The University of Manitoba has quietly disbanded the Disaster Research Institute after 24 years of research into flooding, forest fires and other natural disasters in Manitoba and internationally.
"I don't know what's behind it," Prof. Emdad Haque, the DRI's co-director, said Friday.
the U of M was the only university in Canada placing such emphasis on disaster research, Haque said: "Nobody has any separate institute."
Haque and his colleagues will be swallowed up within the Natural Resources Institute, where Haque said there is no collective support dedicated to their work, and where the importance of specific disaster research will not be evident.
As the Disaster Research Institute, "It is easier to communicate and get credibility," he said.
The board of governors closed the institute at its most recent meeting, because the DRI no longer had funding.
Associate vice-president of research Gary Glavin said Friday the U of M has about 60 research institutes, each of which is reviewed every five years, and rely on external funding such as federal research grants or contracting out their services.
"They'd lost a lot of their external competitive funding -- there's no expectation of central funding," Glavin said.
He said the DRI members had accepted the institute would close. Professors across campus collaborate outside of a formal structure all the time, and there is nothing to stop researchers asking to re-establish the DRI in future, Glavin said.
But Haque was adamant the DRI should have continued.
"Individually, we are continuing our research on disasters and risks. Provincewide, it is one of the most important areas," he said. "It is a lot less (research) because of no collective institutional support."
Prof. Ronald Stewart, an atmospheric physicist and member of the DRI, said he could see Glavin's position -- federal granting agencies stopped funding disaster research.
But Stewart said disaster research deserves to be resurrected as a separate and visible body. "It is a huge issue -- we hear about disasters several times a day," he said.
Within the past week, said Stewart, he spoke in Canmore about the Alberta flood last summer, in Vancouver to discuss the city's vulnerability to disasters, and to the Manitoba government about the 2011 flood.
"I deal with extremes. I'm doing a study of the Toronto ice storm," said Stewart, who has conducted major research on droughts and said no one has done more research on the Quebec ice storm.
Haque said the institute began to see problems when Prof. John Rogge left to join the United Nations. "Since then, there is a crisis in leadership," he said.
The institute had been part of the geography department within the faculty of arts, but was moved into the new Clayton H. Riddell Faculty of Environment, Earth and Resources.
"Funding dwindled," Haque said, to the point neither the Riddell faculty nor central administration would fund the institute.
Haque said the dwindling interest at the U of M in the DRI had nothing to do with Brandon University's introduction several years ago of an undergraduate applied disaster emergency studies program.
In fact, "That was my baby, I designed it," Haque said.