Virtually all countries, rich or poor, now face disaster-related challenges of one kind or another. Sudden and extreme weather events like hurricanes, floods and typhoons and slowmoving disasters like droughts, sea-level rise and warming of the Earth are becoming the “new normal” Traditionally, we have merely coped with crises and disasters and borne the often horrific consequences. Improvements in science, technology and governance, over the last 100 years, mean we can now better prepare and manage the risk and even mitigate the effects of disaster.
But how prepared are we for this “new normal?”
Irrespective of how far we are from the site of an actual disaster, we are all increasingly paying a high cost. There is an ever growing disconnect between geographic cause and the location where a disaster’s impact is felt. These realities should compel us to work together to prepare for all types of disaster.
Women, in particular, are at the forefront of both vulnerability and resilience building in the face of disaster; they are the biggest pool of untapped talent. Women, and their families, feel the effects most keenly but are often our best line of defense and the backbone of community resilience. Yet, we hardly notice the critical role the backbone plays until pain and injury strike. A strategy that keeps the backbone of community resilience strong and healthy is
needed now more than ever.
We have lost too many lives due to desertification and drought for far too long. We are losing precious, limited and largely non-renewable resources to disasters. Every year, 12 million hectares of productive land is lost to drought and desertification, and every year, 75 billion tons of fertile soil is lost through erosion. The global land area stricken by serious drought more than doubled between the 1970s and the early 2000s, and “we are facing the possibility of widespread drought in the coming decades”.
This is the reason for the March 2013 high-level meeting on national drought policy spearheaded by the UNCCD and World Meteorological Organization. The goal is to set up effective policies to pre-empt, prepare for and manage drought. The failure to do so, in the face of growing scientific and empirical evidence of greater drought challenges in the future, would be truly awful political negligence. In setting up effective policies and institutions for preparedness and disaster risk management, we need to be more explicit about the means through which we will equip women with the knowledge, skills and assets they need to become an ever stronger backbone of resilience.
The UNCCD, as the global treaty set up to harness efforts to address desertification and mitigate the effects of drought, is one of the few Conventions that explicitly identifies women as key agents of change. The UNCCD sets out to include women in all its interventions.
It is only by recognizing the crucial role women play that we can effectively avoid man-made disasters such as desertification. Only then will we ensure that predictable disasters like
drought and climate change no longer claim lives or destroy families and communities. Only then will we move from crisis disaster management to preparedness and risk management.
I congratulate the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction for recognizing the role women must play as the backbone of a truly effective and comprehensive approach to disaster reduction.