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This blog post was written by Jessica Louise Henn, Intern at the Jakarta Office.
Rising sea levels and natural disasters induced by climate change, mean that by 2030, an estimated 50% of the global population will live in coastal areas exposed to flooding, storms, and tsunamis[i]. Without effective Early Warning Systems (EWS) these events can trigger catastrophic death and destruction as was tragically demonstrated in the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami where EWS failures contributed to the death of an estimated 240,000 dead and left an additional 1.7 million homeless[ii].
Since this crisis, there have been rapid advancements in developing technologies and infrastructure to establish more effective and robust EWS. Despite this, access to EWS remains unequal. The needs of marginalized groups often fail to be acknowledged thus exposing them to higher levels of risk. For example, during the tsunami in Japan on 11 March 2011, the mortality rate among People with Disabilities (PWDs) was double that of the rest of the population[iii]. Furthermore, a UN survey also revealed that only 20% of PWDs say they are able to evacuate immediately without difficulty in a disaster scenario[iv]. For indigenous people or those living in poverty, higher illiteracy rates and limited access to communications technology, such as TV, radios, internet, and mobile phones, through which early warnings are often communicated, all increase their vulnerability in a disaster.
Gender also has a considerable impact on access to EWS. Traditional gender norms which see women stay at home mean women are often reliant on informal communication networks to receive information, leaving them vulnerable to missing out on timely and relevant information on imminent hazards and evacuation processes. A study in Nepal found that 71% of men received early warning information through a formal source, whereas 51% of women received their information through word of mouth[v]. Furthermore, as primary caregivers and responsible for young children or elderly relatives, women tend to be more risk-averse than men in disaster situations. As one single mother caught in extreme flooding commented, ‘I would have risked trying to find a safe place had I been on my own. But I could not put my children’s lives at risk. so even when the water kept rising, I chose to wait for help’[vi].
Although women and marginalized groups are among the most affected in disaster situations, they continue to be excluded from EWS and disaster preparedness planning. A UN Survey revealed that 85.57% of PWDs were not involved in such consultations[vii]. Moreover, patriarchal attitudes and restrictive gender roles mean women are rarely able to participate in disaster risk management. When women are included, they are typically well-educated and financially secure women rather those facing intersecting vulnerabilities. Discrimination and shaming of LGBTQ+ people or those of low social status mean that these groups often feel unable to participate in discussions. As one transgender LGBTQ+ activist stated How are any of us, especially those who are illiterate and with weaker social standing, going to find the right words and confidence to articulate [our problems] in front of hostile people?’[viii]
This year, World Tsunami Awareness Day 2022, is advocating for increased access to EWS to reduce tsunami risk globally. This comes after the UN Secretary General announced, ‘the United Nations will spearhead new action to ensure every person on Earth is protected by early-warning systems within five years’.[ix] If this goal is to be achieved, it is imperative that a whole of society approach to disaster preparedness and response is adopted and that the participation of women and marginalised groups is mainstreamed at the international, national, and local level.
[v] Brown et al., 2019: Gender Transformative Early Warning Systems: Experiences from Nepal and Peru.
[vii] UNISDR (2013)
[viii] Brown et al. 2019