Professor David Sanderson

Inaugural Judith Neilson Chair in Architecture
Architectural Studies, Architecture

PhD (poverty, vulnerability and urban livelihoods), Postgraduate Certificate of Teaching in Higher Education, Master of Science Degree (MSc), Development Practice, Graduate Diploma (Architecture), Bachelor of Arts Degree with Honours (Architecture)

With over 25 years’ experience working in crises across the world, I engage with aid agencies and others about how we can improve humanitarian response and build resilience.
Much of my work focuses in particular on poorer people living in fast-growing towns and cities, and how measures can be improved to reduce the impact of disasters, climate change and other crises. This often includes working to improve the quality of humanitarian aid, which has been slow to address the urban challenge. Part of this includes focusing on how designers can work with others to better understand and respond to communities at risk.
Building urban resilience and having a positive global impact are central themes to UNSW Built Environment, and this is where my research fits into the bigger picture. Despite the challenging nature of the work, the inspiration to work in this area comes from people themselves. Human beings are extraordinary - we are hardwired to be survivors.
Red Centre West Wing
+61 42 487 1966

David has over 25 years experience working across the world in development and emergencies. From 1994-98 David was a Project Manager at the Oxford Centre for Disaster Studies. David worked for eight years for the NGO CARE International UK, as head of policy and subsequently Regional Manager for southern and west Africa. From 2006-2013 David was Director of CENDEP, a centre at Oxford Brookes University focusing on development and emergencies. Between 2013-14 he was a full time Visiting Professor at Harvard University, where he taught a course, 'Design for urban disaster', and from 2014-2015 was a Professor at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU). David was appointed the Inaugural Judith Neilson Chair of Architecture at UNSW in February 2016. 

David has published articles and papers concerning urban livelihoods, shelter and disaster risk reduction. He has carried out a number of assignments for NGOs and donors across the world, and in recent years has led post-disaster reviews in Haiti, Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, the Philippines and Nepal. He was editor of the 2016 IFRC World Disasters Report. David was trained in architecture and holds a Masters degree in Development Practice and a PhD in urban livelihoods and vulnerability.

David has undertaken assignments for the Qatar Foundation, IFRC, Active Learning Network for Accountability and Performance (ALNAP), Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC), European Commission, Humanitarian Coalition (HC), Asian Disaster Preparedness Centre (ADPC), DFID, USAID, World Bank (EDI Section), UNDP/UNDESA, UN-Habitat, British Council, Christian Aid, Habitat For Humanity, CARE Bangladesh, Tear Fund, Save the Children, Oxfam GB, Islamic Relief, Register of Engineers for Disaster Response (REDR) Canada, World Vision International, LSE Public Policy Group, Mott Foundation, Enhancing Learning and Research for Humanitarian Action (ELRHA) and the ACT Alliance.

Currently external positions:

  • Technical Expert, Harvard Humanitarian Initiative since 2017
  • Academic member, Steering Group, Global Alliance for Urban Crises (GAUC) since 2017
  • Member, UNISDR Asia Science, Technology and Academia Advisory Group (ASTAAG) since 2016
  • International Advisory Group member, Project for the study of the 21st century (PS21) since 2015
  • Board member, Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) since 2014
  • Steering Committee member, ELRHA since 2014
  • Chair, Funding Committee, Humanitarian Innovation Fund (HIF) since 2014; member since 2011
  • Member, Humanitarian Innovations Project Advisory Board, Oxford University since 2012
  • Visiting professor, Université Paris-Est Créteil, France since 2011
  • Co-Editor, PLoS: Disasters Journal since 2011.


  • International Advisory Group member, Project for the Study of the 21stCentury (PS21), since 2015
  • Member, Board of Directors, Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) since 2014
  • Steering Group member, Enhancing Learning and Research for Humanitarian Assistance (ELRHA) since 2014
  • Member, Humanitarian Innovation Project Advisory Board, Oxford University since 2012
  • Chair, grants panel, Humanitarian Innovations Fund (HIF); member since 2011, chair since Sept 2014
  • Expert Group member, UN-Habitat i-House since 2011
  • Co-Editor, PLoS Currents: Disasters Journal since 2011
  • Visiting professor, Université Paris-Est Créteil, France since 2010
  • Editorial board member, Jamba Journal of disaster risk studies since 2010 and International Journal of Urban Sustainable Development since 2009
  • Programme Committee member, CARE International UK, 2006-2013
  • Annual courses lecturer at Harvard Humanitarian Initiative since 2013, Escuela de Organización Industrial (EOI), Madrid since 2011, Universita della Svizzera Italiana, Lugano since 2010 and Université Paris-Est Créteil since 2010.

