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Gender Aspects of Disaster Recovery and Reconstruction Case Study Tsunami Recovery and Reconstruction in Tamil Nadu, India

Disaster Management System in India In 2005, the Indian legislature passed the national Disaster Management Act. This act frames the development towards a proactive disaster management system. It mandates the creation of a number of policies, plans and organizations for a coherent and multi-level disaster management system. At the national level, it established a National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) and also created the National Executive Committee. The mandate of the Committee includes the development of a National Disaster Management Plan to be approved by NDMA. Every ministry and department in the Government of India is obliged to mainstream disaster management into their policies, and to prepare a disaster management plan. The National Institute of Disaster Management was put in charge for heading the national efforts in training and research. A National Disaster Response Force, supervised by the National Authority, a National Fund for Disaster Response and a National Mitigation Fund are also established. State governments are required by the Act to create a State Disaster Management Authority as soon as may be. The State Authority would be responsible to lay down the State Disaster Management Policy and the State Plan in accordance with the guidelines of the National Authority. State departments are also mandated to integrate disaster mitigation, capacity building and preparedness in their development plans. As in case of the National Authority, the State Authority is also expected to be assisted by a State Executive Committee. State governments are further required to establish a District Disaster Management Authority in each district of the state. Subject to the provisions of the national and state plans and policies, each District Authority may prepare a district management plan in consultation with the municipalities, and coordinate and monitor the implementation of the national, state and district plans and the relevant policies. The provisions of the national Disaster Management Act are not particularly gender sensitive. Chapter XI, 60 proscribes that while providing compensation and relief to the victims of disaster, there shall be no discrimination on the ground of sex, caste, community, descent or religion. However, disaster management is not exhausted by the provision of compensation and relief: livelihood creation, the setting of infrastructure priorities and preparedness are only a few of the areas where non-discrimination clauses should also apply. In addition, the absence of active discrimination does not mean that avoidable disadvantages are not experienced on the grounds of gender or other identities: a background of social discrimination and a lack of information about gender-related needs and capacities can combine to produce de facto discrimination through gender-insensitive disaster policy. The Act does address some of the main obstacles that had hindered the crafting of a more gender sensitive response to the devastation wrought by the tsunami, although this is not identified as a conscious goal. Coordination difficulties and the paucity of timely and appropriate
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Excerpt from WBI analytical work on Mainstreaming Gender into Disaster Recovery and Reconstruction. The whole document can be found in references

information were two of these obstacles, and to the extent that coordination and information sharing would be improved through the provisions of the new disaster management system, there would also be more scope for mainstreaming gender as long as the political will is there. The possibility of accidentally facilitating a degree of gender mainstreaming, however, does not measure up to consciously gender-sensitive policy. One clear instance of omission in the National Act is in the specification of the composition of the various disaster authorities, executive committees and advisory committees. The membership of the National Executive Committee, for instance, is detailed as consisting in the secretaries of the departments or ministries in administrative control of disaster management, agriculture, atomic energy, defense, drinking water supply, environment and forests, finance (expenditure), health, power, rural development, science and technology, space, telecommunication, water resources and the Chief of the Integrated Defense Staff. The list runs long, yet the Ministry for Women and Child Development (at the time a department) is not included. Although the National Act is already in force, there is still scope to remedy this particular omission, and to mould a generally gender-sensitive disaster management system in India. As far as the composition of authorities, committees and crisis teams is concerned, the Act leaves room for further regulation that could fill this role. For instance, on the membership of the National Authority, the Act stipulates that unless the rules otherwise provide, the National Authority shall consist of the Prime Minister of India [and] nine other members to be nominated by the Prime Minister (Chapter II, 3/2). It follows that further rules could provide that one of these members should be an expert on gender. A similar logic applies to state disaster authorities, state executive committees, district authorities and advisory committees, where the representation of the womens commission or womens agencies could be made mandatory. Two years after enacting the Disaster Management Law, only few states of India have achieved compliance with the provisions. Gujarat has one of the most advanced disaster management systems, whose development was spurred on by the 2001 earthquake that shook the state, and it has also led the way in establishing a state disaster management authority and in creating the requisite disaster plans and policies. Of the tsunami affected territories, Andhra Pradesh is furthest in achieving compliance with the Act, while Tamil Nadu is currently debating the second version of the proposed disaster plan. If the slow pace of the reforms has a positive aspect, it is that there is still room to incorporate inputs that are likely to increase the effectiveness and the gender sensitivity of the system that is being created. The Tamil Nadu System at the Time of the Tsunami The district level administration has been the main locus of government response to natural disasters in India. Each district is headed by a district collector, who has a great deal of latitude in deciding on the course of first response, and who coordinates much of the reconstruction effort. They do so subject to the provisions of district and state contingency plans and state government orders. Contingency plans and government orders are, at the same time, formed in large part on the basis of information and input from the district collector and their administration. In Tamil Nadu state, responsibility for disaster management at the state level is vested in the Revenue Administration, Disaster Management and Mitigation Department (Tamil Nadu Revenue Department 2007). Formerly and informally known as the Revenue Department, it assumed this responsibility in part because disaster management originated in a financial relief scheme introduced in 1989. A positive feature of this arrangement is that the Revenue Department is one of the most powerful within the state government, as one of the two main departments that were established under the British administration. The state disaster management hierarchy at the time of the tsunami ranged from the Chief Minister through the Revenue Minister, the State Secretary and the Revenue Secretary to the State Relief Commissioner. After the tsunami, a Special Officer was also appointed to supervise the tsunami response. Prior to the tsunami, preparedness efforts were largely exhausted by the pre-monsoon review conducted every year in August at the state level, and a district coordination committee meeting

