Role of Women in Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) and climate changePublished: Mar 7, 2022 Reading time: 9 minutes
"For many local authorities, 'Women in DRR' is synonymous with allocating budget for relief and response activities for women. However, projects like 'Pratibaddha' or 'Risk-Informed Landslide Management in Nepal's Hill Areas' have shifted the paradigm women in DRR are not limited to being passive survivors but active change-makers", according to Arishma Shrestha, People in Need's Gender, Equality, Disability and Social Inclusion (GEDSI) and Protection Lead.
Tangsar is a settlement in the Barhabise Municipality of Sindhupalchowk district in Nepal. Tangsar consists of fourteen houses, one of which belongs to 50-year-old Chameli Deuja, who works on her farm near her house. Her husband is a driver who is often away from home. One of her sons is a migrant worker, while the other is studying in grade 12. When a problem arises, Chameli is responsible for the safety of her family, their cattle, and their belongings. Chameli notes that "every monsoon, flash floods, and landslides take away parts of our land. We are safe during the dry seasons, which is roughly five months of the year, while the rest of the year, we are at risk. During the current monsoon, we stayed at the nearby tent for three days, the children started to get sick, so we returned back to our home. The same night the rocks started falling, and the rivulet raised. Since we couldn't cross it, we were scared for our lives. The children started crying. I wrapped my grandson with my arms and tried to calm him. Fortunately, we survived the night; then we moved to the tent again." Chameli is one of many living in high-risk areas who require relocation to safer land.
Sushila Pakhrin, the vice-chairperson of Barhabise Municipality, indicates that Barhabise municipality is highly prone to landslides and floods. According to the Nepal government's BIPAD portal, in 2021, landslides alone resulted in 194 deaths, 142 injured, 56 people missing, and 586 houses destroyed. Usually, the most marginalized populations live in the most landslide-prone areas. Many marginalized people have lived in such places for years and are frequently affected by disasters causing them to be displaced.
Motivated to increase the resilience of such communities in rural, mountainous regions through the mitigation and management of landslides, People in Need (PIN), together with its partners, including the Community Self Reliance Centre, the National Society for Earthquake Technology- Nepal, Scott Wilson Nepal, Durham University, and Northumbria University, with funding from the European Union, are implementing the Pratibaddha project.
The project works closely with the municipalities primarily responsible for implementing policies formulated by national authorities related to disaster management in Sindhupalchowk and Dolakha districts. The project engages local authorities and disaster management bodies in a series of capacity-building programs. The project works through tailor-made training sessions and workshops using innovative hazard and risk-mapping tools. It supports communities in local preparedness planning to increase resilience against disasters such as floods and landslides. Local authorities are also involved in awareness-raising campaigns and workshops for residents of affected areas—schools communities are taught about landslides, their causes, and ways to reduce them.
Additionally, the project has coordinated with Nepal's National Disaster Risk Reduction Management Authority (NDRRMA). Together they have conducted geo-hazard assessments of 158 sites across 27 wards affected by landslides. The purpose of the assessment was to evaluate the condition of landslides and determine the immediate risks to the nearest human settlements and infrastructure. These assessments helped plan mitigation measures and initiated the relocation of at-risk communities to safer areas. These interventions will directly reduce fatalities and loss of livelihood and properties.
Chameli and her family do not have property or land in any other place. All her possessions are in Tangsar. "The geologist has visited our place, and after the assessment, they said that the area is at risk and we need to relocate. Our house and agricultural land are here, so for our safety, we'll have to abandon everything and also look for alternatives of earning," Chameli informs us.
"In any kind of disaster or pandemic, whether that is human-induced or natural, everyone suffers, but it mostly affects women, children, people with disabilities, elderly, and marginalized population. Moreover, pregnant women, lactating women suffer a lot during these times," explains Sushila Pakhrin, adding that "to reduce the impacts of any disaster, we have prepared Disaster Preparedness and Response Plan (DPRP). It'll be effective if we could find out the risk areas and pre-identify settlements that are at risk and relocate them to safer areas then we could minimize the damage and save lives”. The project has identified 1747 households at high risk of landslides damage; out of these, 165 need to be relocated immediately, all 14 houses of Tangsar.
