UArizona Provides Expertise in Global Disaster Relief With $4.9M Grant

March 19, 2020

The grant from the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance will allow UArizona to provide expertise in humanitarian assistance, develop a "cluster of excellence" in disaster management, and train the next generation of experts.

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The Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance responds to an average of 65 disasters in more than 50 countries every year to ensure aid reaches people affected by rapid-onset disasters, such as floods, earthquakes and more.


The University of Arizona's Bureau of Applied Research in Anthropology has been awarded $4.9 million from the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance to expand its expertise in humanitarian assistance and disaster risk reduction.

As part of a five-year partnership, the University of Arizona will provide the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance with expertise in three key disaster relief areas: economic recovery and market systems, hydrometeorological hazards, and humanitarian coordination and information management.

Part of the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance responds to "an average of 65 disasters in more than 50 countries every year to ensure aid reaches people affected by rapid-onset disasters – such as earthquakes, volcanoes and floods – and slow-onset crises, including drought and conflict," according to the office's website.

Referred to as Humanitarian Assistance Technical Support, or HATS, this project supports the larger effort by the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance to enlist university expertise to meet the complex challenges of disaster management and humanitarian assistance.

The grant will support multidisciplinary research, classroom and field experiences for students as well as workshops and conferences. The principal investigator on the grant is Tim Finan, a research anthropologist in the Bureau of Applied Research in Anthropology, which is part of the School of Anthropology in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences.

"We welcome the opportunity to contribute to the OFDA mission by providing technical expertise," Finan said. "I hope this partnership will also increase the University of Arizona's presence in the world community of international development."

Julie March, food security and livelihoods team lead at the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance and acting director of the Preparation, Strategic Planning and Mitigation Division, said the office is pleased to have "the opportunity to collaborate with skilled technical representatives from the University of Arizona."

"Technical rigor ensures that assistance provided to vulnerable, disaster-affected populations has maximum impact while minimizing the potential for unexpected or undesirable consequences," she said.

UArizona Experts Will Serve in D.C.

Three UArizona staff members in the Bureau of Applied Research in Anthropology will serve as technical experts in the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance in Washington, D.C. They will support a broad program of disaster preparedness, and travel to disaster sites to promote disaster response strategies. They will also return to campus every semester to participate in workshops and share their experiences with faculty members and students.

These staff members have several years of experience working at the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance under a previous U.S. Department of Agriculture agreement with the University of Arizona.

  • Laura Meissner specializes in economic recovery and market systems and supports interventions to restore and diversify livelihoods and markets in disaster-affected communities and help communities build resilience and prepare for future disasters.
  • Ayse Sezin Tokar provides expertise in hydrometeorological hazards, such as droughts, floods, cyclones, temperature extremes and tsunamis. Tokar supports hydrometeorological forecasts and early warning systems as part of disaster preparedness strategies.
  • Rhonda Stewart specializes in knowledge and information management. Stewart helps develop, analyze and share information needed to coordinate disaster response and supports the network of humanitarian response organizations.

The Bureau of Applied Research in Anthropology has provided expertise to different U.S. Agency for International Development sectors for nearly 20 years, including helping develop a Master of Science degree in disaster risk science and sustainable development at Bahir Dar University in Ethiopia and collaborating with the World Bank on climate change adaptation.

"It is a tremendous honor to have members of the University of Arizona community tapped to support the efforts of the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance," said University of Arizona President Robert C. Robbins. "These individuals are engaged in important and honorable work to help make sure people are taken care of when the unexpected happens, while educating our students and future leaders to do the same. Their talent, expertise and impact exemplify what makes us a global land-grant university, serving people in our local community and around the world. "

Need for Disaster Relief is on the Rise

With the far-reaching effects of climate change and its disruption of livelihoods, the need for expertise in disaster relief and humanitarian assistance has rapidly expanded both globally and in the U.S.

Finan plans to identify a "cluster of excellence" from faculty resources across campus and create an active network of experts to exchange information and conduct joint research in the areas of humanitarian assistance and disaster management, including in climate change adaptation, health and pandemic management, food security, resilience strategies, conflict mediation, migration and human rights.

The network will share information, discuss research activities and generate innovative solutions to the challenges of disaster management in a changing world. Two graduate students, funded by the grant, will support the activities of the group. 

To build student skills and stimulate interest in careers in international humanitarian assistance, the project will contribute curriculum content related to disaster management and introduce new courses at the graduate level.

Two workshops on issues of humanitarian assistance will be held every year. Every two years, the University of Arizona will sponsor an international conference on the theme of innovations in humanitarian policy and practice, which will bring people from around the world who work in disaster management to campus.

"This conference will enhance the university's visibility as a center of excellence in climate change adaptation by expanding the humanitarian and disaster focus," Finan said.

Finan also hopes the grant, along with the efforts of the thematic group, will position the university to effectively compete for international projects that contribute to disaster management.

"We are honored to be called on by the U.S. Agency for International Development to aid in critically important efforts to ensure relief and assistance reaches those who need it during crises," said Elizabeth "Betsy" Cantwell, University of Arizona senior vice president for research and innovation. "With this considerable funding, we will not only be able to lend our existing technical expertise in this area, but also expand upon it and transfer knowledge in the classroom to students who will become the next generation of disaster management experts."

To Get Involved

Faculty members or students interested in the HATS project can contact Tim Finan at