A complex disaster landscape
Avoid. Reduce. Transfer. Assume. These terms are used to describe decisions we make in our daily lives about managing risk, including disaster risk. The impact of natural hazards is not only influenced by their intensity, but also by people’s vulnerability, which is directly related to socio-economic factors influencing exposure and the ability to recover. These factors also include elements of gender inequality.
Many Caribbean countries are still in recovery mode from the impacts of environmental hazards, such as hurricanes and tropical storms, which caused more than US$118 billion in damage and losses over the past 3 years (CDEMA, 2020). Against this backdrop, Caribbean countries and their people, women, men, boys, and girls alike are now managing responses to the COVID-19 crisis.
Physical distancing and quarantine measures, curfews, border closures, and virtual engagements have become paramount to saving lives and livelihoods as a result of the crisis. While these restrictions are critical in reducing the spread of COVID-19, they have had a detrimental impact on the Caribbean economy, citizen security, and gender equality. Tourism, which contributes to more than 25 percent of most Caribbean countries’ GDPs has stalled, a significant number of women who are the majority in the informal sector are now unemployed and, a stark increase in violence against women and children has been reported during the lockdown.
The extent of the socio-economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic has begun to shape the “new normal” for the Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM) Member States. A 1.5 percent contraction of Gross Domestic Product has already been estimated by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC, 2020). While governments balance this “new normal,” there was also an ‘above-average’ forecast for the 2020 Atlantic Hurricane Season, which takes place from June 1 to November 30.
In the face of these challenges, cost-effective prevention and preparedness measures are critical. Experience shows that gender-responsive prevention and preparedness leads to more effective local and national response and better management of infectious diseases. To this end, women’s leadership and contributions are critical to curbing infection rates and enabling resilience and recovery.
Leveraging women, men, girls, and boys
To achieve optimal hurricane preparedness, the needs and potential of women, men, girls, and boys need to be identified and leveraged. Women and men across all socio-economic parts of society should be meaningfully engaged to ensure a whole-of-society approach. Diversity of perspective and increasing women’s leadership as decision-makers are good practice and reap benefits in governance in the state as well as private sector development.
It is also important for humanitarian and relief efforts to be gender-responsive in order to improve access to emergency funding as well as service delivery. Service delivery should be based on the analysis of sex-disaggregated data to ensure that the needs of vulnerable and marginalised populations are adequately addressed. International, regional and national agendas must all be aligned to boost climate change adaptation and disaster resilience. Strengthening resilience will not only ensure enhanced prevention and preparedness but also enable a swift recovery from all hazards, including hurricanes and the COVID-19 pandemic.
COVID-19 has thrown a spotlight on and exacerbated existing gender inequalities. Today, the opportunity exists to demonstrate lessons learned through the response to COVID-19 to build back better for women, men, boys, and girls alike so as to keep the Caribbean on the path of resilient and sustainable development.
About the author:
Ms. Kyana Bowen currently serves as the UN Women Multi-Country Officer Caribbean Project Manager for the Enabling Gender-Responsive Disaster Recovery, Climate, and Environmental Resilience in the Caribbean (EnGenDER) Project.
Ms. Bowen is a graduate from the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine Campus, with a Master’s Degree in Urban and Regional Planning and a Bachelor in Social Work. Ultimately, Ms. Bowen is aiming to highlight the link between stakeholder and beneficiary input to physical planning as a mechanism to build disaster resilient communities through policy and plan development.