Sushila recalls, "During the initial phase when we had to make policies and plan for municipality, I proposed to have Disaster Risk Management (DRM) budget since Barhabise was prone to disasters. At that time, we allocated fifty lakhs for the DRR budget because Barhabise was badly affected by the 2015 earthquake, the flood in the Bhotekoshi river, and additionally the road construction damaged local land and houses. So, we knew that we would require such budget for future disasters." After the project intervention, they have increased their DRRM budget from NPR 18 million to NPR 25.5 million.
The Pratibaddha project has supported Nepal's working municipalities in preparing DPRP and the Monsoon Preparedness Plan (MPP), ensuring integration of Gender Equality, Disability and Social Inclusion (GEDSI) in both the documents. The project has advocated for the collection of ward-wide disaggregated data of people with different types of disability as they are the most vulnerable from the disaster, and DPRP will have to respond to the critical needs of those individuals. Additionally, the project has advocated allocating the DRR budget under the local government's budget planning. In this Fiscal Year 2021, Bhotekoshi Palika raised the DRR emergency response budget to NPR. 9.3 million from previous years' NPR 4.5 million allocations.
Inclusion of Women and marginalized communities
Different people have divergent needs, capacities, barriers, priorities, and coping strategies. Thus, PIN conducts gender analysis exercises in its projects to analyze and understand communities' needs, barriers, and capacities. Our workshops and programs are gender-sensitive and gender-balanced. They provide equal opportunities for participation to a diverse group consisting of women, the elderly, the disabled, and the marginalized in communities so that the vulnerable groups are not left behind from receiving any kind of support and assistance. At the same time, project staff and partners staff are capacitated with GEDSI mainstreaming. Therefore, the project's disaggregated data is routinely collected, analyzed, and interpreted by SADD (Sex, Age, Diversity, and Disability). For instance, this EU-funded project has equal participation of women (50%), elderly (30%), and vulnerable/marginalized people categorized, and their active participation is ensured.
Local champions (primarily women) are the program's key community actors for local advocacy and community mobilization. Pratibadhha project's local champion, Parvati, meets with Chameli and disseminates information on identifying risk, preparing for possible disasters, and safety measures required to stay safe before, during, and after the disaster. For example, these local champions, together with other marginalized communities and targeted beneficiaries, are engaged and mobilized during the development and execution of the Emergency Evacuation Plan. This includes conducting community awareness and community-level geo-hazard assessments. When vulnerable community members are encouraged and enabled, they become better prepared to act, react, cope, and recover from disaster. Such enablement also contributes to the resilience of the affected communities and increases the project's sustainability.
Working as a Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) Focal Person
Parvati Napit has been working as a DRR focal person of Barhabise Municipality for four years. Sharing her experience, she states that "Women play an important role and work with full responsibility during any disasters, therefore including women and marginalized communities in any decision-making process, information sharing, disaster risk reduction planning is necessary. We need the training to capacitate local women and strengthen them so that they can lead on providing awareness to the women in their communities, advocate for women's need during any crisis".
Parvati’s primary role is coordination between different stakeholders from the community, the municipality, and the district government during times of disaster or crisis. "Usually, we are affected by floods and landslides. We do not have to wait for monsoon season for any disaster. Currently, there are huge dry slides as well as mudslides in the same areas. So, we are coordinating with district-level authorities for the support, and in the meantime, we are sending gabion wires to protect the area from sliding".
Barhabise municipality has installed an early warning system for floods on the Bhotekhoshi river. If the level of the river rises, the warning siren will sound, and during a heightened alert, residents will also receive messages on their mobile phones. Then, Parvati will start her coordinating. Besides coordination, she also takes care of the relief materials noting that her main role “is to coordinate with different stakeholders and respond quickly during a disaster in terms of message dissemination, relief arrangement, and distribution”. Parvati records the materials in storage for quick response during any emergency or disaster and formulates a list of items required for the assistance.
"Additionally, for the sustainability, if the organizations could form groups in the communities and capacitate them (women) with required training and awareness, then the same group could be mobilized to support the government during any disaster. I request same to every organization that comes to implement projects in our municipality," adds Napit.
Crises and disasters have different impacts on men, women, girls, and boys of all ages, and the consequences are not gender-neutral. Therefore, it is essential to include disadvantaged, marginalized communities and design workshops and activities considering gender equality. Which in turn contributes towards recovery, increases resilience, promotes disaster preparedness and DRR.
Today is International Women's Day, and this year's theme is 'achieving gender equality in a context of climate change, environment, and disaster risk reduction policies and programs.'