In the aftermath of a natural disaster, women are often the most vulnerable. Particularly in rural areas, women suffer disproportionately from inadequate shelter and poor sanitation facilities and are often tasked with rebuilding shattered homes.
The theme for this year’s international day of disaster reduction, led by the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR), is more relevant than ever: ‘Women and Girls: The [in]Visible Force for Resilience’.
Across India, droughts and floods – which Rajan Joshua of the Society for Education and Development (SEDS) described as “two sides of the same coin” – have put scores of women at risk, but also highlighted their ability to endure and adapt to even the most harsh conditions.
Vikrant Mahajan, chief operating officer of Sphere India, a New Delhi-based non-governmental organization working on disaster relief operations in the subcontinent, told IPS, “Forty-nine percent of all disaster survivors are women”, many of whom face extreme challenges in the post-disaster period.
While conducting field research for her PhD, Parimita Routray, a student of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in Bhubaneswar, encountered shocking tales from rural women across the eastern state of Orissa, which is prone to floods, sea surge, storms, cyclones and seawater incursions.
“I have seen fisher folk using the beach for defecating and using sea water for cleansing,” Routray told IPS. “During my field visits, I have not come across a single water or sanitation program for fisher folk.”
The lack of facilities itself is a “disaster in the making”, especially in a state that is susceptible to a host of natural catastrophes, she added.