basic needs can also mean communities are particularly vulnerable to devastating natural hazards, such as floods, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and landslides. Geologists have a crucial role to play in supporting communities to overcome poverty. Their knowledge of subjects from hydrogeology, natural resources, engineering geology and geohazards mean they can make a significant contribution to global and sustainable development.
Though geoscientists possess many important and relevant skills, there are two major gaps which can hinder their engagement in the serious debates surrounding development. Firstly, there are very few cases where students are given the opportunity within their university education to think about issues related to development, such as vulnerability, sustainability, building technical capacity and communication to other cultures. These ‘soft-skills’ are fundamental to effective and long-lasting development. Secondly, there are very few opportunities to gain experience in the sector, working with NGOs in the UK or working overseas with universities, NGOs or governments, undertaking specific geo-related projects and building the technical capacity of local geologists, teachers and students.
Geology for Global Development (GfGD), established in 2011, is working to fill these gaps, with a particular focus on students and recent graduates. GfGD is working to inspire and engage young geologists from all backgrounds, supporting them to think about how they can apply their interdisciplinary knowledge and wide-ranging skills to generate solutions and resources which support NGOs, empower communities and help lift people out of poverty.
Through the establishment of GfGD University Groups, run and developed by student ambassadors, we are starting to outwork our vision and grow our membership. These groups give students of the geosciences and related subjects an opportunity to pursue and outwork their interest in development, through seminars, discussion groups, advocacy, fundraising, writing for our blog and getting involved in our national work. Our national work currently involves an advocacy programme, writing resources to support NGOs requiring some geological support, developing resources to support members thinking about relevant MSc courses and placements, and fundraising. We have exciting plans for the future which include fieldwork grants, supporting capacity-building work in developing countries, a GfGD conference for our members, and UK/Overseas placements to give members on the ground experience and skill development.
As Director of GfGD, I am tremendously excited by the enthusiastic response from geologists, and their willingness of those beginning their careers to use their skills to benefit society, fight poverty and improve the lives of many people for the better.
Local Tanzanian water engineer, working with the local community, to survey for water in Tanzania © Geology for Global Development 2011
When I visited Tanzania I saw the impacts on communities that are forced to walk several kilometres for a glass of clean water. I saw the impacts on communities whose hopes were raised as a well was dug – only to find it stopped working soon afterwards because of a lack of good geoscience knowledge and poor community engagement. I also saw the joy that a sustainable water supply brought, built with a thorough understanding of the local groundwater conditions and appropriate community involvement.
Through inspiring and engaging students in the UK with a deeper understanding of the applications of their work to fighting poverty, it is this latter scenario that we believe we can see replicated and become the norm. It is our long term aim to develop a generation of geologists recognised across many sectors for their role in improving the lives of communities across the world.
Young children in Tanzania, appreciating their newly repaired water supply © Geology for Global Development 2011