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INTERVIEW-'Gender blind' disaster risk planning undermines countries' ability to cope - UN Women

by Sophie Hares | @SophieHares | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Wednesday, 24 May 2017 17:42 GMT

Women and girls more likely to die in disasters or during infectious disease outbreaks, but disaster planning "gender blind", says U.N.

By Sophie Hares

CANCUN, Mexico, May 24 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - More countries need to collect specific data on how disasters affect women and girls to improve their chances of surviving and help governments to create effective risk reduction strategies, the deputy head of the United Nations' women's agency said.

Despite evidence that women and girls are more likely to die in disasters or during infectious disease outbreaks disaster planning is "gender blind", Yannick Glemarec, deputy executive director of UN Women, said.

"Gender differentiated risk and needs are almost never taken into consideration in any kind of national and local risk management plan...it's a violation of human rights," Glemarec told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

He urged governments to voluntarily include gender and age when building up their risk indicators and create a global database that can illustrate how women and girls are affected.

"Even if you have the data and you do not analyse what it means in terms of gender differentiated vulnerability and coping capacity, you will be doomed to go from one anecdotal evidence to another," Glemarec said ahead of a U.N. conference on disasters this week in the Mexican resort of Cancun.

Some 90 percent of those who died in the 1991 cyclone in Bangladesh - one of the deadliest on record - were women, while 77 percent of victims in Indonesia of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami were women and children, according to UN Women.

During the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, more women died than men, largely because they were responsible for preparing bodies for burial and were more exposed to infection, UN Women said.

Glemarec said Bangladesh had in recent years managed to reduce the number of people affected by cyclones by involving women's associations in mapping risk, working out how to alert people and get them out of danger.

Poor rural women without access to any type of credit are the most affected by disasters including drought, said Glemarec.

In order to feed their families, they are forced to adopt strategies such as selling their meagre supplies of livestock, exposing them to a "vicious cycle of poverty and poverty" that makes them more vulnerable, Glemarec said.

"A very wealthy woman does not face more risk than a very wealthy man, and much less risk than a poor man. Poor woman are particularly exposed, and if they suffer from any disability or social stigma, it's even worse," he said.

The Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction from May 24 to 26 in Cancun is the first international summit since the 15-year Sendai Framework was hammered out in Japan in 2015.

The framework sets ambitious targets for governments to cut deaths and economic losses from disasters by 2030.

It also set targets to limit damage to infrastructure and disruption to basic services such as health and education, and widening access to early warning systems and disaster risk information.

UN Women will launch a programme at the Cancun conference designed to reduce deaths in disasters and boost people's resilience, while also strengthening women's involvement and leadership in risk reduction.

The programme, created with the U.N. Office for Disaster Risk Reduction and the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, also aims to provide women with access to better jobs, insurance and compensation.

(Reporting by Sophie Hares, editing by Astrid Zweynert @azweynert. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org)

The Thomson Reuters Foundation is reporting on resilience as part of its work on zilient.org, an online platform building a global network of people interested in resilience, in partnership with the Rockefeller Foundation.

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