In May 2014 low pressure cyclones Tamara and Yvette hit southeastern Europe, causing floods and landslides. Three days of torrential rain that fell over Serbia caused severe flooding that affected more than 1.6 million people – 22 percent of the population. The magnitude of floods in the mountainous regions destroyed bridges and infrastructure, and caused numerous landslides, and towns in the Sava river basin valleys were submerged.
The destruction of nature and infrastructure had a massive economic impact, with recovery costs of approximately US$1.4 billion in Serbia alone.
Often women are the ones under most pressure during these emergencies, as they are the primary caretakers of children and the elderly. Data from Serbia supports this global trend and confirms that gender plays an important role in vulnerability, finding that women are poorer than men and a majority of single parents are women. This is a vicious cycle.
The flash floods of 2014 resulted in a dramatic increase in women’s unpaid work, as they had to clean up their homes at the same time as their usual responsibilities. Health and social workers also found that the floods increased violence towards women and adversely affected their health overall.
These findings are important and allow us to improve the way we respond to disasters, particularly as they affect women.
At UNDP Serbia, we include women in disaster preparedness and response. We have invested in building human capital and included women in planning and management, monitoring and reporting.
We do this through:
· Participation of women in protection and rescue in flooded communities
· Using women’s skills, knowledge, networks to improve emergency response
· Strengthening women’s capacities for emergency response
· Building partnerships with women’s groups
This last activity has led to some significant results. During 2015-2016, 11 grants were awarded to women’s organizations in 20 Serbian municipalities to increase their knowledge of the role of gender in emergency preparedness and response.
The grants enabled training for 69 women in shooting hail clouds (a weather management technique), training for 22 women in rescue operations, and the organization of 38 workshops that engaged 316 women, 52 children and 120 students in volunteering in emergencies, civic engagement, psycho-social support, and other resilience-related issues.
UNDP worked with 10 women’s helplines to get round the clock help that can be used by all women in need, prior to, during, and following a disaster.
Through public debates and information campaigns, these organizations helped raise citizen awareness on the importance of including women in all parts of disaster risk management.
An unexpected outcome of this was a first of its kind Volunteering Female Firefighters Association, set up with the help of the Civil Protection Department of Kraljevo city, in cooperation with the Firefighters Department. The newly established firefighting department has 21 women who successfully completed the training.
Find more about our activities on promoting active inclusion and empowering women in disaster risk reduction here.
As we look ahead to the Fourth World Reconstruction Conference, embedded within the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction we take this opportunity to reflect on our work, and re-align our focus on achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, Agenda 2030 and the targets of the Sendai Framework. It’s clear that resilience can only be sustainable if it is inclusive of all: governments, women’s groups, local decision-makers and citizens. We at UNDP help connect all the actors and make their cooperation viable in the future.