Lessons for Resilience
Consider how to encourage localised women-led recovery efforts through gender inclusive and responsive services
Research has shown that disasters impact men and women differently. While COVID-19 has been shown to disproportionately affect men physically, women are more likely to be adversely impacted by disasters generally, and more likely to be failed by recovery efforts that do not meet their needs. Consider how to develop gender-inclusive disaster recovery that considers impacts of COVID-19:
- Tackle the drivers of gender inequalities in areas such as access to healthcare and economic recovery e.g. impacts of COVID-19 on low paid precarious work, health risks to care workers
- Include multi-stakeholder processes that ensure women's rights organisations are included in designing national response and recovery measures - this should also include groups representing vulnerable or marginalised women
- Assess bid for new funding using an additional criteria of impact on gender responsiveness
- Increase funding and capacity development for local and national women's groups; including for action against gender-based violence which saw a global increase during the pandemic
- Strengthen COVID-19/disaster responses to address women's leadership roles, not only their vulnerability to the virus
- Examine the availability of gender-responsive health services and vital sexual and reproductive health needs at local level
- Consider communications designed for women, to reach women. Women and girls may be less likely to receive and contribute to accurate COVID-19 information due to patriarchal norms/structures
- Include the voices and rights of trans women in response and recovery so they are equally involved in determining needs
Consider preparing for compound disasters during COVID-19
Compound disaster pose a serious risk during the pandemic, which requires a dual focus on the constant threat of COVID-19 to people’s health and to economies, and on natural disasters. The compound nature of natural disasters and COVID-19 intensifies the scale and broadens the scope of human, social, economic and environmental impacts. Disasters have continued to rise year on year. In 2019, EM-DAT recorded 396 natural disasters globally, that led to 11,755 deaths, affected 95 million people, and resulted in 103 billion US$ in economic losses across the world. Floods were the deadliest type of disaster accounting for 43.5% of deaths, followed by extreme temperatures at 25% (mainly due to heat waves in Europe) and storms at 21.5%. Storms affected the highest number of people, accounting for 35% of the total people affected.
This trend has continued, 2020 is on course to be the hottest year on record - impacts of this have been witnessed in parts of Africa and the Middle East where crops have been devastated by locust swarms that begun breeding several months earlier than normal due to weather conditions. Of the 132 unique extreme weather events that have occurred in 2020 (as of late September), 92 have overlapped with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Learning from two cases: Vanuatu and Bangladesh
A recent example of a large scale disaster during COVID-19 is the category 5 Tropical Cyclone (TC) Harold that struck Vanuatu on 5 April 2020, affecting over 130,000 people (approx. 43% of the population) and resulting in three deaths. TC Harold caused significant damage to schools, medical facilities, homes, agricultural crops, telecommunications and the local boat fleet. More vulnerable groups such as women were reportedly dealing with multiple concurrent crises, namely drought, scarcity of portable water, volcanic ash, acid rain and sulphur gas as there are also several active volcanoes.
While Australia did provide humanitarian aid, strict protocols were implemented when delivering supplies to minimise any chance of transmission to Vanuatu, and to date there are no, nor have been any cases of COVID-19 in Vanuatu. However, much of the humanitarian support was offered remotely which demonstrates a shift in how aid is provides e.g. aerial surveillance to assess the scale of impact, logistics support to release relief items that were locally pre-positioned.
The cyclone that hit Bangladesh in May 2020 presents the opposite scenario. The impacts of cyclone Amphan were lessened by decades of disaster risk reduction strategies and a weakening of the storm as it made landfall, which meant the death toll was in the dozens rather than thousands. However, the large number of COVID-19 cases in Bangladesh had serious ramifications for ‘normal’ disaster response. Coastal communities in the path of the cyclone had to make choices between braving the cyclone’s impacts as it hit land, and risking COVID-19 infection as 2.2 million people in Bangladesh were evacuated to shelters.
