In 2023, Eleanor Earl, a fourth year PhD candidate at the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, was awarded a UNSW Humanitarian Engineering grant of three thousand dollars to assist her with her research.

Humanitarian engineering addresses chronic needs of poverty and lack of resources as well as acute needs associated with natural disasters and human displacement. At UNSW Humanitarian Engineering is a part of every School in the Engineering Faculty, with real-world research being undertaken to develop appropriate and sustainable solutions to problems for disadvantaged communities.

The UNSW HE competitive small grants program is designed to provide some extra support for PhD researchers whose research aim is to improve the lives and livelihoods of those in need in low or middle-income countries and Australia.

Eleanor’s research is on how flood resilience can be improved in urban Pacific Island communities, with a focus on the role of nature-based solutions on flood management. Her PhD supervisors are A/Prof Fiona Johnson, and Prof David Sanderson at UNSW and Prof Lucy Marshall (Macquarie University).

Nature-based solutions have gained increasing attention in recent years, given the key role that they play in helping restore and regenerate natural systems. When carefully implemented, nature-based solutions can enable communities to reduce disaster risks and enhance climate resilience, whilst meeting an array of positive social and environmental outcomes.

Eleanor has been interested for over a decade in the role that nature-based solutions can play in managing stormwater, and the way these approaches can effectively respond to current environmental and social issues including the climate and biodiversity crises. Her main PhD research objectives are to better understand and document how nature-based solutions have improved flood resilience in the Pacific Islands and how nature-based solutions can be better prioritised spatially to reduce flooding.

Eleanor has used a variety of research methods in her research, from interviews and literature reviews to working in GIS, Python and Linux environments to model and compare thousands of nature-based solutions sites in order to better understand how resources could be better prioritised to reduce flooding.

The UNSW HE Grant allowed Eleanor to attend two conferences in Fiji, meet practitioners implementing nature-based solutions for flood and catchment management, whilst also presenting insights back to organisations and individuals who had provided data for Eleanor’s research so far. She spent two weeks at the Pacific Community (also known as SPC) and two weeks at the University of the South Pacific (USP) as a visiting researcher, to learn more about their work and its interconnections with her research.

Eleanor also attended the Pacific Islands Science, Technology, and Resources Conference, which brought together practitioners, academics, non-government organizations, government representatives working in an array of fields relating to Pacific development. Additionally, Eleanor attended the Pacific GIS and Remote Sensing Conference held at the University of the South Pacific’s Suva campus, which was attended by more than 250 participants from around the world, including sixteen Pacific Island countries and territories. Both forums provided a fantastic opportunity to share her research, gain feedback and learn from recent developments in local

Eleanor shared the results of a nature-based solutions spatial optimisation tool which she has developed for the Ba catchment located on Fiji’s largest island Viti Levu. At the STAR conference, her presentation gained the award for best student and early career scientist presentation.

Eleanor would particularly like to thank the organisers of both conferences, the School of Geography at USP and the Geoscience Division of the Pacific Community for their generosity and hospitality, as well as UNSW Humanitarian Engineering.  

The UNSW Humanitarian Engineering small grants program releases a call for proposals annually in T1. For further information please see or email Academic Lead, Humanitarian Engineering at UNSW Dr Andrew Dansie  (

Eleanor visited the Hydrology Team (pictured) based in The Pacific Community (SPC)