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Women, disasters and early warning systems

Published : Wednesday, 11 December, 2019 at 12:00 AM  Count : 930

Parvez Babul

Parvez Babul

Disasters do not discriminate, but dominate women! Women suffer more due to disasters. Disasters kill more women than men. Disasters and climate change make women more vulnerable than men. Because, in general, women face many discrimination and limitations that tend to have more limited access to assets, physical, financial, human, social, and natural capital among others. For example, land, credit, decision-making bodies, agricultural inputs, technology, extension and training services, which would all enhance their capacity to adapt. Special attention should therefore be paid to the need to enhance women's capacity to manage risks, with a view to reducing their vulnerability and maintaining or increasing their opportunities for development.

Increasing awareness of the public and media on the gender-sensitive vulnerabilities and capacities in disasters, gender-specific needs and concerns in disaster risk reduction, and management are important.  Preventing social catastrophes most certainly lies within our collective human capacity. Inequalities in society are amplified at the time of disasters, and early warning systems that are people-centred proved more effective in communicating risk and saving people. Early warning systems are extensive systems that integrate different components of disaster risk reduction for the provision of timely warnings to minimize loss of life and to reduce economic and social impact on vulnerable populations.

The reasons for women's greater vulnerability are complex, interlinked and deeply ingrained. In contexts where gender inequality, gender norms and social marginalization are strong, women and other marginalized gender groups are more vulnerable to the impacts of disasters. Different researches show that women and gender minorities are often not given enough consideration or opportunity to contribute in the development and implementation of early warning systems.

Early warning systems for floods and other disasters play an important role in reducing the risk of disasters by providing communities with the time they need to prepare for and respond to the disasters safely. However, disaster risk reduction strategies often overlook the needs, capacities, constraints, and priorities of women and marginalized gender groups.

Unfortunately, women are more vulnerable to floods, disasters, climate change and environmental degradation. Though women are innocent, they are not responsible for any disasters. Women in South Asia, Hindu Kush Himalayan (HKH) region, and especially of least developed countries (LDCs) have been facing worst impacts of climate change, disasters, and leading inhumane lives due to climate-migration. Considering all the issues-- social dialogues, holistic and integrated approaches are must to explore sustainable solution to save the lives and livelihoods of women, and their children as well. And provide gender-sensitive community education on early warning systems and hazard management. It is the shared responsibilities of all the local, national, regional, and international stakeholders, communities.

Different research show that in 2018, weather and climate events accounted for most of nearly 62 million people affected by natural hazards, according to an analysis of 281 events recorded by the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED). Floods continued to affect the largest number, amounting to more than 35 million people in 2018. The CRED statistics also highlight that over nine million people were affected by drought globally.

There are still some challenges to better quantify these impacts and their association with particular categories of hydro meteorological events, including from the perspective of reporting on specific Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) target indicators and monitoring the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030. Renewed and urgent efforts are required to develop and consolidate innovative approaches, tools and methods for characterizing high-impact events. And quantify loss and damage and their linkage to extreme weather, water and climate events that will ultimately support the global agenda on disaster risk reduction.

Early warning is obviously a central point within the whole chain, as proper warning systems can save lives and can protect people, infrastructures and other facilities.
The International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) is a regional knowledge development and learning centre serving the eight regional member countries of the Hindu Kush Himalaya (HKH) based in Kathmandu, Nepal. ICIMOD collaborates with National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and leading universities in the United States of America (USA) to downscale numerical weather prediction models with global resolutions for the Hindu Kush Himalaya (HKH) region to generate information at the regional and country levels. This information has been further processed to forecast floods in rivers, which is especially crucial when proper field-based monitoring mechanisms are absent.
This information is made available to decision makers and the research community through an open access website, and further customized as per the partner requirements.

 ICIMOD with its other partners including United States Agency for International Development (USAID) organized a regional knowledge forum on early warning for floods in Kathmandu, Nepal in October this year. The experts and penal discussants observed that the challenges in these fields are manifold and need cooperation, integration of the methods and approaches developed by different scientific disciplines, which include natural, social, and environmental issues. While contacted, Chanda Gurung Godrich, senior gender specialist- gender lead of ICIMOD said, "Recognizing the gendered differences based on the women and men's differential roles, needs, preferences and capacities while designing and disseminating early warning systems will go a long way in reducing women's vulnerability. "
Another important outcome of the seminar was the recommendation to intensify international cooperation in the field. Experts concentrated on the characteristics of the three main global natural disasters: earthquakes, tropical storms, and floods from a scientific point of view. And they analyses their patterns of distribution, origin, result, extent of their damage, measures of disaster mitigation and prevention accordingly.

Early warning is a major element of disaster risk reduction. Early action can often prevent a hazard turning into a human disaster by preventing loss of lives and reducing the economic and material impacts. The significance of an effective early warning system lies in the recognition of its benefits by local people. Moreover, stakeholders must recognize and capitalize upon the proven strengths and capacities of women in disaster-prone communities to act as leaders and agents of development and resilience-building in their own communities. Gender inequalities pervade all areas of life.

In many societies, the different roles and responsibilities that women carry in the households-- leave them overburdened in times of disasters and emergencies. Those leaving them with distinct survival disadvantages compared to men. So let us address all the cross-cutting issues for urgently motivate and train women to deal with disasters following effective early warning systems. Keep women and children at the heart of disaster preparedness, fighting climate change, and environmental degradation.

The writer is a journalist poet,
author, and coordinator of GREEN ACTION-Bangladesh

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