Vrije Universiteit Brussel
Department of Geography
Room F 8.14
Pleinlaan 2
1050 Brussels | Belgium

+32-2-629 33 92

As a teenager I thought bioscience engineering would allow me to tackle climate change. I thus obtained a master in bioscience engineering: soil and water management. Over time I realized that the great challenges of our time are not (just) of a technical nature. I therefore made a move towards the social sciences and geography.

For my PhD I made use of quantitative methods from agricultural economics to study the causes and consequences of landslide disasters in Uganda. I was strongly influenced by insights and concepts from social geography and sociology. This determined the topics and conceptual frameworks in my research.

I am now interested in a broad range of topics, including environmental governance, science and technology studies (and in particular the Actor Network Theory), innovative methods for qualitative and quantitative research on environmental problems, science communication and the inclusion of scientific expertise and citizens in democratic decision making. I am involved as a volunteer in the citizen movement called

Currently I am working on a board game that was used to highlight the complex causes and consequences of disasters as well as the political aspect and agonistic challenges of disaster risk management. The game is called “DisCoord": Can you avoid disasters through coordination and cooperation”.

2014-2018: My PhD is called “Landslide Risk and Risk Reduction: A Quantitative Outlook on a Socio-Environmental Issue In Uganda” and is available upon request (

This PhD was part of a wider project, called AfReSlide which aimed at identifying culturally, technically and economically feasible resilience strategies to landslides in Equatorial Africa. It was composed of researchers in social and physical geography, agricultural economics and anthropology. Frequent interactions have stimulated fertile interdisciplinary research.

Now: I am now involved in several projects, out of which two are direct ‘spin-offs’ from the AfReSlide project. I am funded for a 6 months period at the VUB with a Global Minds fellowship. The different projects are

  • [Research] Analysis of the board game called DisCoord. In particular I want to evaluate the potential of serious games for
    • Raising awareness on the complex drivers of disasters due to floods and landslides in Uganda
    • Highlighting the political aspects of disaster risk management and stimulating an ideal speech scenario which brings about agonistic interactions among the players
  • [Science communication] Improving the coordination and communication of research in the Global South at the VUB
  • [Research coordination] I am involved as an associated researcher in two projects
    • LIFT, a H2020 project on Low Input Farming and Territories, together with Prof. Liesbet Vranken
    • D-Sire, a project on citizen science for disaster risk reduction in Uganda, together with Dr. Lies Jacobs
  • [Teaching] I am co-supervising a master student in geography who will study the dominant discourses in the citizen assembly that is being set up by

Upcoming/interests: I am committed to interdisciplinary research! I think that the combination of in-depth knowledge of the tools and techniques of economic valuation with the reflective practices of science and technology studies and social geography, is crucial for studying the close connection between humans and their environment.

I have obtained a post-doctoral mandate at the KU Leuven for doing research on perceptions and motivations for environmental management among conventional farmers in Belgium and Uganda (start: January 2020)

I have applied for a MSCA fellowship at the Centre de Sociologie de l’Innovation (CSI) in Paris for doing research on the sociology of environmental valuation practices with an approach grounded in Actor Network Theory.

Board game

Upcoming :                           

  • Mertens, K., Vranken, L. (2019). Land Markets, Landslides and Social Norms: new insights from a Discrete Choice Experiment

A1 :

  • Maes, J., Molombe, J.M., Mertens, K., Parra, C., Poesen, J., Bih Che, V., Kervyn, M., 2019. Socio-political drivers and consequences of landslide and flood risk zonation: A case study of Limbe city, Cameroon. EPC: Politics and Space 37(4) 707-731. DOI: 10.1177/2399654418790767
  • Baert, M., Kahou, A., Guedjiou, C., Kervyn, M., Vranken, L. Mertens, K. (2019). Resettlement preferences from landslide prone areas in the Bamboutos caldera: Willingness to move, reasons to stay. Land Use Policy.
  • Jacobs L., Kabaseke C., Bwambale B., Katutu R., Dewitte O., Mertens K., Maes J., Kervyn M. (2019). The Geo-observer network: a proof of concept on participatory sensing of disasters in a remote setting. Science Of The Total Environment doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2019.03.177.


