Tue, May 01, 2018 - Page 6 News List

FEATURE: Indonesian women crucial in heading off disasters

Thomson Reuters Foundation, YOGYAKARTA, Indonesia

Whenever heavy rains come at night in her neighborhood in the ancient Indonesian city of Yogyakarta, schoolteacher Muryani remembers the worst floods she experienced almost 35 years ago.

Sleeping with her mother and two young siblings in a bamboo hut to guard a farmer’s goats from thieves, Muryani feared for their lives as flash floods burst through the door.

“Suddenly the water was so high... It came very fast,” she said. “I was so worried about my mother, who was already quite old. I was afraid we would drown.”

Muryani, 44, still lives in the same area, now a small settlement of about 300 residents called Pedak Baru, which sits by a river close to the Mount Merapi volcano.

As floods have become more frequent over the past five years, Muryani and 25 other local women have teamed up with the YAKKUM Emergency Unit, a project that runs activities to help women protect their communities from disasters in Central Java and Yogyakarta.

The Indonesian government spends an estimated US$300 million to US$500 million annually on building back after disasters, World Bank resilience officials say.

While the nation has reduced poverty over the past 20 years, many hover just above the poverty line and could easily be pushed back under it by a disaster.

However, women can play a crucial role in minimizing the risks for their families and neighbors, experts say.

For Muryani and her family, regular floods have often destroyed their possessions and furniture — which she cannot afford to replace — and forced her two children to miss school, but the disaster training she has received is helping.

“It gives us an awareness for what to do when flooding happens and how to prepare,” she said.

Indonesia has experienced an average of 290 significant natural disasters annually over the past 30 years, according to the World Bank officials.

They include the 2004 tsunami that killed about 167,000 people. After that shock, Jakarta reformed its institutions, laws and policies to better manage disaster risk.

The government introduced a disaster management bill in 2007 that shifted the emphasis from merely responding to disasters toward trying to stop them happening and curbing their effects.

The approach led to the strengthening of the Indonesian National Disaster Management Agency, with representatives and branches put in place across districts.

The agency now encourages civil society groups like YAKKUM to involve women more in efforts to build resilience.

Despite huge progress, more work is needed, and a larger number of government departments should include disaster risk reduction in their projects, especially at the local level, Arghya Sinha Roy of the Asian Development Bank in Manila said.

Indonesian women’s traditional role in running the household means they are sometimes forgotten when a community draws up plans to deal with disasters.

This can lead to them being left behind at home during evacuations or being unaware of safety procedures.

“When you look back at the 2004 tsunami, most of the casualties are women,” Indonesian Institute of Sciences researcher Irina Rafliana said.

Women who survive a major catastrophe are often the ones responsible for getting their families back on their feet, she added.

In Indonesia, women often take care of the family and its finances, meaning they are best placed to suggest ways of protecting lives, property and incomes, experts say.

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