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Personal profile

Personal profile

Cees van Westen is Full professor Multi-Hazard Risk Dynamics at the Earth System Analysis Department of the faculty of Geo-information Science and Earth Observation (ITC), Twente University, the Netherlands. After obtaining his MSc in Physical Geography from the University of Amsterdam in 1988, he joined the International Institute for Geo-Information Science and Earth Observation (ITC) as PhD researcher and specialized in the use of Remote Sensing and Geographic Information Systems for natural hazard and risk assessment. He obtained his Ph.D. in Engineering Geology from the Technical University of Delft in 1993, with research on "Geographic Information Systems for Landslide Hazard Zonation". He is working in the Department of Earth Systems Analysis, and contributes to the research theme 4D-Earth, specifically to Natural Hazards and Disaster Risk Management. He was involved in projects related to the development of open source GIS software and developed many training materials on the use of GIS for hazard and risk assessment. From 2005- 2015 he was Director of the United Nations University - ITC Centre on Geoinformation for Disaster Risk Management.  The overview of activities of the UNU-DGIM can be downloaded here. He has carried out research on different hazard and risk related aspects: landslide hazard and risk (e.g. Austria, Switzerland, Italy, Romania, India, China, Vietnam, Colombia, Central America, Caribbean), volcanic hazard and risk assessment (Colombia, Philippines, Central America, South America) and technological risk assessment (India). He worked on national scale risk assessment projects in Central America, the Caribbean, Caucasus, and Central Asia. His current research interest is to develop methods for the analysis of changing multi-hazard risk. These changes can be abrupt, e.g. after major disasters (e.g. earthquakes, tropical storms, volcanic eruptions), or gradual (e.g. analyzing how future scenarios of climate change, land-use change and population change have an impact on risk) or as a decision support tool for the planning of risk reduction measures. 

Research interests

He is currently contributing to the research theme on Disaster Risk Management in ITC.  He has carried out research on different hazard and risk related aspects: landslide hazard and risk (e.g. Austria, Switzerland, Italy, Romania, India, China, Vietnam, Colombia, Central America, Caribbean), volcanic hazard and risk assessment (Colombia, Philippines, Central America, South America) and  technological risk assessment (India). He worked on national scale risk assessment projects in Central America, Caribbean, and the Caucasus. His current research interest is to develop methods for the analysis of changing multi-hazard risk. These changes can be abrupt, e.g. after major disasters (e.g. earthquakes, tropical storms, volcanic eruptions), or gradual (e.g. analyzing how future scenarios of climate change, land use change and population change have an impact on risk) or as decision support tool for the planning of risk reduction measures. 


Externally funded research projects:

  • RUNOUT project. Major risk from rapid, large-volume landslides in Europe: The design and testing of new techniques for hazard assessment and mitigation. EU FP5, Programme Environment and Climate 1994-1998. The primary goals for Project RUNOUT were to develop and test physical models for the catastrophic collapse and runout of giant landslides, and to use these to improve strategies for mitigating the hazard from such mass movements. Test sites in Gran Canaria, Liechtenstein and Italy. 
  • ESA-DUP SLAM Project: the development of an ESA EO Service to support the legal obligations of Swiss and Italian Geological Risk Services in landslide risk forecasting and prevention. Several projects funded by the European Space Agency within the framework of its Data User Program (DUP), have investigated the feasibility and the operational applicability of spaceborne imagery to respond to the needs of governmental institutions that have a mandate in landslide analysis and prevention. 
  • SLARIM project: Strengthening Local Authorities in Risk Management. This was an internally funded ITC project running from 2002 to 2005. The main objective was to develop a methodology for the use of spatial information systems for municipalities, which will allow local authorities to evaluate the risk of natural disasters in their municipality, in order to implement strategies for vulnerability reduction. It concentrated on medium-sized cities in developing countries, which do not yet utilize GIS in their urban planning (Naga in the Philippines for flood risk management, Lalitpur in Nepal and Dehradun in India for seismic risk management). This resulted in the Ph.D. of Veronica Botero and Graciela Peters. 
  • Mountain Risk Project. The Mountain Risk Project was an EU FP6 Marie Curie Initial Training Network running from 2007-2010. It focused on research and training in aspects of mountains hazards and risks assessment and management. It intended to develop an advanced understanding of how mountain hydro-geomorphological processes behave and to apply this understanding to living with the hazards in the long-term. This resulted in the Ph.D. thesis of Byron Quan Luna on the use of runout modeling for landslide hazard and risk assessment. 
  • SafeLand Project. SafeLand was a Large-scale integrating Collaborative research project funded by the Seventh Framework Programme for research and technological development (FP7) of the European Commission. It developed generic quantitative risk assessment and management tools and strategies for landslides at local, regional, European and societal scales and establish the baseline for the risk associated with landslides in Europe, to improve our ability to forecast landslide hazard and detect hazard and risk zones. 
  • INCREO project. The INCREO project was an EU FP7 Copernicus project, running from 2013-2014. The objective of IncREO is to provide actors responsible for civil protection and disaster management with EO-based solutions contributing to an improved preparedness and mitigation planning for areas highly vulnerable to natural disasters and already noticeable climate change trends. 
  • CHANGES project. The CHANGES project was an EU FP7 Marie Curie Initial Training Network. The CHANGES network (Changing Hydro-meteorological Risks – as Analyzed by a New Generation of European Scientists) aimed to develop an advanced understanding of how global changes (related to environmental and climate change as well as socio-economical change) will affect the temporal and spatial patterns of hydro-meteorological hazards and associated risks in Europe; how these changes can be assessed, modelled, and incorporated in sustainable risk management strategies, focusing on spatial planning, emergency preparedness and risk communication. This resulted in the Ph.D. of Thea Turkington on the analysis of climate change for hydro-meteorological hazards in mountainous areas in the Alps.

