Okawa Elementary School in Miyagi Prefecture, Japan. 74 out of 108 students that attended the school were washed away in the 2011 tsunami that hit the region. Photo credit: Emily Mosley. SUPPLIED/23103102
After watching the fast-developing Cyclone Lola over Vanuatu before the cyclone season starts, whether we are prepared as a nation to protect our most vulnerable in a disaster has been on my mind, writes Merita Tuari’i.
September, I had the opportunity to visit different monuments and sites of past
disasters in Japan, such as Okawa Elementary School,
where 74 children and three teachers were washed away in the 2011 Tōhoku
earthquake. Each monument was a reminder to me of the ultimate unpredictability
of disasters, and how we need to include diverse voices at every stage of work
in reducing risk to disaster.
In March this year, Te Puna Vai Mārama, the Cook
Islands Centre for Research, conducted a survey of the general public on
Rarotonga. The survey examined knowledge and use of disaster early warning
systems, along with climate and weather services and information. Its results revealed that women were slightly more affected by weather
events on Rarotonga than men, and that knowledge and use of cyclone services in
Rarotonga is low. The research indicated that the ways in which climate
services and early warnings should be delivered in the future must be diverse
in order to capture both men and women’s attention.
Even for a developed country such as Japan, catering
to the diverse needs of the most vulnerable during a disaster is still an
overlooked issue. The largest number of deaths from the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake
were those over 60 years old, most of whom were women. Disaster experience is
never gender neutral, women are often more vulnerable with more limited access
to resources than men.
In the disaster of Cyclone Martin over Manihiki, most
of those who passed away or went missing were elderly, women and children.
Japan, there was an attempt to include gender and diverse perspectives into
disaster risk reduction, through the Gender Equality Bureau at the Cabinet
Office established in 2001. However, women still make up only six per cent of
members of the Municipal Disaster Management Councils, and Japan ranks 121 out
of 153 countries on World Economic Forum’s gender equality index.
in the Cook Islands, it is not much better, most of those with decision-making
power in disaster response and management are men. There is an over-reliance on
the community sector, particularly women’s groups, to be the change agent or do
the gendered work of climate services.
make sure we are reducing risk to our most vulnerable, we need to make sure
women, people with disabilities, the LGBTQ+ community, people living in the Pā ‘Enua and other vulnerable
groups have a role in all aspects of disaster, from early warning and
information, to response and recovery.
cannot be complacent, without a fundamental shift in the way we include diverse
voices in decision-making, we will see our most vulnerable lost again.
Merita Tuari’i is a Senior Research
Fellow at Te Puna Vai Mārama Cook Islands Centre for Research and member of the
Australia Institute of International Affairs Indo-Pacific Co-operation Network.