  • Mertens, K., Vranken, L. (2018). Investing in land to change your risk exposure? Land transactions in a landslide prone region. World Development 110, 437-452.
  • Mertens, K., Maes, J., Jacobs, L., Kervyn, M., Poesen, J., Vranken, L., (2018). Disaster Risk Reduction Among Households Exposed to Landslide Hazard: a Crucial Role for Self-Efficacy? Land Use Policy 75, 77-91.
  • Maes, J., Mertens, K., Jacobs, L., Bwambale, B., Vranken, L., Dewitte, O., Poesen, J., Kervyn, M. (2018). Social multi-criteria evaluation to identify appropriate disaster risk reduction measures: application to landslides in the Rwenzori Mountains, Uganda. Landslides 1-15.
  • Maes, J., Parra, C., Mertens, K., Bwambale, B., Jacobs, L., Poesen, J., Dewitte, O., Vranken, L., de Hontheim, A., Kabaseke, C. (2018). Questioning network governance for disaster risk management: Lessons learnt from landslide risk management in Uganda. Environmental Science & Policy 85:163-171.


  • Jacobs, L., Dewitte, O., Poesen, J., Maes, J., Mertens, K., Sekajugo, J., Kervyn, M., 2017. Landslide characteristics and spatial distribution in the Rwenzori Mountains, Uganda. Journal of African Earth Sciences 134:917-930.
  • Maes, J., Kervyn, M., de Hontheim, A., Dewitte, O., Jacobs, L., Mertens, K., Vanmaercke, M., Vranken, L., Poesen, J., 2017. Landslide risk reduction strategies: A review of practices and challenges for the tropics. Progress in Physical Geography, 41(2), 191-221


  • Mertens, K., Jacobs, L., Maes, J., Kabaseke, C., Maertens, M., Poesen, J., Kervyn, M., Vranken, L. (2016). The impact of landslides on household income in tropical regions: a case study from the Rwenzori Mountains in Uganda. Science of the Total Environment. art. nr. 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2016.01.171.
  • Kervyn, M., Jacobs, L., Maes, J., Bih Che, V., de Hontheim, A., Dewitte, O., Isabirye, M., Sekajugo, J., Kabaseke, C., Poesen, J., Vranken, L., Mertens, K. (2016). Landslide resilience in Equatorial Africa: Moving beyond problem identification! Belgeo.
  • Jacobs, L., Maes, J., Mertens, K. et al. Nat Hazards (2016). Reconstruction of a flash flood event through a multi-hazard approach: focus on the Rwenzori Mountains, Uganda. Natural Hazards. DOI: abs/10.1177/0309133316689344


  • Mertens, K., Tolossa, A., Verdoodt, A., Dumon, M., Deckers, S., Van Ranst, E. (2015). Impact of traditional soil burning (guie) on Planosol properties and land-use intensification in southwestern Ethiopia. Soil Use and Management. 10.1111/sum.12182.


Non-A1 (only first author and last author) :

  • Mertens, K. (2018). DisCoord: Can you avoid disasters through coordination and cooperation? A serious board game on the politics of disaster governance. Unpublished
  • Mertens, K., Jacobs, L., Maes, J., Bih Che, V., Bwambale, B., de Hontheim, A., Dewitte, O., Kabaseke, C., Kagou Dongmo, A., Poesen, J., Vranken, L., Kervyn, M. (2018). Landslides Policy Briefs. AfReSlide: Landslides in Equatorial Africa, Identifying culturally, technically and economically feasible resilience strategies. 12p.
  • Mertens, K. (2018). Publiciteit in onze treinen, een goed idee? Blog-post in MO-magazine.
  • Mertens, K., Jacobs, L., Maes, J., Bih Che, V., Bwambale, B., de Hontheim, A., Dewitte, O., Kabaseke, C., Kagou, A., Poesen, J., Kervyn, M. (2018). AfReSlide: Landslides in Equatorial Africa, Identifying culturally, technically and economically feasible resilience strategies. BelSpo Report.
  • Mertens, K., Jacobs, L., Maes, J., de Hontheim, A., Dewitte, O., Poesen, J., Vranken, L., Kervyn, M. (2016). AfReSlide: Landslides in the Rwenzori Mountains. The Rwenzori Outlook Magazine, December 2016, 1, 28-29.