Research universities seek solutions for earthquake-prone Asia Pacific

New report reveals the impact of the Association of Pacific Rim Universities on the region’s greatest challenges


Anyone who has flown from the west coast of the United States to Asia knows the vast expanse of the Asia Pacific region. Rich in natural resources, it spans about a third of the Earth’s surface and is home to the world’s most influential economic centers as well as the 45 prestigious research institutions that make up the Association of Pacific Rim Universities (APRU).

During the past two decades, events of both natural and manmade origins have had devastating impacts on the region. Such tumult was the impetus behind the APRU Impact Report 2016, a comprehensive study of comparative data and case studies demonstrating the impact of the work of APRU’s member universities on their societies and the region’s challenges.

Download the full report.In-depth analysis in the 70-page report draws extensively on research metrics provided by Elsevier. It includes more than two dozen case studies and graphics about critical global issues such as health and infectious disease, investment in education and workforce readiness, environmental changes and disaster preparedness, population demographics, global religions, exports and trade.

The report’s findings were presented by APRU Secretary General Dr. Christopher Tremewan at the APRU Annual Presidents Meeting 2016 at the University of Malaya in Kuala Lumpur, Mayasia. It is the first phase of a three-year pilot project intended to provide data and analysis of use to regional policymakers on ways to develop the region’s economies in a sustainable way.

One area of focus is the volatility of the region’s geologic composition, which has caused devastating tsunamis, floods and other natural disasters. It is estimated that 90 percent of all earthquakes occur along the “Ring of Fire,” where 75 percent of the Earth’s active volcanoes are located.

During the past decade, the region has incurred more than $1.7 trillion in economic damage affecting 2.9 billion people, according to estimates from the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR). Much of the increasing impact of such disasters can be attributed to the region’s growing urbanization; it is home to some of the world’s most densely populated cities, including Hong Kong, Singapore, Shanghai, Beijing, Tokyo and Taipei. The Philippines, with its capital city Manila, is often regarded as the most densely populated city in the world with 41,515 people per square kilometer, and has been identified as the most at-risk nation on the planet by the United Nations. Safer and more resilient infrastructure and more effective early warning systems will be key to minimizing the impact of future catastrophes upon the area’s inhabitants, according to the impact report.

Several APRU universities are collaborating on ways to mitigate the impact of such disasters as part of the UN Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (2015-2030). For example, a partnership between Tohoku University, National Taiwan University and the University of California’s Davis and Irvine campuses has resulted in an operational prototype of a Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) early warning system for tsunamis. Deployment of additional GNSS stations and satellites at test locations on the Pacific Rim support the development of data sharing agreements among partners. The report details research case studies from Tohoku University, University of the Philippines, The University of Hawaii at Manoa, UC Davis and the University of Malaya on how the Multi-Hazards program has succeeded in enhancing disaster preparedness by improving critical dialogue between research communities, area governments, industry and civil society. They are focusing on developing disaster risk assessment methodologies and models and using traditional, indigenous and local knowledge and practices to complement scientific knowledge.

The area’s challenges are expected to grow during the 21st century as greater demands are made on the region’s environment and limited resources, but those involved hope that enhanced cooperation and collaboration among the region’s universities will continue to lead to solutions. “No single nation can solve the cross-border issues that confront them,” said Dr. Tremewan. “The value of international collaboration is crucial, and APRU is an ideal platform to facilitate the interdisciplinary research and partnerships required to find solutions to critical challenges facing the region.”

Association of Pacific Rim Universities

Infographic: learn more about APRU and this report. (Source: APRU)

APRU is an international network of 45 leading research universities from 17 APEC economies. It was established in 1997 by the presidents of the California Institute of Technology (Thomas Everhart), the University of California, Berkeley (Chang-Lin Tien), the University of California, Los Angeles (Charles Young) and the University of Southern California (Steven B. Sample). With the rapid economic integration of the Asia-Pacific region and the formation of APEC, their inspiration was to create the premier alliance of leading research universities in the region. The APRU serves as an advisory body to international organizations, governments and businesses on the development of science and innovation, and on the broader development of higher education. The vision now encompasses focusing new knowledge on the global challenges affecting the region. Located initially in Los Angeles and then in Singapore, the APRU International Secretariat is now based in Hong Kong on the campus of the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.

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