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Marleen de Ruiter receives Veni for research on post-disaster disease outbreaks

3 August 2023
It is not well understood when, where and how often consecutive natural hazards lead to disease outbreaks and which factors are involved. For example, flooding caused by a storm might lead to an outbreak of diseases such as cholera, but this is not always the case.

Climate scientist Marleen de Ruiter is using the Veni funding granted to her to investigate the likelihood of an outbreak following a series of natural hazards anywhere in the world as well as to map vulnerable regions. She also aspires to guide policymakers in anticipating and responding to the increasing complexity of disasters.

With her research, De Ruiter aims to better understand why some communities are more vulnerable to disease outbreaks after natural hazards than others. As yet, scientists have not been able to determine what exactly causes disease outbreaks that occur after a series of natural hazards and what conditions may play a role in this. For example, flooding following a storm might lead to an outbreak of diseases such as cholera, but this is not always the case. It often depends on other elements, such as the time interval between consecutive disasters or local conditions. With this knowledge, scientists and policymakers can better prepare communities for future disasters and improve response strategies should such a disaster occur.

Difference after natural disasters in Limburg and Haiti
So a disease outbreak does not necessarily follow a natural disaster. Take, for example, the heavy rainfall and flooding in Limburg in the summer of 2021. Here, there were no concerns for disease outbreaks. However, in the same period, in Haiti, which was hit first by an earthquake and a few days later by a tropical storm, there were concerns about a possible cholera outbreak. These proved well-founded in the autumn of that year.

Crucial insight for decision-makers
The research carried out by the climate scientist is of great interest not only to scientists seeking to improve disaster risk modelling, but also to policymakers and humanitarian organisations aiming to anticipate and respond more effectively to the growing complexity of disasters. The results of de Ruiter's research enable local policymakers to tailor risk management measures to local or regional needs.
It also enables humanitarian aid organisations like the Red Cross to prioritise risk reduction efforts, and further enhance the efficiency of early warning risk management plans by shifting the focus from single disasters to more complex disasters and the likelihood of subsequent disease outbreaks.

Contribution to hazard and risk reduction
The research contributes to global, EU, national and regional agendas to strengthen future-oriented risk management, including the United Nations Disaster and Risk Reduction (UNDRR) agenda and the European Union Solidarity Fund (EUSF). Finally, the research is also instrumental for a number of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The Dutch Research Council (NWO) has awarded Marleen de Ruiter with Veni funding. This will allow her to further develop her own research into possible disease outbreaks after natural hazards over the next three years.

The NWO Talent Programme gives researchers the freedom to conduct their own research based on creativity and passion. They receive a maximum of 280,000 euros. The programme stimulates innovation and curiosity. Free research contributes to and prepares us for tomorrow's society. This is why NWO focuses on a diversity of scientists, domains and backgrounds. Together with the Vidi and Vici grants, Veni is part of the Talent Programme.