International disaster risk-reduction expert and Inaugural Judith Neilson Chair of Architecture at UNSW, Professor David Sanderson, has been selected to lead the fifth UNSW Grand Challenge, Rapid Urbanisation.

Professor Sanderson says the new Grand Challenge is an exciting and important initiative.

“While urbanisation brings unprecedented social and economic opportunity, it also increases the threat of disasters with greater concentrations of people living in dangerous places, such as those living in coastal areas, on land that floods, or on marginalised land,” Professor Sanderson says. 

“Asia-Pacific is one of the world’s fastest urbanising regions. It is also home to the largest number of people living in low-income settlements.

“The region is susceptible to a wide range of natural hazards, including flood, windstorms, earthquake, volcano, tsunami and landslide.

“Climate change is also expected to contribute to sea level rise, stronger windstorms and higher temperatures, increasing urban risk and exacerbating migration,” he says.

Professor Sanderson’s first task as the new Lead will be to outline his vision for the Grand Challenge and seek input from staff and students on its formation before convening the Urban Resilience Asia-Pacific Conference, the inaugural Rapid Urbanisation Grand Challenge event.

The conference will coincide with the launch of the Rapid Urbanisation Grand Challenge, he says.

The Grand Challenge came about “in recognition of the pressing need to identify workable policies and practices that address the pressing issues of urbanisation, climate change and increased naturally-triggered disasters and their impacts on low-income urban settlements”.

The two-day conference, convened in partnership with ARUP, Australian Red Cross and The Lakshmi Mittal Institute of Harvard, will bring together leading experts on urbanisation from around the world to UNSW Built Environment, to discuss, debate and recommend realisable social, physical, political and economic measures that build resilience in the Asia-Pacific region.

Professor Sanderson says the conference is a natural fit for the Grand Challenges program and UNSW’s 2025 strategy vision.

“The conference aligns with UNSW’s 2025 vision of being a global university that engages with global impact and social engagement,” he says. 

Over 60 abstracts and proposals to lead sessions have been received from universities, private companies, the UN and leading thinktanks across the world.

The announcement of the new Grand Challenge continues UNSW’s vision of being at the forefront of debate and policy response to the biggest issues of our time.

Professor Sanderson was chosen to lead the Challenge following a competitive expression of interest (EOI) process led by Grand Challenges Academic Lead Scientia Professor Rob Brooks.

“Professor David Sanderson has worked in so many interesting and varied places, and he brings that experience, and a deep knowledge of development and emergency response, to this Grand Challenge,” says Professor Brooks.

“With David’s leadership, we will take a truly global view of rapid urbanisation and its consequences.”

Rapid Urbanisation joins the previously announced Grand Challenges: Inequality (led by UNSW Law Professor Rosalind Dixon and Economics Professor/PLuS Alliance Fellow Richard Holden), Climate Change (led by Scientia Professor Matthew England), Living with 21st Century Technology (led by Associate Professor Lyria Bennett Moses) and Refugees and Migration (led by Scientia Professor Jane McAdam).

The Grand Challenges Program has been established to facilitate critical discussions and raise awareness of the ground-breaking research and initiatives undertaken by UNSW academics, staff and students. 

People interested in being involved in this and the other Grand Challenges can contact

What: Urban Resilience Asia-Pacific Conference

When: 7-8 November 2018

Where: Colombo Theatre, UNSW Kensington