Sanderson D; Cowden B; Davis I; Twigg J, 1995, Disaster mitigation, preparedness and response: an audit of UK assets, IT Publications, Rugby

Aysan Y; Clayton A; Cory A; Davis I; Sanderson D, 1995, Developing Building for Safety Programmes Guidelines for Organizing Safe Building Improvement Programmes in Disaster-prone Areas, IT Publications

Book Chapters

Sanderson D; bruce L; Sitko P, 2020, 'Climate and disaster risks, challenges and opportunities for resilient Pacific towns and cities', in urbanisation at risk in the pacific and asia, routledge

Sanderson D, 2020, 'Identifying resilience in recovery – complexity, collaboration and communication', in urbanisation at risk in the pacific and asia,

Sanderson D, 2019, 'The importance of prioritising people and place in urban post-disaster contexts', in The routledge handbook of people and place in the 21st-century city, routledge, new york, pp. 252 - 262

Pettit C; Wentz E; Randolph B; Sanderson D; Kelly F; Reades J, 2019, 'Tackling the Challenge of Growing Cities: An Informed Urbanisation Approach', in Hawken S; Han C; Pettit C (ed.), Open Cities and Open Data: Collaborative Cities in the Information Era, Palgrave Macmillan, Singapore,

Sanderson D, 2018, 'Implementing area-based approaches in urban post-disaster contexts', in Science & Technology into Action. Disaster Risk Reduction Perspectives from Asia, Asia Science Technology Academia Advisory Group (ASTAAG), pp. 48 - 50

Sanderson D, 2018, 'Balancing capacity with vulnerability: Dwelling on unstable land, Caqueta, Lima, Peru', in Housing Provision and Bottom-up Approaches: Family Case Studies from Africa, Asia and South America, pp. 315 - 329,

Sanderson D, 2018, 'Beyond ‘the better shed’', in Sanderson D; sharma A (ed.), The State of Humanitarian Shelter and Settlements 2018, pp. 2 - 9,

Sanderson D, 2017, 'Cross-Sector Coordination and Collaboration for Humanitarian Assistance in a Disaster Recovery Setting', in Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Natural Hazard Science, edn. Natural Hazard Science, Oxford University Press, Oxford,

Sanderson D; Sharma A, 2016, 'Making the case for resilience', in Sanderson D; Sharma A (ed.), World Disasters Report 2016 Resilience: saving lives today, investing for tomorrow, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, pp. 10 - 37,

Sanderson D; sharma A, 2016, 'Making the case for resilience', in sanderson D; sharma A (ed.), World Disasters Report, IFRC, Geneva, pp. 10 - 37,

Sanderson D, 2016, 'Introduction "Urban disaster resilience: new dimensions from international practice in the built environment"', in Sanderson D; Kayden JS; Leis J (ed.), Urban disaster resilience: new dimensions from international practice in the built environment, Routledge, New York, pp. 3 - 15,

Lyons M; Schilderman T; Sanderson D, 2013, 'Harnessing time: Reflections on constraints to development', in Sanderson D; Burnell J (ed.), Beyond shelter after disaster: practice, process and possibilities, Routledge, New York, pp. 25 - 29

Sanderson D, 2012, 'Livelihood protection and support for disaster', in Handbook of Hazards and Disaster Risk Reduction, pp. 697 - 710

Sanderson D, 2011, 'Livelihood protection and support for disaster', in Wisner BV; Gaillard J; Kelman I (ed.), Handbook of Hazards, Disaster Risk Reduction and Management, edn. First, Routledge, pp. 655 - 668,

Sanderson D, 2002, 'Planning in Cities', in Zetter R; White R (ed.), Urban livelihoods, shocks and stresses, ITDG Publishing, pp. 116 - 130,

Sanderson D; Hedley D, 2002, 'Strengthening urban livelihoods in Zambia – PUSH II and PROSPECT', in Rakodi C; Lloyd-Jones T (ed.), Urban Livelihoods: A People-centred Approach to Reducing Poverty, Earthscan Publications Ltd, London, pp. 247 - 256,

Sanderson D, 2000, 'Urban poverty – the challenge of the next millennium', in Who's Who in Charities

Sanderson D, 1999, 'Partnerships in disaster management', in Ingleton J (ed.), Natural Disaster Management, Tudor Rose Holdings Ltd, England, pp. 269 - 271

Sanderson D, 1997, 'Reducing vulnerability to increase capacity; the Caqueta ravine, Lima', in Awatona A (ed.), Reconstruction after disaster issues and practices, Ashgate Publishing Limited, pp. 148 - 165

Edited Books

Sanderson D; bruce L, (ed.), 2020, urbanisation at risk in the pacific and asia, routledge, new york,

Sanderson D; sharma A, (ed.), 2018, The State of Humanitarian Shelter and Settlements 2018, Global Shelter Cluster, Geneva,

Sanderson D; Kayden JS; Leis J, (eds.), 2016, Urban disaster resilience: new dimensions from international practice in the built environment, Routledge, New Yrok,

Sanderson D; Burnell J, (ed.), 2013, Beyond Shelter After Disaster: Practice, Process and Possibilities, Routledge

Journal articles

Vaccari MS; Sanderson D; Loosemore M; Mojitahedi M, 2020, 'Fit for purpose? Lessons from transitional shelter provision for internally displaced persons in urban informal settlements in Brazil', Disaster Prevention and Management: An International Journal, vol. 29, pp. 943 - 959,

