Before the floods

  • Involving women and men equally in creating and receiving early warnings will save more lives and property
- Mandira Singh Shrestha, MIN BAHADUR GURUNG
Before the floods

Mar 8, 2015-

Every year, Nepal faces severe flooding that leaves behind a trail of disasters. The floods of 2002 killed more than 400 people and affected 39,309 families. In 1993, one of the worst flood years in the history of Nepal, floods killed more than 1,336 people. In 2014, the Mid-Western region was inundated, and in 2013 the town of Darchula in the Far-Western region was nearly washed away.  During these flood disasters, social inequalities are often amplified, and poor people—especially women, the elderly, and children, living along river banks and in the plains—are particularly vulnerable.

Early warning system

Floods alone account for more than 35 percent of the disasters that occur in Nepal. On average, more than 300 people are killed annually as a result of floods and landslides. The loss of lives and property adversely affects both local and national socioeconomic development.

Increasingly, erratic monsoon rainfall patterns and increased climate variability have led to more severe and frequent flood disasters. These adversely impact peoples’ lives and livelihoods, agriculture productivity, and hydropower production, among other things.

In addition to structural flood protection measures, like the building of appropriate infrastructure, non-structural measures, such as the implementation of early warning systems, can help minimise the adverse impacts of floods. Discussion about early warning systems is often focused around the monitoring of weather and climate and the transmission of data. While this is an integral component of any early warning system, there are three other equally important components that must be considered: knowledge of risks, the dissemination and communication of information, and response capability. What regions are most at risk, have risk maps been prepared, and are the communities aware of the risks? Do the warnings reach women and men who are at risk, and are the warnings understood? And can they take action?

In some instances, flood warnings have been issued, but they did not reach the people at risk in time. Take for example the floods in Uttarakhand, India in 2013, where despite timely weather forecasts, more than 5,000 people were killed. In order to save lives, early warning systems must be people-centred and have in place appropriate institutional mechanisms that provide warnings that are accurate, timely, understandable and actionable to both women and men at risk.

Women at risk

Disasters affect men and women differently. In fact, studies indicate that disasters kill more women than men. The primary reasons for this are related to women’s lack of information, mobility, decision-making power, and access to resources. The differential impact of disasters is also attributed to a lack of training, particularly about survival skills, as well as gender-based social and cultural norms and barriers that exist in our society. For example, women typically have less experience in swimming and tree climbing than men. Conventional gender roles and responsibilities and high rates of men’s outmigration also increase the burden on the women remaining in the villages, who often have to take on additional duties in the absence of men. Gender differences are also manifested in poorer health and nutritional status, lower levels of access to formal literacy and education, higher levels of economic poverty, and low representation in governance institutions.

Statistics show that Nepali women still lag behind in the move toward equality. According to the 2013 UN Human Development Report, Nepal ranks fourth in South Asia and 102 out of 186 countries in the world in its gender inequality index. Low literacy rates and the lack of awareness, opportunities, and capacities make women highly vulnerable to natural disasters.

Over the last few years, the Government of Nepal has made significant progress in strengthening its capacity to prepare and respond to disasters. Through efforts from bodies like the Disaster Preparedness Network and the Nepal Risk Reduction Consortium (NRRC), coordination on disaster risk reduction between concerned stakeholders has increased. The government-led NRRC, through its five flagship programmes, brings partners together to support the government in its efforts to strengthen disaster risk reduction and response. International non-governmental organisations such as Practical Action and Mercy Corps have installed community-based flood early-warning systems in selected geographic areas, and national and local NGOs are also working with the communities on the development and use of these systems. All of these activities are supporting improved disaster risk reduction in Nepal. However, while efforts have been made to address gender issues during these activities, a study conducted by International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (Icimod) and the Department of Hydrology and Meteorology looking at early warning systems with a gender perspective found that women’s participation is generally limited to users’ committees, which have a limited role and little active involvement in decision-making processes; thus, not fully utilising the capacity of women.

Involve women

To make early warning systems effective and efficient, we must recognise the active role that women play in family livelihood security, and efforts must be made to involve women and men equally in creating and receiving early warnings and alerts. Women should be involved in all phases of the disaster risk management cycle, including the design, implementation, and monitoring of early warning systems. Arming women with appropriate early warning technology, providing them with valuable skills and knowledge related to disaster risk reduction, strengthening their capacities, and tailoring information products to their needs will better prepare them and enable them to act when a disaster strikes.

The world is preparing for the third World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction being held in March this month in Sendai, Japan, where the Post 2015 Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction will be endorsed by national governments. At this conference, we hope to see greater commitments to promoting women as a force for building resilience and gender equitable approaches in disaster risk reduction.

Today as we celebrate the 105th International Women’s Day, let us all strive to make concerted and collective efforts for gender integration in disaster risk reduction for a safer and resilient society. Much has already been done, yet a lot more remains to be achieved.  

Shrestha is Programme Coordinator of the HKH-HYCOS Initiative and Gurung is Institution Development Analyst at the Icimod

Published: 08-03-2015 08:27

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