Vol. 5 Num 64 Fri. July 30, 2004  

Flood victims: Women and children deserve priority attention

Women suffer more than men during flood. In fact women and children are the worst sufferers during any natural calamity. A flood-affected housewife Bulbuli (32) of Baniajuri in Manikganj described her sorrows and bitter experience: "Poor women like me have to wait all through the day and night for some food to feed our children. Usually we do not have any money to buy rice and no way to cook food ..." Bulbuli also added that sufferings increases day by day for the helpless women like her do not get enough succour.

The bitter truth is that in such distressing situation some of the poor girls/women are enticed by pimps. For those types of important reasons relief and rehabilitation facilities should be prioritised for women and children, specially those so helpless and distressed.

Women, who are virtually household based workers have to take responsibilities for protecting their houses, children, other members of the family, livestock and belongings. Traditional gender specific work such as carrying water, cooking, caring for children and animals naturally become too difficult for them during flood. For lack of resources poor women face more problems than women belonging to middle class and rich households.

Bangladesh is one of the most disaster prone countries in the world. Only an efficient disaster prevention and management system can reduce human sufferings here. The disabled, elderly people, women and children should get special attention during flood.

But the provision of relief and rehabilitation services for them remains poor.

Floods, droughts, cyclones, tidal waves and other disasters routinely afflict Bangladesh. Poverty and malnutrition are related to them. Increasing malnutrition for flood or other disaster has enormous economic and social costs for households causing stagnation in the long-term development. Experiences of past years suggest that 'mainstream' gender-sensitive projects are the best way to meet women's needs and improve their socio-economic status.

Investing in maternal and childhood nutrition will have both short and long-term benefits of economic and social significance. It would reduce health care costs throughout the life cycle, increase intellectual capacity and adult productivity. Many children do not recover even after 15 months of flood, 40 percent of children who live in flood-exposed households cannot regain their pre-flood nutritional status.

Causes of distress
Failure to adopt proper flood management policy can be considered as one of the major causes of flood distress in Bangladesh. Flood management programmes will be effective only if the main causes of flood distress are considered.

At the World Food Summit, 1996 in Italy, countries became agreed that "Food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life style". So, to ensure food security and nutrition of women and children we have to work to meet the needs and flood or disaster should be faced with holistic measures.

And at the moment it is urgent to help the flood victims especially the women and children with necessary food, shelter, health services etc.

For the need assessment we can follow the Vulnerability Analysis and Mapping (VAM) system: "Overall damage to dwellings, percentage of households evacuated, percentage of staple food (rice) and cash crop damage, overall damage of farmland, livestock losses, main food staple and cash crops in terms of sown areas and values, family dependence on main staple and cash crop cultivation, rural per capita income and rural per capita level of agricultural production".

Some recommendations

* All poor households should be given food, other relief.

* Post-flood disaster rehabilitation programmes should be targeted to the needs identified by households.

* Rehabilitation of homestead food production activities, such as vegetables gardening poultry farm, animal husbandry are helpful to increase household food availability and consumption to meet the nutritional needs of the women and children, and other members of the family.

* Access to low interest or interest-free credit in the severely flood affected areas should be expanded.

* October-November is well-recognised period of household food insecurity in Bangladesh. If non-cereal food production activities cannot be mobilised quickly, vitamin and mineral supplementation for children and women of reproductive age should be considered as a short-term alternative in the flood-affected areas.

* Monitoring relief and rehabilitation efforts should be critical in importance during the next few days of the flood.

* Government and NGOs can build helipad, disaster shelters in the flood affected areas as preparation for operating relief work and giving shelter to the homeless, specially women and children.

* Scouts, girl Guides and trained volunteers can also help the flood affected people, in need of succour.

* Union Council Chairmen and Members can help build bridges of bamboo or wood and to make available boats for each ward to use for emergency purpose such as to help pregnant women, snake-bite and diarrhoea patients and other diseases to reach the health centre as well as to distribute relief to the remotest areas affected by flood.

* Emphasis should be given on improving the sanitation facilities as much as possible so that water bound diseases can be controlled to an extent.

Parvez Babul is an NGO activist