in each district also focused on handling the floods and cyclones expected to accompany the North-West monsoon. The State Calamity Relief Fund was also tapped for conducting training imparted to state officials by the Anna Institute of Management and the State Institute of Rural Development, again focusing on monsoon preparedness. District collectors were meant to prepare district disaster management plans, and to conduct mock drills for line departments, elected representatives, NGOs and the general public ahead of the yearly monsoons. In practice, drill fatigue appears to have set in many places, so that only a limited segment of the target audience was reached, and preparedness efforts were not always maintained fresh on an annual basis. In addition, the district disaster management plans, as far as it has been possible to ascertain, typically contained no reference to gender concerns. As with other large-scale disasters, the state response when the tsunami struck was coordinated by the relief commissioner. Besides setting government compensation rates, the main hands-on function of the state was the holding of talks with donor bodies and the IFIs. Reconstruction needs assessments were usually produced by the state government on the basis of memoranda from the district collectors: the needs assessment produced jointly by the Asian Development Bank, the UN and the World Bank after the tsunami was exceptional in this regard. Reconstruction itself, too, was shaped at the district level. As an illustration, the state issued technical specifications and guidelines that set minimum standards for housing construction after the tsunami, but details beyond this were agreed in memoranda of understanding between the district collectors and the NGOs to whom most of the reconstruction was outsourced. Good Practice The efficacy of immediate response to rapid-onset disasters in Tamil Nadu was greatly hampered at the time of the tsunami by the fact that the assignment of responsibilities in responding to a crisis was in many cases unclear or unknown, while data held locally such as crucial telephone numbers was out of date. The collector of Nagapattinam district, having learnt this first hand when the tsunami struck, put together a directory of disaster management task force plans, broken down by each block in the district, and circulated to each of the blocks. These plans function as practical guides to locating generators, tractors, transport, cooking vessels and safer accommodation where people can be moved to in case of a disaster warning. They also list key names and telephone numbers, including those of the local disaster management team members. While the size and composition of these teams varies, it appears that a conscious effort was made to meaningfully include women, especially those who are particularly active in self help groups. If this initiative is maintained and extended, and perhaps linked to the current UNDP-GoI efforts in community based disaster management, it would promise to be beneficial to make the sizeable inclusion of women in crisis teams an explicit policy.

The institutional arrangements with the potential to promote the incorporation of gender concerns in disaster policy remain numerous, although their scope and clout appear to be limited. The main body influencing government policy on gender is the Social Welfare Department. This in itself highlights the tendency to restrict the consideration of gender to concerns over the vulnerability of largely passive victims, with comparatively little attention paid to issues of differing preferences and capabilities. The Tamil Nadu Corporation for the Development of Women and the State Commission for Women play a role that is somewhat more limited. The latter, for instance, deals mainly with legal issues relating to women, and fulfills a limited role of advocacy: when the tsunami struck, it was the National Commission for Women instead that was instrumental in putting policies such as joint titling on the Tamil Nadu reconstruction agenda. Other state departments, from Rural Development to Forestry, also have gender representatives, whose function is usually to advice on development-related projects. In addition, temporary core groups were set up to provide input into the coordination of the tsunami response on several issues. Gender was one of these issues, and the relevant core group included a representative from the Social Welfare Department from the Tamil Nadu government as well as NGOs.

