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Does Gender Responsive Disaster Risk Reduction Make a Difference?

A comparative study of category five tropical Cyclone Pam in Vanuatu

Vanuatu is made up of 83 islands scattered across 1200 square kilometers of the Pacific Ocean, leaving remote populations isolated and making access and service delivery difficult. Vanuatu is well established as one of the most disaster-prone countries in the world, with cyclones, volcanoes, earthquakes, tsunamis, droughts, and floods among the hazards faced.

On 13 March 2015, Category Five Tropical Cyclone Pam (TC Pam), one of the worst cyclones to hit the Pacific region, struck Vanuatu and other Pacific Islands. TC Pam brought very destructive winds, storm surges, and flooding across huge areas of Vanuatu, destroying homes, schools, health facilities, crops, and livestock and affecting approximately 188,000 people, or 70% of the population.

Prior to TC Pam, CARE International in Vanuatu was working to increase the resilience of communities and schools that were at risk of the impact of natural disasters and climate change. CARE’s work included setting up and training Community Disaster and Climate Change Committees (CDCCCs), working to ensure equal female membership of the CDCCCs, providing gender and leadership training, facilitating emergency simulations, providing emergency equipment, and giving training in the use and maintenance of the emergency equipment.

Anecdotal and qualitative evidence gathered by CARE and others after TC Pam suggested that CARE’s programming across islands in Tafea Province had a significant and positive impact on communities. This external study was commissioned to obtain more robust evidence of the impact of CARE’s mid to long-term gender responsive disaster risk reduction (DRR) interventions in the event of a major natural disaster.

This comparative study used participatory methods to draw out analytical insights from the communities to understand the nature of their actions in response to extensive early warnings of the cyclone, the damage and loss experienced, and their recovery. The field team gathered data from nine communities (three communities in each of the three islands of Aniwa, Erromango, and Tanna) and compared the results. The communities of Erromango and Aniwa Islands participated in CARE’s extensive gender responsive DRR programming before TC Pam. The communities visited on Tanna Island had not participated in this DRR programming before TC Pam, and had not had similar support from any other agency in the years before TC Pam.