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GCRF CREST-OR

Project Overview

Context

In 2020, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam are working towards the achievement of their Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030.  The application of OR to meet challenging areas of the SDGs is very limited.  In January 2019, representatives of the Southeast Asian and UK research teams participated together in a workshop at the University of Kent to identify OR capacity development needs, and to agree on focus areas for OR research capacity development. Participants identified OR capacity development needs for Southeast Asia which require adaptation of existing analytical methods, theories and frameworks according to specific issues relating to sectors and country contexts.  Such adaptations will also test and build the capacities of the UK partner institutions, in applying OR to highly contextualised development challenges.

Key sectors of interest were identified based on priority ODA targets and SDGs of the five Southeast Asian countries.  These sectors/focus areas are disaster management, resilient transport infrastructure planning, food supply security planning, and design of smart cities.

Regarding disaster management, humanitarian disasters most often arise when risk reduction measures and/or responses to extreme natural events, such as typhoons, earthquakes, droughts or floods, are inadequate. Humanitarian disasters are common in both rural and urban settings within Southeast Asia.  OR can be used pre-emptively to improve risk reduction measures, for example by developing spatial decision support systems for drought and flood risk management. OR can also be used reactively (i.e. post-disaster), for example, to manage evacuation, the distribution of food supplies, and other relief efforts.

Regarding transport infrastructure, the five Southeast Asian countries are rapidly developing their road networks to keep pace with and sustain economic growth and urbanisation.  All five countries face major traffic congestion problems in urban areas, which negatively impacts economic growth through lost working time and health due to respiratory disease from urban pollution. OR methods not yet applied in these Southeast Asian contexts can be used to improve the design of multi-modal transport network systems or increase transport efficiency and alleviate congestion both under normal conditions and after the occurrence of natural disasters.

Regarding food supply security planning, rice is the main food staple in all five Southeast Asian countries.  Maintaining rice supplies at affordable prices is, therefore, a matter of national security. Rice supplies are affected by weather and other environmental factors linked to climate change, the relative price of rice in neighbouring countries, and the availability of storage facilities. The use of food supplies needs to be optimised by minimising waste, meeting nutritional targets, and maintaining stock for emergencies.  OR methods can be applied to model these and other types of food supply security issues, thus enabling authorities to identify suitable policies for production and distribution.

Regarding smart cities, different concepts are gradually converging. Some consider the key elements of smart cities to be ‘climate-smart’ infrastructure development, a focus on urban sustainability (including water, land use, transportation, and pollution), and optimal risk management strategies. Others consider smart cities to be primarily about in-built use of advanced ICT to optimise resources for the ongoing achievement of simultaneous human and urban development objectives. The project will consider simulation and optimisation methods to meet specific urban sustainability priorities.

Research Objectives

The overarching aim of CREST-OR is to establish a long-term UK-Southeast Asia partnership to build research capacity in mathematical OR tools that can be used to address urgent Southeast Asian needs.  Specific objectives of the project are:

  1. To identify research gaps in Southeast Asian partner countries, taking into account the research landscape, technical proficiencies, and developmental needs
  2. To define a relevant OR research agenda, focused on how existing and new bespoke OR methodologies can be used to support SDGs in four specific areas
  3. To develop academic leaders who will act as OR ambassadors in Southeast Asia and promote the use of OR to address critical SDG issues with other academics, policy-makers, and practitioners
  4. To develop the research capacity of Early Career Researchers and enable them to progress the research agenda
  5. To facilitate the formation of OR research units in the Southeast Asian partner countries and create a self-sustaining community of OR researchers at all career stages
  6. To lay the groundwork for the establishment of a Southeast Asia OR Society.

Timeframe

The project began in April 2020, but was paused due to COVID-19 restrictions.  The project has now re-started, and will be completed in February 2022.