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Fighting global poverty

jhgGeologists can play a significant role in the fight against global poverty, but need extra training, says Joel Gill*.

The expert contribution of geologists is required to end the scandal of 780 million people living without access to clean water (significantly more without sanitation), to reduce the vulnerability of local communities to multiple natural hazards, and to improve transportation networks so as to increase access to essential services like healthcare and education.


That geologists can and do contribute to international development is well established. Less understood, however, is an understanding of the ‘soft’ skills required to do this effectively. International development projects (and others) require a host of skills other than ‘technical’ geological ones – indeed, the overall success and impact of a project may depend on them. Water projects in developing countries, for example, regularly fail as a result of poor community engagement. Factors such as cultural understanding, cross-disciplinary communication, diplomacy, community mobilisation and participation are all aspects that, if lacking, can result in a project failing to have maximum effect.

Consider the undertaking of a hazard assessment, for the purpose of a disaster-risk reduction programme. Such a project would require using a range of geological knowledge and skills but should also include the involvement of local communities and integration of local knowledge. To do this effectively will need as effective communication, social science research techniques, and good cultural understanding. In addition, you would need to know how to disseminate such a hazard assessment once completed, ensuring that all relevant stakeholders can access, understand and use it.

Given that these aspects of a project are so important, how can we ensure that geologists have the training they need to fulfil these professional and moral responsibilities?


A key first step would be raising awareness of the skills required for working effectively in overseas development followed by the provision of opportunities to develop these. Later in October, supported and hosted by the Geological Society, Geology for Global Development will be hosting their first National Conference – ‘Fighting Global Poverty – Can Geologists Help?’ (

Aimed at students and recent graduates, the conference will present an overview of opportunities available to apply geology in the fight against poverty. Participants will hear from a range of specialists working in areas such as water and sanitation, disaster risk reduction and engineering geology, many from geoscience backgrounds,. The conference will also explore, through a dynamic and interactive session, the skills that young geologists will need to develop in order to contribute more effectively to development throughout their careers.

It is essential that young geoscientists are made aware of their professional and social responsibility in developing such skills to complement a thorough understanding of technical geoscience. Such factors can mean the difference between success and failure in the long term. It is therefore in everyone’s interest to carefully consider their development, none more so than the individuals and communities that we seek to serve as a profession.

  • Joel Gill, a PhD student at King’s College London, is the Founder and National Director of Geology for Global Development (, a not-for-profit organisation established to enable geoscience students and recent graduates to make a positive and effective contribution to international development.