Bilaterial research projects:

  • Austria: Applied Geomorphological Mapping Hintere Bregenzerwald. As part of the MSc a mapping project of 12 geomorphological map sheets was carried out together with A.C. Seijmonsbergen. Each map at 1:10,000 scale had two overlay maps: geotechnical and natural hazards. 
  • Austria: Geotopen Inventar Vorarlberg. A collaboration of the University of Amsterdam with the Vorarlberger Naturschau (Inatura, Dornbirn) resulted in one of the first inventories of geomorphologically important geotopes in Austria. 
  • Switzerland: Landslide hazard assessment in Sant-Gallen. Collaboration between the University of Amsterdam and the Wildbachverbauung in Sankt Gallen: several projects were carried out on detailed applied geomorphological mapping in 1986-1988. 
  • Colombia: Landslide susceptibility and hazard assessment in Manizales. Collaboration between ITC and the Instituto Geografica Agustin Codazzi (IGAC) in Bogota, Colombia. Linked to Ph.D. of Cees van Westen and Mark Terlien, and to capacity building in IGAC.  
  • China: Coalfire impact on landslides and subsidence. Research project funded by Netherlands Government and EU on mitigating the impact of spontaneous coal fire combustion in Ninxia province.
  • Philippines: Volcanic hazard assessment in Pinatubo and Mayon. Collaboration with PHIVOLCS on post-volcanic debris flows modeling at Mount Pinatubo, resulting in the Ph.D. of Arturo Daag. Volcanic hazard assessment of Mayon volcano with Arlene Dayao of DMG. 
  • Cuba: National-scale landslide risk assessment. This work was centered around the PhD research of Enrique Castellanos (now director IGP in Cuba). Methods were developed for landslide hazard and risk assessment at national, provincial, municipal and local scale. 
  • Nepal: Seismic hazard and risk assessment in Kathmandu valley. Collaboration with the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), the Nepalese Society on Earthquake Technology (NSET), the Department of Mines and Geology, and Lalitpur Sub-Metropolitan Office. Modeling of soft sediments in Kathmandu valley, liquefaction hazard assessment, building characterization, seismic risk assessment, improvement of building permit system. 
  • Peru: Volcanic hazard assessment in Arequipa. Collaboration with Prof. Thouret (University of Clermont Ferrand), Mike Sheridan, and Ruben Vargas Franco. 
  • India: Landslide hazard and risk assessment. Four-year collaboration project with the Geological Survey of India (GSI), the National Remote Sensing Agency (NRSA, DoS)  and the Italian CNR-IRPI on the development of landslide inventory, susceptibility, hazard and risk assessment methods appropriate for India. Resulting in four PhD theses of Sekhar Lujose Kuriase, Tapas Ranjan Martha, Saibal Ghosh and Pankaj Jaiswal. 
  • China: Earthquake-induced landslide hazard assessment in Sichuan province. Close collaboration with the State Key Laboratory of Geohazard Prevention (SKLGP), of the Chengdu Technical University (CDUT), resulting in PhD thesis of Tolga Gorum and Xuanmei Fan, and ongoing work by Chengxiao Tang. Also resulting in the Wenchuan-Earthquake Geohazards Atlas and numerous publications.  
  • Malaysia: Use of LiDAR for landslide hazard and risk assessment. Collaboration with the Universiti Teknologi Malaysia, and JMG on the application of LiDAR data to landslide inventory mapping, hazard and risk assessment. This resulted in the Ph.D. of Khammarul Razak. 
  • India: Technological hazard and risk assessment in Haldia. This research resulted from an EU project with the Indian Chamber of Commerce in Kolkata and the EU Joint Research Centre in Ispra, Italy. Two Ph.D. researchers: Anandita Sengupta and Debanjan Bandyopadhyay (December 2016)
  • China, 2015-2018. Development of an Atlas of Wenchuan Earthquake Geohazards, together with the State Key Laboratory on Geohazard Prevention and Geoenvironmental Protection (SKLGP), Chengdu University of Technology.
  • Nepal (2015-2019). Analyzing the co-seismic and post-seismic landslide activity in Rasuwa, with Thribuvan University
  • Dominica (2016-2020). Analyzing the multi-hazard impact of tropical storms and hurricanes in a small island developing state. With University of Leeds and Portsmouth
  • Kerala, India (2019-2020): Analyzing the relation between land-use changes and landslides triggered by the 2018 and 2019 monsoon events. With UNEP, University of Kerala, Kerala State Disaster Management Authority.