The combination of these cases – heavy impact on people and resources from a natural disaster, combined with high COVID-19 infection rates – demonstrate the worst case for which emergency planners and the humanitarian community need to plan. Going forward, disaster affected countries will be impacted by limitations faced globally, as countries contend with COVID-19 and the impacts this has on their own health systems and economies, and the impacts of this on offers of humanitarian aid. Additionally, logistical support, made more complex by travel restrictions and pressures on global supply chains for resources also needs to be considered, for example:
- Impacts of restricting travel on providing and receiving support, including legislation to override COVID-19 restrictions for assistance
- Implications for efficient response if 14 day isolation periods are required e.g. if dispatching urgent search and rescue teams; how do you choose between saving people from a collapsed building or (re)infecting a community with COVID-19?
- Availability of reliable partnerships for international support including financing, mutual aid and personnel when many countries’ own health systems and economies are under huge strain
- Availability of appropriate protective equipment for all personnel deployed to support a humanitarian effort, including those working in-country
- Pressures on internal mobilization of resources, including the health system which is required for first response to both COVID and disasters
- Risk of infection during evacuations while travelling to and from evacuation centres and residing there
Despite these challenges there are measures which can help countries better prepare for compound COVID-19 disasters. Consider how to:
- Reconceptualise all disaster response as simultaneous COVID-19 response and mitigation of virus transmission
- Develop strategies that incorporate both climate change adaptation and reducing global health threats, by building COVID-19 into disaster risk reduction strategies. Use pre-existing resources such as the Disaster Resilience Scorecard for Cities, and it’s related Public Health Addendum, or the UN’s Build Back Better approach
- Partner with disaster risk reduction and emergency planning organisations to integrate health management and disaster management
- Integrate data on COVID-19 and disasters to inform early warning systems, and invest resources into upgrading and expanding systems to manage complex situations
- Deliver preparedness messaging about disasters and other diseases, alongside COVID-19 advice, to keep issues at the forefront of people’s minds and to ensure communities have up-to-date information about mitigating risks posed to them, and the support services available
- Build an understanding based on expertise and skills guided by science, while also building capacity in communities to better understand the hazards of a double disaster and plan collective action
- Keep messaging simple. COVID-19 messaging is already fraught with confusion and misinformation, detailing the risks from other hazards may doubly confuse people if not done in a simple way
The influences of climate change has resulted in disasters which have become seasonal, reoccurring and protracted. This, combined with COVID-19 results in compound disasters that are continually unravelling, which blurs the lines between response, recovery, preparedness, and prevention. It is therefore important to consider humanitarian assistance for a world that is facing two chronic challenges; COVID-19 and climate change.
Consider the usefulness of an infographic for citizens
Processing information on coronavirus can be stressful. Consider how detailed information can be publicly shared, displayed and disseminated in an engaging and simple way, for example, through an infographic. The audience of the infographic should be clear but may include stakeholders, staff, citizens, tourists, customers, suppliers, volunteers, etc. Consider creating an infographic that includes:
- Number of people affected, recovered, died, tested, traced
- Number of volunteers, business contributions, donations, and the scope of effects they have had on COVID-19 response and recovery
- Number of travellers, visitors, business trips into the country/city
- Distribution of supplies and services e.g. PPE, number of service beneficiaries
- Other local government duties performed during the period of COVID-19 response and success of those
- Where to get more information from
- The date of the information contained in the infographic
Much information can be included and a regular circulation of such a graphic may keep stakeholders updated in an engaging way.
Consider ensuring that the public have an authoritative timeline of activities and decisions taken
In early April 2020, the category 5 tropical cyclone named Harold formed in the South Pacific basin. Around 6th April, Cyclone Harold hit the small cluster of islands of Vanuatu with gusts above 275km and 10-18 inches of rain water. There was widespread destruction, flooding, evacuation shelters were activated, ships were grounded on beaches, and many of other significant impacts.
To explain to interested parties what happened during the run up to, and aftermath of, Cyclone Harold, Vanuatu's National Disaster Management Office produced a timeline of what happened, major decisions, and timings. This was made publicly available on their website to be an authoritative record of the events. It provides transparency to the sorts of activities that happened in the lead up to, and aftermath of, the cyclone hitting land - making the public aware of the work of emergency managers and responders.
Vanuatu's National Disaster Management Office are also producing a timeline that shows the major activities and decisions taken for COVID-19: https://ndmo.gov.vu/covid-19/timeline-covid-19-tc-harold.