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Disaster Risk Reduction: Women and Girls, the force for resilience

Disaster Risk Reduction: Women and Girls, the force for resilience
© UNICEF Mozambique/2012
Women and children are 14 times more likely to die than men during a disaster.

NEW YORK, 13 October 2012 – There are no truly ‘natural’ disasters. In fact, while hazards such as storms and earthquakes are largely natural, the severity of their impact is determined by the vulnerability of the community they hit. Put simply, this means that the poorest and most vulnerable people, who often live in exposed areas such as marginal agricultural lands, river floodplains or informal urban slums, bear the brunt of drought, floods, earthquakes and other hazards, and are most likely to experience a disaster as a result. They are, as we say, at the greatest risk.

Women and children are 14 times more likely to die than men during a disaster. Children are especially vulnerable because of their stage of physical, psychological and social development. The risks they face from disasters include death and injury psychological trauma; diseases from malnutrition, dirty water and bad sanitation; interrupted or even lost education; and a worsening of already dangerous living conditions.

Climate change is further exacerbating disaster risks. It has been estimated that losses from weather-related disasters alone are doubling globally every 12 years(1); and climate change impacts have been predicted to increase the numbers of children affected by disasters from an estimated 66.5 million per year in the late 1990s, to as many as 175 million per year in the coming decade(2)

Girls are particularly vulnerable, as they can be exposed to forms of exploitation, such as abuse, trafficking and prostitution, which can increase after disasters or in times of chronic crisis.  Additionally, during crises, shortages of food and other vital goods and services can increase the burden on women and girls, who traditionally provide for their families’ everyday needs. For example, during drought, girls may have to walk many hours to fetch water, which may expose them to further threats.

This is why UNICEF supports it partners to reduce the risk of disasters and thereby to safeguard the rights of vulnerable women, girls and boys. In Madagascar, which is high on the list of countries at risk from climate change, disaster risk reduction is being addressed in ‘child and eco-friendly schools’. Girls and boys not only plan for and practice emergency drills to prepare for seasonal floods and storms, but they learn how to reduce risk by protecting their environment and get to work in a sustainable and safe school made from low-cost local materials. Partly due to this, since 2006 no children have died in a school setting as a result of floods and storms in Madagascar.

Ethiopia has faced chronic drought over the past three decades, resulting in recurring famine and food insecurity. This has placed boys and girls at risk of developing severe malnutrition – a condition that can lead to irreparable harm, even death, if left untreated.

In 2008, there were only 500 health centres able to treat severe malnutrition across the entire country. Families were often forced to travel great distances seeking help for their children, resulting in high mortality and low recovery rates. In part through community based disaster risk reduction planning, UNICEF, the Government and other partners have increased the number of treatment points to 12,000, covering 98.5 per cent of food insecure villages. The mortality rate among boys and girls under five has dropped to 0.4 per cent. Because these systems were in place, Ethiopia largely avoided the regional crisis in 2011 in which a full scale famine was declared in neighbouring Somalia.

Girls are also powerful advocates for change. In Viet Nam, Hoang Mai Trinh is one of a group of six young people who were trained in filming and engaged in discussions around the theme of disasters and climate change, at a workshop in the coastal province of Quang Bing. She helped to plan, script and film a video telling the story of a local fishing community where a number of homes and a school were washed away by storms. Hoang Mai Trinh commented “That’s not fair! As children, we have nothing to do with global warming, yet this is what we inherit from our parents and grand-parents. Young people are the next generation... they should be listened to as much as adults when it comes to climate change!”

In 2012, International Disaster Day focuses on women and girls.  They are amongst the hardest hit by disasters in poorer communities; and yet they often have a wealth of experience, unique perspectives, and a powerful determination to drive disaster risk reduction solutions in their communities. Women and girls are truly a force in keeping their families, and their communities, safer.

For more information, please contact

Gabriel Pereira, UNICEF Mozambique, tel. (+258) 21 481 100; email:


(1)  Mitchell, T., Mechler, R. and Harris, K., 2012, Tackling Exposure: Placing disaster risk management at the heart of national economic and fiscal policy, Climate and Development Knowledge Network.



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