As I write this, I am one of many apprehensively watching the weather reports of TC Mona which is still trying to decide which way she will turn. There are many scientific reasons for the way TC Mona is behaving but what is important is as we track TC Mona there is a need for greater inclusive approaches as we count the number of climate induced crises since 01 January 2019.
Across in the Solomon Islands the National Disaster Management Office reporting that humanitarian aid is urgently needed in Solomon Islands where more than 22,000 people are estimated to have either had their homes or crops destroyed by extreme weather. Water and food supplies, health and sanitation packs are needed as well as efforts to address the risk of water and mosquito borne diseases which will rise. Floods and landslides have also affected communities in Papua New Guinea as well as small islands like Kiribati as well as the islands of the Northern Pacific.
There is a need to ensure families have clean boiled water particularly for children's food preparation says the Director of FRIEND Fiji Sashi Kiran. A lesson learnt from TC Winston is to take all warnings and preparedness messages seriously says Kiran: "(A) Cyclone can turn and intensify so just be prepared including with dry clothes, food security and clean boiled water"
As I have shared information, skimming through various news feeds and working to decipher the range of forecast reports, I am reminded of how important preparedness information needs to accessible:
Krishneer Sen, a Project Officer at Fiji Association of the Deaf thanks me for the information but also shares his frustration that while important information is being broadcast by the television stations, there is no sign interpretation or captions which can ensure everyone is safe and sound.
Disability Inclusion in humanitarian action still remains a challenge and there is a need to invest resources to make this a reality, and to ensure attention is giving to the specific needs of intersecting inequalities such as gender and poverty.
Lanieta Tuimabu, a disability rights activist is a member of the Fiji Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Commission responds to an update that evacuation centres are being organised - asking for more details, not just locations, but also when they will be available to access:
"Hope this is activated soon considering the elderly persons with disabilities children and other vunerable groups" - Lanieta Tuimabu member of the Fiji Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Commission has stressed the importance of disability inclusive response including protection with dignity for all.
Last year, the Fiji Government adopted disability rights legislation, building on the National Disability Policy. There was also a Draft Disaster Risk Reduction Policy that contained a series of recommendations which affirmed the role of women, of all diversities, as first responders beyond the confines of simply being regarded as vulnerable.
Women have the demonstrated capacity to lead including designing and managing evacuation centres which will also ensure protection with dignity measures are intact. They are able to utilise their community networks to organise and mobilise across traditional and faith networks to coordinate disaster response including psycho-social support.
Humanitarian crsis situations that we are facing in the Pacific Island region right now can be assisting and enabling the transformation of social norms as well as contribute to the prevention of sexual and gender based violence.
The Shifting the Power Coalition (StPC) is comprised of women’s rights and disability organisations across the Pacific region working together to strengthen diverse women’s voices, agency and decision making in disaster preparedness, response and recovery. The coalition aims to catalyse localised gender responsive humanitarian action with a specific goal of strengthening Pacific women’s leadership in emergencies. This is part of partners’ shared commitment to driving a transformative agenda during crisis that transforms gender relations over the longer term by demonstrating diverse women’s capability and leadership for the benefit of the whole community. The Coalition is supported by DFAT’s Pacific Women to roll out a program of advocacy, training and research over the next three years.
The Coalition is determined to work together to ensure that responses are increasingly locally led and driven and space is made for women’s organisations to play their role in disaster response and preparedness alongside other national actors, and that they receive an equitable share of resources. There are significant opportunities to make linkages between ongoing work on women’s rights and gender equality and efforts to support women’s leadership and agency in humanitarian action. Engaging women’s groups and gender machineries at national level is essential.
The protection of women’s rights must be central to any response and this also means strengthening the capacity of the humanitarian sector to meaningfully address the protection of women’s rights in times of crisis in a meaningful way. One of the best ways to do this is to work with women’s rights organisations as the driver of community-based responses that are sustainable over the long term.
Work in this area also provides a space to strengthen the nexus between humanitarian action and longer term development.
The Coalition has also recognised that the women, peace and security agenda is also important to consider in humanitarian action in the region particularly in light of the forced displacements that are occurring due to disasters, and the likelihood overtime that communities may face increasing conflict over limited resources including land.
Time for Change
Leaving No One Behind must be put into practice at all times.
As evacuation centres are opened up in Fiji, as well as in other sit-rep reports from other Pacific countries, we see the lack of disaggregated data and Tuimabu is concerned:
"(if) disability data not been captured is a great concern urging action"
If you are invisible in official data then you will be invisible when the immediate and long term assistance and recovery is planned, managed and assessed. It is no longer enough to simple state the number of children and adults in an evacuation centre. There is a need to account for and communicate sex, age, disability, sexual orientation and gender identity data so tha the media, humanitarian and development agencies, are aware of how to organise.
It is time for an accelerated shift in the power by women so there is increased locally led and driven, gender and disability inclusive early warning, preparedness, response and recovery systems.
The Shifting the Power Coalition has recognised, like many, that the humanitarian landscape is likely to see more frequent disasters of greater scale and impact, which will deepen existing gender and other inequalities and increase the threats to women’s safety and security unless measures are put in place to prevent and mitigate this.
The indicator that this has happened is when one no longer feels that gender equality, disability and women's rights are not just words on paper, are not an after-thought but are realised proactively.
in the meantime we will remain vigilant. As I wrap up this article, the Fiji NDMO has just tweeted a reply saying: "Vinaka Ma'am. Data is currently being consolidated and we'll provide a new update soon."
Persistence is Useful. Remaining hopeful.