The Tamil Nadu disaster management structure prior to the tsunami

TN State government

Revenue Administration, Disaster Management and Mitigation Department


State Relief Commissioner; State Disaster Plan

Social Welfare Department

Rural Development Department etc

State civil service

District Collector
District Contingency Plan

Local government

Urban local government

Rural local government

Code: Green arrows represent the flow of information. Red arrows represent the flow of decision-making and executive power. Housing and Infrastructure Reconstruction The Tamil Nadu government published guidelines on the quality of the housing that was to be built in the wake of the tsunami, supplementing pre-existing building codes that were laid down in the 1993 Tamil Nadu District Municipalities Building Rules and other related rules and acts. These guidelines and building codes are narrowly technical and do not address gender issues. In some areas, NGOs and state authorities also consulted the beneficiaries on housing design. Still, the Housing and Land Rights network reported in their survey that the quality of tsunami housing is glaring inadequacies with some gender-specific implications like the temporary shelters, which were built without consulting local people and without supervision from government authorities. The use of inappropriate building materials for the local climate was one of the more pervasive problems. The UN Special Rapporteur on adequate housing also suggested that the failure to comply with human rights standards has deepened the tragedy already afflicted on survivors. It seems that in most areas, however, housing construction was of a satisfactory standard, and the reason instead why many fishing households refused to move into their new dwellings was that they preferred to stay in the less safe coastal areas next to their boats, in contravention of coastal zone regulations. Good Practice The disaster presented an opportunity in the affected states to exert further influence in the direction of improving womens property ownership. The general absence of land titles in some areas before the tsunami, both for men and for women, made it easier to incorporate gender considerations in assigning land and house ownership. In Tamil Nadu state, new property titles have been jointly registered in the name of the female and male heads of the family in projects that were financed with World Bank credit, while resale was not permitted to avoid the forcing of spousal signatures. The same practice was encouraged in Pondicherry.

One of the less obvious aspects of housing is that houses are not simply living spaces, but they also frequently serve as occupational sites. Womens businesses are particularly likely to be run out of the home. While it is clearly not a matter of fundamental human rights to have space in the home to operate a micro-business, it can only be beneficial to take this aspect into consideration in cases where funding constraints permit; and funding for housing reconstruction after the tsunami was not in short supply. Housing site location was also a problem in some cases where the community concerned were not primarily occupied with fishing, but the new proposed location was still perceived as cutting them off from their source of livelihood. In urban areas as in Chennai, there are slums such as the Anju Kudusai community where most of the women work as housemaids in nearby neighbourhoods, and their wages are often the main or only source of household income. Where moving to new, far-away sites would have necessitated commutes that they could not afford, and there was no guarantee of a timely replacement for the lost employment, it was not seen as a viable option to leave the disaster prone area. A similar consideration applies to the restoration of infrastructure, especially in urban areas. Infrastructure is still widely seen as an area where gender mainstreaming is a non sequitur. The role of infrastructure, however, is to facilitate economic and other daily activity and movement. When predominantly male activities and movements are the only ones or the main ones taken into consideration, gender implications with an economic dimension arise. The provision of adequate street lighting is an example that is easy to grasp, as is the provision of public transport on routes important to womens economic activities, where applicable. In the Indian context, improving on the water infrastructure also belongs squarely in this category, given that water collection is usually the task of women, and can be a heavy drain on economically valuable time. The energy infrastructure or lack thereof, functions in a similar manner. In India, nearly three billion days are spent on gathering fuel in rural areas and 700 million days on processing it, performed almost exclusively by women. A whole set of solutions could be applied to improve on this situation, from helping households acquire wheelbarrows through establishing tree-growing cooperatives closer to the dwelling areas and exploring sustainable technologies to investments in traditional energy infrastructure. None of these issues featured on the tsunami reconstruction agenda. In the context of the development agenda, however, the government has been investing in improving water access. Communal Spaces One of the key communal spaces to be reconstructed following the disaster were the aganwadis, a type of daycare centre established by the Government of India from 1975 onwards to improve the nutritional status of children and the nutritional and health awareness of mothers, encourage school enrollment and coordinate child immunization projects. The government policy is to provide an anganwadi for every 1000 families. As childrearing is usually taken to be the responsibility of women, the availability of suitable anganwadis may be considered a gender-specific issue. As the sites are normally specified by the panchayat, they are often in inferior locations that may be prone to flooding during the monsoon season, especially where a town merits more than one anganwadi. The access of scheduled caste groups to these facilities is a particular concern. Lower caste mothers and children are reportedly often left out of the beneficiaries selected to attend an anganwadi; when a worker is from a scheduled caste, some parents will not send their children there or will not allow them to eat food prepared by the worker. Women have also found it difficult to secure spaces to meet in an organized format. In Madhatikuppam village, the panchayat refused to provide a place for womens groups to meet. In Chinnagudi village, women arranged for a womens centre that was also used as a platform to sell fish, but the gram panchayat took it over and locked the centre.

