The interdisciplinary approach to complex knowledge questions for disasters and pandemics

The risk of disasters and pandemics is a growing problem worldwide (Figure 1). The Netherlands is vulnerable due in part to high population density, intensive livestock farming and location below sea level. Increased population density and mobility, aging, increased human-animal interaction, increasing livestock numbers, increasing pressure on ecosystems due to the high demand for food production for humans and farmed animals, and climate change simultaneously increase the risk and potential impact of a subsequent pandemic or water-related disaster.

RIVM conducted an Integrated National Security Risk Assessment in 2019, in which both floods and pandemics scored high. The potential impact of such crises is enormous: the COVID-19 pandemic already cost more than 40 thousand lives, disrupted society and cost more than 80 billion in measures in the Netherlands alone. There also appeared to be a need for a much broader knowledge base in addition to infectious disease control knowledge, including from social sciences, ventilation experts, and clinical research. That knowledge was often fragmented, and financial incentives for research became available too late and only fragmented availiable, so that advice to crisis responders (inter)nationally could hardly make use of the broad scientific field.



Figure 1. Causes of increased disaster risks.

Pandemics and water-related disasters not only share the same risk drivers (such as climate change) but are inextricably linked, for example, because extreme weather conditions promote the spread of infectious diseases. Even the measures taken against (the effects of) disasters and pandemics impact each other. The corona crisis, but also the recent floods in Limburg, made it clear that there are bottlenecks that impede essential cooperation between researchers (and in the process integrate knowledge and advice). There is a need for a knowledge institute that combines expertise from different disciplines and examines in an interdisciplinary way the causes, consequences and control methods of the greatest threats to the health of the Netherlands.

Within this context, the Pandemic & Disaster Preparedness Center (PDPC) was established. In collaboration with its chain partners, the PDPC hopes to contribute to preventing and preparing for future disasters and pandemics. In this article, we provide insight into our current activities and what we hope to accomplish in the future.

Objectives of the PDPC

The PDPC’s ambition is to ensure that the Netherlands positions itself as one of the leading players in research into the integrated management of future crises. This includes several overarching goals, namely: reducing the (likelihood of) damage to the Dutch economy during a disaster or pandemic, addressing social inequality, promoting mental health and social well-being, and reducing disease burden and absenteeism during and after a crisis.


If you want to read more about the concrete objectives of the PDPC, our substantive agenda and governance approach, research activities and future perspective read the entire article here on the RIVM site.