FAO Programme ::: Emergencies

All rural people suffer during emergencies, but men and women are affected in different ways

Emergencies arising from natural disasters, drought, diseases, civil conflict, market shocks and extreme climate events often have their greatest impact on poor rural populations. During 2009, the UN estimates that some 30 million people required emergency assistance.

FAO says emergency preparedness and response must address the specific needs of populations dependent on agriculture, with particular focus on food insecure and nutritionally vulnerable groups.

Its strategy to help countries to prepare for food and agricultural threats and emergencies, and respond to them effectively, calls for the use of socio-economic and gender analysis tools to identify the most vulnerable communities.

Gender dimensions of emergencies

In emergency situations, rural communities are frequently traumatized and agricultural systems devastated, leading to disruption of food production, livelihoods, health care and law enforcement. Understanding how men and women experience and respond to crises, and assessing their capacity for recovery, is essential to effective emergency relief operations and to rehabilitation.

All rural people suffer during emergencies, but men and women are affected in different ways. Studies after the Asian tsunami of 2004 revealed that in several coastal villages in Indonesia, females made up 80% of all fatalities, possibly because they had not learned to swim. Throughout the region, men lost fishing boats, reducing many to poverty and forcing them to migrate in search of work. Women who traditionally processed fish also lost their livelihoods. With male household members absent, cases of rape increased, discouraging women from seeking employment.

During emergencies, women and children may be more exposed to risk of malnutrition because they have limited access to resources such as land, animals and savings. With fewer survival options, female-headed households especially may be forced to submit to "survival sex," which increases their exposure to HIV and other diseases. Men and boys have particular vulnerabilities - for example, when they are targets for recruitment into armed conflicts or when boys are unable to feed themselves due to lack of cooking skills.

Emergencies may present opportunities for poor men and women to participate more in decision making and contribute to the rehabilitation process. Since rural women are usually responsible for household food production, preparation and storage, they should be seen as potential partners in emergency related planning rather than simply "victims".

Post-disaster, women remain more vulnerable than men. Along with reduced access to resources, they must cope with increased responsibility for caring for members of the household. Following a devastating hurricane in Honduras, the increase in women's domestic workload made it impossible for many to return to work. Women's nutrition and health may also suffer as workload increases.

If rural women normally have limited access to land, their rights may be even further reduced following a natural disaster. With many title holders dead and boundaries erased, poor and marginalized women and men often have no alternative but to remain in refugee camps, and have little say in programmes for land redistribution.

FAO's targets 2008-2013

To mainstream gender equity in its programmes for emergency relief and rehabilitation, FAO has set itself the following targets to 2013:

Early warning
Address gender-related concerns in FAO special alerts on food supply difficulties and crop prospects, and mainstream gender into regional food security assessments.

Identifying vulnerable households
Use socio-economic and gender analysis to identify food insecure and vulnerable (e.g. female-headed, orphan-headed and elderly-headed) households as participants in emergency projects.

Needs and livelihoods
Address women's and men's different needs and household livelihoods in needs assessment and livelihood assessment guidelines.    

NGO partners
Require that NGOs and other partners in agriculture emergency operations use gender-sensitive approaches, including sex-disaggregated data.

Gender-based violence
Specifically address the vulnerabilities of men, women, boys and girls (e.g. gender-based violence), in projects aimed at mitigating the vulnerability of populations displaced by emergencies.

Impact assessment
When performing impact assessments, analyse how men and women in households benefit from emergency projects.

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