DRR: Coherence, Rights and Resilience

Eleanor Blomstrom, Women’s Environment and Development Organization

In the context of anthropogenic climate change and our current global economic model of unsustainable consumption and production, disasters are not natural. The recent draft of the post-2015 framework for disaster risk reduction (DRR), known as the Second Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA2), recognises that, since 2005, more than one billion people were affected by disasters, including 144 million who were displaced. The HFA2 draft goes on to say “Disasters are increasing in frequency and intensity, and those exacerbated by climate change are significantly impeding progress toward sustainable development.” But it misses that humans, and human activities, contribute to the pre-conditions for disasters – namely climate change, failures to address structural inequalities, and inadequate safety and security precautions. This incoherence is what drives women’s rights groups, like the Women’s Major Group (WMG) and the Women and Gender Constituency (WGC), to work to address inequalities across all relevant UN processes.

As COP20 begins in Lima, delegates and civil society following the HFA2 process are preparing for next week’s informal negotiations prior to the conference in March in Sendai, Japan. So far, the DRR discussions have made some effort to understand, underscore and identify how to successfully link DRR with the UNFCCC and with Post-2015 Development Agenda and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Goals in the HFA2 include reduction of existing risk and preventing the accumulation of new risk, which cannot be fully undertaken if only considered in the DRR context. Meeting the goals will rely on ambitious emissions reductions by governments, enhanced adaptation actions under the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP), and progress on loss and damage.

Addressing disasters, climate change and sustainable development will require diverse leadership for effective decision-making, alongside gender-responsive actions within the human rights framework. Recent reports have highlighted the lack of global progress on gender equality, and it is alarming to note that some evidence shows that women are 14 times more likely to die in a disaster than men. The IPCC has recognised that the impacts of climate change will be felt more severely by people living in poverty, the majority of whom are women.

Women’s rights groups are working within and across all these spaces. Two overarching recommendations mirror each other in the climate and disaster frameworks: (a) Promote gender equality and women’s human rights through a stand-alone guiding principle, and (b) Include gender explicitly as and where appropriate. These recommendations are coherent with the proposed SDGs, which include a goal on gender equality, with the SDG document solidifying the critical role of gender equality in eradicating poverty.

While the UNFCCC now has a standing agenda item on gender and climate change, and has gender-sensitive climate policy mandates throughout many areas – from mitigation to finance to adaptation – the HFA2 draft falls short. Gender equality must guide and be fully reflected in disaster risk reduction strategies and actions in order to ensure women’s full, equal and active participation in decision-making at all levels. Women’s leadership is necessary to address the gender inequality and discrimination that exacerbates the impact of disasters on women, and impedes effective efforts to address it.

Large-scale disasters make news headlines, but small scale and cumulative disasters particularly affect communities and households, and affect women and men, boys and girls differently. The economic losses can be extremely high, especially considering the impact on informal and unpaid work – which is not measured, yet supports the economy. Disaster impacts have a security component in countries and in communities, especially for women, who face increases in domestic violence at home, and sexual violence in shelters due to lack of a gender perspective in planning communal and private space for sleeping, sanitation, and other basic needs.

The WMG for DRR thus recommends the development and implementation of policies and mechanisms that support the resilience of women and girls, including through investments in health services and infrastructure; to meet the sexual and reproductive health needs of women and men; and recognition and redistribution of the burden of unpaid and domestic care work. This requires public support – including for research, innovation, development and utilisation of safe, appropriate, ecologically and socially sound technologies that support effective resilience.

Building climate and disaster resilience requires a focus on social, environmental and economic factors, as well as on understanding risk in all its differentiated dimensions. Most importantly, it requires coherence across processes to integrate strategies and actions with co-benefits under the DRR, Post-2015 and climate change agendas.