He has been teaching courses since 1994 on topics such as Introduction to GIS, Spatial Information for Disaster Risk Management, Natural Hazard Assessment, Empirical Modelling, Landslide susceptibility Assessment, Multi-Hazard risk Assessment, Disaster Risk Reduction.

From 1998 to 2000 he was Programme Director of the Earth Resources and Environmental Geosciences" educational programme, and he has been coordinating the specialization on Natural hazards for a number of years. 

He has been active in the development of joint educational programmes with IIRS (India), UGM (Indonesia), ICIMOD (Nepal), ADPC (Thailand), CLAS-UMSS (Bolivia) and UNAM-CIGA (Mexico), and CDUT (China). He has given short courses in many different countries. 

He has supervised over 85 MSc research thesis students.


Courses in ITC which he now coordinates:

Training packages, that deal with the application of GIS and Remote Sensing for natural hazards and risk assessment:

Regular short courses were organized with the following organizations:

  • ADPC, AIT and UNITAR-UNOSAT: GI4DRM. This course has been designed jointly by ADPC, Asian Institute of Technology, ITC-University of Twente, Netherlands, and the United Nations Institute for Training and Research's Operational Satellite Applications Programme (UNITAR-UNOSAT), with the aim of providing an overview of the use of spatial information in disaster risk management. It has been running succesfully since 2008, and is organized annually by ADPC in Thailand. 
  • Bolivia, CLAS/UMSS, 1995-2012. Joint courses on "Evaluación de amenazas y riesgos para desastres naturales" , for the CLAS project in Cochabamba. 
  • Mexico: CIGA/UNAM, 2006-2009. With the Centro de Investigaciones en Geografía Ambiental (CIGA) of the Universidad Nacional de Mexico (UNAM) an annual joint short course on "Geo-Información para la Evaluación y Manejo del Riesgo a Múltiples Amenazas" was organized
  • LARAM and LARAM-Asia. ITC contributed to the annual LARAM PhD School in Italy (ORganized by the University of Salerno) and the LARAM Asia School (Later converted to IRALL School organized by SKLGP in Chengdu, China). 
  • South Korea, KIGAM. 2012-2014. Course “Landslide Monitoring and Assessment” for international and Korean students in the training center of IS-GEO at the Korean Institute of Geoscience and Mineral Resources (KIGAM) in Daejeon (Korea)

Joint Master Courses were organized with the following institutions:

  • The Indian Institute of Remote Sensing (IIRS), Dehradun, India:  A joint course on Geo-Information for Disaster Management was organized at Postgraduate and MSc level for a number of years (2007-2015). The MSc students from this course came for a three-month period to ITC as part of their overall programme. The MSc research was carried out in India with support from supervisors from ITC and IIRS.
  • The Geography Department of Gadjah Mada University, Yogyakarta, Indonesia:  A joint MSc degree course on Geo-Information for spatial planning and risk management was organized for a number of years (2009-2016). The Indonesian MSc students also spent a three-month period at ITC, and their MSc research in Indonesia was supervised jointly by staff from ITC and UGM.


