Women are a vital piece of the planning process for disaster risk mitigation and response, enhancing disaster planning with different perspectives that often focus on community needs and vulnerable groups.
As a Disaster Risk Management Specialist for UNDP Lao PDR, I spent 13 months training district and provincial government officials in community based disaster risk reduction. In a nation where 80 per cent of the population is dependent on subsistence agriculture for survival, natural disasters cause loss of lives, income and communal assets, and destroy livelihoods. Extreme recurrent disasters consistently take their toll.
The Village Disaster Management Committee (VDMC) is the result of community-led, local disaster risk management systems implemented by UNDP’s Integrated Disaster and Climate Risk Management Project and the Government of Lao PDR. The goal of the committee is to spread disaster preparedness information, create a functioning early warning system, and plan activities that could reduce disaster risk.
Women play an important role in the process. We’ve noticed that many women in our VDMCs are especially proactive. They understand the consequences disasters have on their villages and the potential long term impacts, and they really want to make a difference for the future of their children and their communities.
Xiengkhouang Province, in northern Lao PDR, has been experiencing disasters at an increasing rate in the last decade. Communities are exposed to recurrent hazards such as floods and drought, reducing crop yields and incomes, and ultimately increasing the potential of food insecurity.
Already in 2015, Syphom Village has seen a fire tear through its market and several serious road accidents.
Syphom’s VDMC is led by 10 disaster preparedness trained community members, three of which are women, ensuring women’s needs in disaster are represented. VDMCs utilize a whole community approach, and promoting gender balance is crucial to ensure the different concerns, perspectives, and interests of all groups within the village are represented.
Ms. Boualy Vongvilay, Deputy Head of the Committee, lost 100 per cent of the stock in her small market stall from the large fire that recently damaged the market place. “Women are more sensitive to the community’s needs and add this to negotiations,” she says.
Another committee member, Ms. Bounta Nantavong, notes, “Women are more affected [by disasters] than men because they need to take care of the children, as well as their garden and food for the family. Also they worry about the health of everyone in the family. For them, this makes [the impact more difficult after a disaster.”
In the focus groups, women pay more attention to details and the social welfare of the community. Many ask for education and training for the village. They worry about the safety of kids and elderly; some have even asked for things such as winter coats for the families who cannot afford to buy them. Men’s responses are usually geared toward agriculture and infrastructure and the impact of unsustainable agricultural practices on the village.
With the rapid development of Lao PDR comes the increased risks of urbane and natural disaster and it is essential to the future of Lao PDR that the women continue to be a pivotal part of the planning process.