Health and Aged Care

QUT Disaster Management Lecturer helps clear the way for a landmine-free Turkey

Dr Jo Durham (seated second from right) having a cuppa with the local deminers during a break, in Igdir Province, Eastern Turkey, along the Iranian border. The deminers are funded by MECHEM and the overall project is funded by the EU and implemented by UNDP Turkey Country Office.

While some of us spent the pre-Christmas period preparing for festivities ahead, Dr Jo Durham, senior lecturer in Disaster Management at QUT, was on the ground in Turkey, evaluating a landmine clearance project on the eastern borders of Turkey for the UN Development programme.

‘Turkey is one of the most landmine-contaminated countries in the world’ said Dr Durham. ‘Most of the mines were laid between 1955 and 1959 and are along the country’s borders.’

According to Dr Durham, landslides and snowmelt in the mountainous terrain caused some of the mines to drift to often unknown locations.

Locating the minefields is often challenging because many mines were laid decades prior to the advent of accurate geo-referencing technology.

The UN Development Programme (UNDP) has been supporting the Turkish Mine Action Centre (TURMAC) and its partners, to locate and disarm these mines which if left unattended to, pose a significant risk to local people and livestock as well as irregular migrants crossing the border.

Clearing the landmines will also allow Turkey to establish a modern and humanitarian integrated border management system. As a State Party to the Ottawa Treaty for banning of the use of anti-personnel landmines, Turkey is also very committed to demining and developing a national capacity to manage this issue.’

Over the course of her career, Dr Durham has worked in humanitarian aid and development in Laos, Cambodia, South Sudan and Lebanon with organisations such as UNICEF, UN Development Programme (UNDP), UN Mine Action Services (UNMAS) and international NGOs, to help people recover from conflict and other disasters. Her experience covers areas such as:

  • Reducing health inequities and vulnerability to disasters
  • Social determinants of health and migration
  • Conflict epidemiology
  • Programme evaluation

‘Linking practice with theory is essential to prepare graduates for different careers within the field, and equip them with the skills needed to continue this necessary work and respond effectively in other disaster scenarios,’ said Dr Durham.

If you are likely to be involved in coordinating a response to a major incident or disaster, enrol now to benefit from the real-world experience of Dr Durham and others. QUT has been delivering disaster management and leadership courses for 10 years.

Dr Durham currently teaches four courses each year in the field of Disaster Management:

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Prior to becoming an academic I was a Country Program Director and advisor in international development in organisations such as the UN Development Programme, UNICEF and the Ministry of Labour Social Welfare, Laos. My role was to help improve the lives of those whose health and livelihoods were damaged by war, working in countries as diverse as Lao PDR, Thailand, Indonesia, Cambodia, Lebanon, South Sudan and the Kurdish Region of Iraq. Increasingly, I was asked to evaluate programs and to show that what we did worked. With a desire to provide the highest quality evidence base for such important work so that it could inform other programs, I came to academia. Now as a teacher, researcher and evaluator at Queensland University of Technology, I bring this background to my work with governments, development agencies and communities to find practical solutions for reducing health inequities and vulnerability to disasters. I am particularly interested in working collaboratively with all stakeholders to find innovative solutions to complex or “wicked” problems in global public health that are often considered just “too hard”. Some of my partners in research and practice include the University of Health Sciences, Laos (Lao PDR), the UN Development Programme (UNDP), the UN Mine Action Service (UNMAS), MANA Community Mentoring and the Ethnic Communities Council Queensland. At QUT I bring my real-world, contemporary experience into my coordination of the Graduate Certificate in Emergency and Disaster Management. The focus of my teaching is to link practice with theory to prepare graduates for the different careers within the field. I am as equally passionate about reducing health inequities and vulnerability to disasters as I am about helping to equip the next generation of evidence-based practitioners with the skills they will need to continue this necessary work.

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