  • Colombia: support of IGAC, 1988 - 1993. Support of curriculum development and organization of training courses on natural hazards at the Instituto Geografico Agustin Codazzi (IGAC), collaboration with INGEOMINAS, Universidad de Caldas and Universidad Nacional.
  • USA: ISU, 1993. Training at the summer school "International Disaster Warning and Mitigation System" of the International Space University, Huntsville, Alabama, USA. 
  • Nepal, ICIMOD. 1994-1998. course on "Remote Sensing and Geographic Information Systems for Landslide Hazard Zonation", organised in Kathmandu by ICIMOD (International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development), ITC, with funds from UNESCO and JICA.
  • Costa Rica: ICE, 1994. Course "Introduccion a los sistemas de informacion geografica. Aplicaciones en las ciencias de la tierra", Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad, San Jose
  • Malaysia: MACRES, 1999: Course on Remote Sensing and GIS for Landslide Hazard Assessment in MACRES, Malaysia
  • China: ESCAP, 1995. Training Course on Environmental and Urban Geology of Fast-growing Cities”, organised by ESCAP and the Chinese Ministry of Geology and Mineral Resources (MGMR), held in Shanghai
  • Bolivia, UMSS, 1995-2012. Joint courses on "Evaluación de amenazas y riesgos para desastres naturales" , for the CLAS project in Cochabamba. 
  • India, Indian Institute of Remote Sensing GEONEDIS. 1996-2006. Curriculum development and frequent training courses at the Indian Institute of Remote Sensing (IIRS, Department of Space). Project coordinator for a number of years and coordinator of a Joint Master Course on Natural Hazards and Disaster Risk Management. Geo-information for Environmental Assessment and DM, Institutional Strengthening of the Indian Institute of Remote Sensing (GEONEDIS)
  • Nepal: GLOF hazard, 1996. Expedition in the Tamba Koshi and Rolwaling valleys, together with 6 Nepalse students, to map the possible effect of a glacial lake outburst (GLOF) of the Tsho Rolpa glacier lake.
  • Argentina, 1996. Course "Curso de Actualizacion: Nuevas tecnologias en el analisis y mitigacion de riesgos naturales en Sudamerica Neotropical" in S.M. de Tucuman
  • Peru, 1999. Curriculum development “Gestion Estrategica para Prevencion de Riesgos Ambientales” for the Msc course on “Planeamiento y Gestion Urbano Ambiental” for the National University San Augustin in Arequipa, and in Trujillo in the framework of the PEGUP project. GEneration of the "Atlas Ambiental de Trujillo", and the "Atlas Ambiental de Lima".
  • Colombia: Rapid Inventory of Earthquake Damage, 1999-2000. In order to make a rapid assessment of the damage inflicted by the 1999 Armenia earthquake and to make recommendations for the reconstruction of the damaged areas, the Dutch government offered assistance to the Colombian authorities in the “Rapid Inventory of Earthquake Damage (RIED)” project. In the context of this cooperation project between the Colombian Ministerio del Medio Ambiente and the organisations Ingeominas, CARDER, CRQ, and IGAC, the International Institute for Aerospace Survey and Earth Sciences (ITC) and the Delft University of Technology (TUD) were subsequently requested to carry out this task.
  • Central America, UNSECO-RAPCA project. 1998-2003. UNESCO project on Capacity Building for Natural disaster Reduction, regional Action Programme Central America (RAPCA) with participants from the following countries: Guatemala, Honduras, Nicarague, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Panama and Belize;
  • SE Asia, CASITA University Network project. 2002-2004. Capacity Building in Asia using Information Technology Application (CASITA). EU EuropAid ASIA IT&T Project. Main partner was the Asian Disaster Preparedness Center (ADPC). Establishment of an Asian University Network with Universities in the following countries : Bangladesh (BUET and Khulna), Indonesia (Gadja Mada University), Laos (Urban Research Institute), Pakistan (University of Peshawar), Sri Lanka (Un. Moratuwa, Univ. of Ruhuna, Peradenyia University), Thailand (AIT, Chaing Mai University),  Vietnam (Hanoi Architectural University), Philippines (University of the Philippines), India (IIRS, CEPT). 
  • Mexico: UNAM, 2006-2009. With the Centro de Investigaciones en Geografía Ambiental (CIGA) of the Universidad Nacional de Mexico (UNAM) an annual joint short course on "Geo-Información para la Evaluación y Manejo del Riesgo a Múltiples Amenazas" was organized
  • Central America: CAPRA evaluation, 2009-2010. ITC was asked by the World Bank to review the CARPA methodology and software, user groups, training needs, WIKI communication report, and software development recommendations 
  • Georgia, MATRA project. 2009-2012. Institutional Building for Natural Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) in Georgia, funded by NL Government, together with the Caucasian Environmental NGO Network (CENN). The project addressed nine different natural hazards and their overlap with eight elements at risk, such as population, buildings, and GDP. Development of a Digital Atlas of Natural Hazards in Georgia and a Web-GIS
