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How paying attention to gender differences in emergencies prevent deeper gender inequalities

Reflection on CARE’s response to typhoon Damrey in central Vietnam

It has been increasingly known that disasters affect women and men, girls and boys, the old and the young in different ways. Those who are more vulnerable apparently tend to be affected worse. CARE’s lessons in responding to the aftermaths of typhoon Damrey in central Vietnam late 2017 once again prove that a gender-sensitive approach to our relief work does pay off.

It was early November 2017, just a few days away from the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit when the typhoon hit the central region really hard. During its 16 hours or so in Vietnam, it blew away the roofs of thousands of houses and felled trees and electricity poles across the southern coastline. Flooding in 15 provinces across central Vietnam followed. 

The indirect impacts were just as substantial: livelihoods for millions of families in the affected regions would take a long time to recover after crops, seed stock, livestock and aquaculture assets were destroyed. The poorest families were worst hit, particularly in communities in Thua Thien Hue and Quang Nam Province where resilience is lower. Moreover, the disruption of income generation created extra pressure on household debts.

In this context, the Australian Government decided to fund CARE International in Vietnam 400,000 Australian dollars to support the affected population in four communes of Dai Loc district (Quang Nam province) and Quang Dien district (in Thua Thien Hue province).

With the cooperation of provincial and communal Red Cross in these locations, the household assessment and distribution activities took place from the beginning of January to the end of August  2018, with a particular focus on addressing the different needs of both men and women in the above areas.

In all project sites, two months after the typhoon hit, most of damaged shelters had been repaired by the household’s resources or through borrowing from neighbors/relatives. However, many households were facing a burden of debt, food insecurity, and lack of access to clean water.

Before the distribution took place, CARE found that a high percentage of poor households, particularly in Hue province, are single and elderly men/women. They mainly lived on small-scaled poultry in addition to a small vegetable garden. Typhoon Damrey and the consequent flooding significantly affected their income and food intakes when sweeping away the animals or gardens. Poor families found it much harder to secure food, repair houses or pay school fees. Poor elderly men and women in particular lacked food and items such as warm clothes and blankets for winter and were more vulnerable to flood-borne diseases.

In the communes of Dai Loc district, for example, we found that though WASH needs waned in general but were still persistent for women and children. Lack of safe water and the high cost of purchasing bottled water meant the poorer had to cut down on the use of water for drinking, cooking and showering, resulting in increased risks of skin diseases.

With those findings in mind, CARE proposed to the Australian Embassy in Hanoi a list of activities to address the difference need of women and men and of the young and the old. For example, multi-purpose cash grants were unconditionally distributed for the people to care for their food, drinking water, household goods, and especially medicines or heath check for elderly women/men. Cash for livelihood recovery was specially prioritised for single women headed households or families with many children to help them improve their livelihood conditions after the typhoon. These women and men decided to invest in livestock, planting food crops, or buying more agricultural inputs. They also received enhanced training on agricultural cultivation. Most participants in the training were women who became more confident to apply such knowledge into their daily agricultural work. In addition, water filters were distributed to make drinking water safe for hundreds of households.

Years of humanitarian work that CARE has done globally and in Vietnam show that our activities during a humanitarian response, depending on our approaches, can either increase and reinforce or reduce existing inequalities. In the work with the misfortune, luckily we had the support from the donor and our partners alike when digging deeper into the characteristics of the populations we serve so that we can integrate gender into every stage of the response. By doing so, we both helped to bring cash or water filters to the people and played our part in reducing the vulnerabilities incurred by gender inequalities where we work.