Tapping women and youth in disaster management

Posted on August 21, 2015

WOMEN and the youth should have proactive roles in disaster risk reduction and management (DRRM) activities, various authorities unanimously agreed.

TACLOBAN CITY’S residents in the aftermath of super-typhoon Yolanda in 2013.
In fact, women and the youth have actively participated in various DRRM initiatives, according to Romina Marasigan, Civil Defense Public Affairs chief and spokesperson.

“Recognizing that they play a vital role in building disaster resilience in their families and communities, they have stepped up to the challenge in preparing their families to face impending threats,” Ms. Marasigan said. “From putting together their families’ emergency survival kits and learning first aid, to participating in community preparedness and response activities like DRRM planning, environment cleaning and planting, relief distribution, and even rescue operations.”

Gwendolyn Pang, Philippine Red Cross (PRC) secretary-general, cited one instance wherein women can begin their participation. “In the pre-disaster stage, women can ensure that a family disaster plan is in place and that all family members are familiar with their roles, on what security measures will be adopted and when to evacuate the home.”

She added that women could also organize themselves and participate in disaster-relief operations such as providing social and psychological support, distributing basic supplies, and establishing shelters, among others.

For Erly Sanchez, a 37-year-old housewife in La Union whose husband works overseas, “women, especially mothers, are always in the forefront, providing basic care and services not only to their famil[ies] but also the community when disaster strikes.”

Despite these existing activities orienting women and youth in disaster management, Ms. Sanchez said she has yet to be invited to such an endeavor. It would be good if there were such training in her community, she also said.

Josephine Castillo, a member of the United Nations Global Women Civil Society Advisory Group and board member of the Philippine Commission on Women, acknowledged the need for disaster management to have a broader reach among communities that may be displaced by calamity.

“Those are the gaps we see that the government couldn’t deliver,” Ms. Castillo said. “Because when we say disaster, they are more focused on preparedness, but they are not looking into adaptation.”

To resolve this concern, Ms. Castillo suggested organizing women in both rural and urban communities and facilitating these groups. It’s “more of capacity building,” she said, as she also noted the importance of setting up a savings mechanism or revolving fund as “part of women’s economic empowerment.”

“They should have a cooperative where they can roll their money and benefit from it, instead of asking somebody from outside the community to lend them money. That’s what we’re doing in DAMPA [Damayan ng Maralitang Pilipinong Api],” said Ms. Castillo, who is also national coordinator of the said group.

Food security is another “part of resilience building,” she pointed out.

Thus, the need for training in food security, including alternative livelihood amid weather changes, to help ensure that families have enough supply before disaster strikes.

“When you speak of economic empowerment, that should be holistic,” Ms. Castillo said of the government’s efforts in disaster training. She acknowledged the government’s programs but also observed that “[they] don’t know how to facilitate it.”

Sought for comment, Leticia Cruz, assistant administrator of the National Food Authority, said the agency has a disaster preparedness program on rice supply for provinces most likely to be hit by disasters. “As part of this program, the agency authorizes the advance sales of rice to expected calamity areas, thereby providing early access to the Filipino major staple,” said Ms. Cruz, who is also chairwoman of the agency’s Gender and Development Focal Point System. The NFA has many women stakeholders involved in rice trading, she added. “These women attend to the distribution of rice to the ultimate consumers.”

Children too “can respond to emergencies or disasters by building their capacity towards…life-saving measures,” Ms. Pang of the Red Cross said. Although she acknowledges the role of children in DRRM activities may be limited, “they still have the ability to help and participate in worthwhile humanitarian responses.” (To be sure, parental consent is required for minors who wish to join relief operations and trainings.)

Ms. Marasigan, for her part, said the country “has made initiatives in mainstreaming disaster risk reduction in the school curriculum,” which includes discussions on hazards, preparatory and emergency measures, as well as DRRM planning, skills training in rescue, command and control.

For instance, Ms. Sanchez’s daughter, Stacy, a Grade 5 pupil at Saint Louis College in La Union, finds the earthquake drill in school helpful.

“Because we can use that drill if calamities like an earthquake will come,” the young girl said. The same school incorporates disaster preparedness activities in the classroom setting, such as having grade-schoolers bring cutouts of essential things that need to be secured in a disaster.

Aaron Louis Calderon, 18, a legal management student at De La Salle University, also saw the importance of disaster drills and trainings in school and shared this in a text message: “The youth will not be part of the problem and will not become victims. Instead of sheer panic, the youth will react according to their training.” Other universities have incorporated DRRM in their National Service Training Program modules.

“When youth are engaged and active, adults are likewise motivated to participate and contribute to Disaster Management and Disaster Risk reduction initiatives,” Ms. Pang said.

In her stint at the Office of Civil Defense (OCD), Ms. Marasigan said she has seen a significant increase in public interest and local support with regards to DRRM activities. “[The] OCD used to receive an average of five requests for orientation on DRRM per month, [but] after the launch of the Valley Fault System Atlas on May 18, [we] started to receive around five [to] seven requests a day,” she said.

For her part, Ms. Cruz noted, “We are already in an era where women are already aware of their capabilities not only in their roles as housekeepers but also as responsible community builders.” But she also pointed out that “only a small percentage of the population are aware of their rights and roles as women” until now. This, she said, calls for a continuing effort to help women from all sectors become more aware of their capabilities towards self-improvement as well as of their rights and roles at home and in their communities.

For Ms. Pang, awareness on disaster risk reduction and preparedness is increasing with the help of social media. “Filipino women and youth nowadays are curious and active in…preparedness and response activities to protect their families and help the society and their own community as well,” she said.

Ms. Marasigan believes women and the youth are ready for such responsibilities in DRRM, considering “their experience, exposure, and continuous inclusion in capability-building efforts.” -- Lorela Sandoval