  • Vietnam:  GHITRA project. 2010-2011. ITC was lead partner in the Geo-information Technology for Hazard Risk Assessment (GITHRA) project in Vietnam, funded by the Asian Development Bank. Aim was to build capacity on the application of modern Geo-IT for Hazard Risk Assessment (HRA) and Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) and to develop a spatial multi-hazard risk assessment methodology applicable for Vietnam. Staff of the Vietnamese Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD) and its Disaster Risk Management related agencies and programs (CCFSC, DDMFSC, DMC). A Vietnamese version was made of the Multi-Hazard Risk Assessment Guidebook, and Exercise Book
  • Eastern Europe, EU PPRD EAST project.  EU-funded Programme for the Prevention, Preparedness and Response to Man-made and Natural Disasters in the ENPI East Region (PPRD East). Development of a training package and training for participants from Moldova, Ukraine, Belarus, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbeidjan. 
  • Pakistan: IST, 2013. Training Course on Advanced Geo-Spatial Disaster Management Techniques, at the Institute of Space Technology, Islamabad, Pakistan
  • Vietnam: Landslide hazard assessment method. 2013-2014. Consulting project for the Vietnamese Institute of Geology and Mining (VIGMR) on the design of an optimal approach for medium-scale landslide susceptibility assessment for Vietnam in 2014. Generation of guidelines, three test sheets at scale 1:50,000 and training courses.
  • Nepal: Post-earthquake landslide hazards. After the 2015 Gorkha earthquake collaboration with several organisations, such as UNEP, UNIL (Lausanne University), ICIMOD, DSCWM, ICIMOD, NSET Tribhuvan University on the development of methods for post-earthquake landslide inventory and hazard assessment
  • Caribbean: CHARIM project. Caribbean Handbook on Disaster Information Management,. This Worl Bank projectwith funding from ACP-EU Natural Disaster REduction Programme developed an on-line handbook  to support the generation and application of landslide and flood hazard and risk information to inform projects and program of planning and infrastructure sectors, specifically targeted to small countries in the Caribbean region. The methodology centers around a series of use cases, which are practical examples. National scale datasets were organized and stored in the CHARIM GEoNode platform. National scale landslide and flood hazard maps were made for Belize, Saint Lucia, Dominica, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and Grenada. 
  • Cape Verde: Geo-Information for Hazard and Risk Assessment. 2016-2017. Capacity building project funded by UNEP to apply Geo-Information for Multi-Hazard risk assessment. 
  • Colombia. 2017. Advise on the development of a methodology for landslide hazard zonation at 1:25.000 scale as a basis for territorial planning. Guía metodológica para zonificación de amenazas por Movimientos en Masa, escala 1:25.000. Servicio geológico de Colombia. 
  • Indonesia, 2017. Tailor-made training course for 20 staff members from government organizations (lead by Balai Litbang Sabo) on Integrating Operation of Landslide Modules within Early Warning System Platform with Forecast Data.  Joint research on rainfall thresholds for landslide early warning in Java.
  • Abkhazia, 2018. Contract with the Regional Environmental Centre for the Caucasus (REC Caucasus from Tbilisi Georgia), in the framework of the COBERM (a grant programme funded by the European Union and implemented by United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) that supports initiatives of local Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) in conflict areas. Aim is to support local disaster risk management experts from the independent territory of Abkhazia, and from Georgia , in order to support capacity building for disaster risk management and early warning systems in Abkhazia.
  • Tajikistan (2019-2020). UNDP project on  “Multi-Hazard Risk Assessment at District Level for Tajikistan”. The main objective of this project was to assess the vulnerability of communities and infrastructure to natural hazards, determine their degree of exposure to future hazardous events for six major hazards (earthquakes, landslides, mudflows/flashfloods, snow avalanches, drought, and windstorms). The national capacities for risk assessment and dynamic mapping were enhanced through the project by engaging national institutions and experts.  The project will also implement open-source software and tools 

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 8 - Decent Work and Economic Growth
  • SDG 11 - Sustainable Cities and Communities
  • SDG 13 - Climate Action
  • SDG 15 - Life on Land


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