Enhancing resilience through gender equality
Between May 2013 and December 2014, CARE implemented a disaster risk reduction project in Vanuatu’s Tafea province. The ‘Yumi Redi 2’ project aimed to increase the capacity of vulnerable communities to prepare for and respond to disasters. When Cyclone Pam – a category five cyclone, one of the worst storms ever to hit the region – struck Vanuatu on March 13th, 2015 it tested the community’s capacity to prepare and respond.
When the small community of Dillon’s Bay on Erromango Island heard the cyclone warning four days before the cyclone, the Community Disaster Committee (CDC) assembled. Using the cyclone map provided by CARE and listening to warnings via radio, the CDC began preparing the community. They alerted the community as soon as they received the initial warning, and told everyone to prepare their houses and be ready to prepare for a day or night in an evacuation centre. Immediately, people started preparing: cutting down branches near their homes, fastening roofs, pulling fishing boats out of the water, and gathering essential supplies.
The project’s work to increase gender equality – through supporting women’s agency, enabling equal relations between women and men, as well as transforming community structures to better support equality – meant that women and men worked together to prepare.
“Before, it was only the men’s job to prepare – doing things like fastening the roofs – but this time everyone was involved. The women too were carrying timber to give to the fathers, and the women were getting the children to help – everyone was part of the preparation. We learned this through the simulation exercise that CARE did. It really saved lives, I know it,” said Wilson Umah, CDC member.
The CDC is made up of both men and women, with leadership positions shared. 21-year-old CDC member Sabrina Yaviong was a school student not long ago. She became a CDC member when she filled in for her mother one day, and she has been on the committee ever since.
“The CDC is made up of ten people, four of them women,” Sabrina explains. “The CDC women work the same as the CDC men, but there are challenges. Sometimes people see me as just a girl, but Wilson [acting CDC coordinator] supports me and helps get people to take me seriously. Now, they listen to me.”
Once the CDC knew the cyclone was near, they moved people to safe places such as the school, church and three private houses made of concrete. They went house to house, checking each one and encouraging families to move to a safe place when the evacuation warning came. On Friday afternoon, they started the evacuation, using the megaphone provided by CARE to announce the imminent arrival of the cyclone. CDC members also went from house to house, spreading the message.
The evacuation was successful, with almost 95% of the community moving to safe places. In the whole community, there were no serious injuries or deaths.
When the wind abated, the CDC checked on all people in the safe places. Soon after they did an assessment, using the official procedure of the National Disaster Management Office.
“The CDC members did the assessment straight away, even though they too had been through a disaster and had a lot of work to do on their own houses and gardens. They just put on their uniforms, and their families understood that as CDC members they had a duty to the community, and they respected that,” says Jonathan (CDC Coordinator).
This was the first time that assessments like this had been done in a community, and CDC members worked together with each other and the community to complete assessments faithfully and accurately.
Jocelyn recalls, “When the government representatives landed here they couldn’t believe we were alive. All they could see from the plane was destruction. They came to do an assessment, but the CDC was right there waiting at the airstrip ready to hand them the finished assessment report. This was on Tuesday [2 days after the first assessment
“After the assessment, we started with the work of cleaning up our gardens and recovering bits of our houses and building temporary shelters,” Wilson explains. “Many people had lost everything and stayed in the safe houses or with neighbours until they could build temporary shelters.” Jonathan says proudly, “The CDC did not stop its work after the cyclone. They advised everyone to help each other, to replant and rebuild, and slowly, slowly, help the village recover. The CDC also played a role in sharing information on relief, safeguarding supplies, helping CARE with the distributions, and planning for food security after distributions end.”
According to Sabrina, “The chief thanked the CDC very much, and said that with the CDC’s help everyone is working together as one community.” Wilson agreed: “Before, we were all in small groups, but now we are uniting together. Everyone is looking out for everyone.”