Patel R; Sanderson D; Sitko P; De Boer J, 2020, 'Investigating urban vulnerability and resilience: a call for applied integrated research to reshape the political economy of decision-making', Environment and Urbanization, vol. 32, pp. 589 - 598,

Loosemore M; Sanderson D, 2020, 'Is the world creating a “paradise for corruption” that weakens its resilience to future disasters?', Fifth Estate,

Sanderson D, 2020, 'Urban response: three principles for good practice', Forced Migration Review, pp. 8 - 11

Shirleyana S; Hawken S; Sunindijo RY; Sanderson D, 2020, 'Narratives of everyday resilience: lessons from an urban kampung community in Surabaya, Indonesia', International Journal of Disaster Resilience in the Built Environment, vol. ahead-of-print,

Sanderson D, 2019, 'Coordination in urban humanitarian response', Progress in Disaster Science, vol. 1, pp. 1 - 4,

Shi P; Shaw R; Ardalan A; Chan EYY; Choudhury JR; Cui P; Fu B; Han G; Han Q; Izumi T; Kasuga F; Yulo Loyzaga A; Pereira JJ; Ravan SK; Sanderson D; Sharma VK; Thomalla F; Triutomo S; Yang S; Ye Q; Wang M; Wu Y; Zhang R; Zhang W; Li Y; Yang S, 2018, 'Fourteen Actions and Six Proposals for Science and Technology-Based Disaster Risk Reduction in Asia: Second Asian Science and Technology Conference for Disaster Risk Reduction: Science-Policy Dialogue for Implementation of the Sendai Framework, April 2018', International Journal of Disaster Risk Science, vol. 9, pp. 275 - 279,

Sanderson D; sitko P, 2018, 'Ten principles for area-based approaches in urban post-disaster recovery', Humanitarian Exchange, pp. 20 - 23,

Sanderson D, 2018, 'Shifting from supply to demand: opportunities for improving humanitarian response in urban disaster settings', Development Bulletin, vol. 79, pp. 63 - 67,

Sanderson D; Patel R; King J; Phelps L, 2017, 'Discussion Informed by Recurrent Lessons from a Systematic Review on Targeting Practices in Urban Humanitarian Crises', PloS Currents: Disasters,

Sanderson D, 2017, 'Implementing area-based approaches (ABAs) in urban post-disaster contexts', Environment and Urbanization, vol. 29, pp. 349 - 364,

Sanderson D; Jones P, 2017, 'Urban resilience: Informal and squatter settlements in the Pacific Region', Development Bulletin, pp. 11 - 15

Sanderson D; Sharma A; Kennedy J; Burnell J, 2014, 'Lost In Transition: Principles, Practice And Lessons From Haiti for Urban Post-Disaster Shelter Recovery Programs', Asian Journal of Environment and Disaster Management (AJEDM), vol. 6, pp. 131 - 151,

Sanderson D, 2012, 'Building livelihoods to reduce risk among the most marginalized in urban areas: Strategic approaches from Dhaka', Environmental Hazards, vol. 11, pp. 112 - 122,

Sanderson D; Sharma A; Anderson J, 2012, 'NGO permanent housing 10 years after the Gujarat earthquake: revisiting the FICCI–CARE Gujarat rehabilitation programme', Environment and Urbanization, vol. 24, pp. 1 - 15,

Sanderson D, 2012, 'Understandings in Disaster Risk Reduction and Resilience, in Natural Disasters', Encyclopedia of Life Support System (EOLSS),

Lyons M; Schilderman T; Sanderson D, 2011, 'Harnessing time: Reflections on constraints to development', Environmental Hazards, vol. 10, pp. 213 - 217,

Burnell J; Sanderson D, 2011, 'Whose reality counts?: Shelter after disaster', Environmental Hazards, vol. 10, pp. 189 - 192,

Sanderson D, 2011, 'Good design in urban shelter after disaster: lessons from development', Boundaries International Architectural Magazine, pp. 64 - 69,

McGuire WJ; Solana MC; Kilburn CRJ; Sanderson D, 2009, 'Improving communication during volcanic crises on small, vulnerable islands', Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research, vol. 183, pp. 63 - 75,

Sanderson D; Sharma A, 2008, 'Winners and losers from the 2001 Gujarat earthquake', Environment and Urbanization, vol. 20, pp. 177 - 186,

Sanderson D, 2000, 'Cities, disasters and livelihoods', Environment and Urbanization, vol. 12, pp. 93 - 102,

Sanderson D, 2000, 'Cities, Disasters and Livelihoods', Environment and Urbanization, vol. 12, pp. 93 - 102,

Sanderson D, 1999, 'Implementing action planning to reduce urban risk', Open House International, vol. 24, pp. 33 - 39

Sanderson D, 1997, 'Reducing risk as a tool for urban improvement: the Caqueta ravine, Lima, Peru', Environment and Urbanization, vol. 9, pp. 251 - 261,

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