Livelihood Regeneration The overwhelming majority of the programs that were aimed at livelihood regeneration targeted the fishermen, who were the most visible occupational group to have suffered the effects of the tsunami. Consequently, fishing vessels in particular were over-provided, although coverage was not uniform in all areas (this depended to a considerable extent on the level of NGO activity in a region). A large proportion of fishermen received better quality vessels than those, which had been lost, although these werent necessarily better suited to local conditions. Catamarans were replaced by motorized boats, regardless of whether the recipients knew how to operate these, and without considering the likely effects on the fish stock which was already being depleted at unsustainable rates. The plentiful provision of boats also had a gender dimension, in that the livelihood support directed towards women was far more meager in comparison. In most fishing communities, there was cultural resistance against the idea of women-operated fishing vessels, and as few women owned boats before, there werent many to be replaced. However, womens valuable and productive assets were not in turn considered for replacement. One reason for this might have been that these were often of the type whose prior ownership was hard to prove, such as uninsured jewelry or sewing machines, although the distribution of boats also took place largely according to lists that the panchayat leadership drew up themselves after the disaster. There were viable alternatives that were not adopted either, with very few exceptions. Boats could have been granted to women or to groups of women, with the option to hire male hands to man the vessels. Alternatively, the cash equivalent of a number of boats could have been deposited for investment by womens self help groups. In addition, some fishermen, such as launch owners, were eligible for sizeable sums up to 40 000 Rs on a non-repayable basis, while there were no similar provisions for others in the community. In practice, this meant that a certain category of fishermen those who were better off to start with were given grants, while women and those men who were in a worse economic position could only apply for loans. Building construction was another potential avenue for livelihood regeneration, at least in the short to middle term. With the erection of temporary shelters, as well as with the construction of permanent housing, there was a missed opportunity to support local income generation through the direct purchase of building materials. Making thatch for housing is typically a female livelihood source in the area. After the tsunami, women in Tamil Nadu were selling the thatch to middlemen at repressed prices, even though there would have been scope for the government and for reconstruction agencies to link up with the women and purchase the thatch directly. Less conventionally, there would have been more scope to hire local workers for the construction works, and in the process contribute to the revitalization of the tsunami-hit regions. While construction is traditionally considered to be a job for men, women were also receptive to the possibility of participating in mason training and in construction supervision. The feasibility of training and employing women construction workers had already been demonstrated elsewhere, as in the case of the 2002 super cyclone reconstruction project in Orissa state. New Economic Opportunities There are many examples of good practice in the post-tsunami facilitation of new economic opportunities on the mainland, including the provision of skills, training and market opportunities for women. Finding alternative livelihoods is increasingly becoming an issue for men as well in traditional fishing communities, as fish stocks plummet. The effect of overfishing is further compounded in the case of women by changes in fish trade practices. Changes in market patterns has led fishermen to pool their catch to attract the attention of traders instead of handing it to their wives to market, and fish is increasingly sold directly to traders at the point of catch. A shift from processed fish trade to fresh fish trade, and the increasing availability of processed fish from other parts of the country has also led to a loss for processors, who have tended to be women.

Successful training programs in alternative means of livelihood include courses offered around Chennai by the Disaster Mitigation Institute of Ahmedabad (Gujarat) in making coir, incense, candles and thatch, as well as in tailoring. Many other organizations are active in offering similar courses, and UN Goodwill Ambassador Bill Clinton has promoted the provision of internet access for women in tsunami hit villages so that they can market products without middlemen (which of course presume that literacy, computer literacy and marketing skills had also been acquired). Community training for younger women has also been provided by older women leaders and tsunami survivors. The effectiveness of such training programs could be enhanced if their provision were more systematic. In the current system, most of the hands-on training is offered by NGOs and as private initiatives, at times by successful local entrepreneurs, while there are government funds that could be applied for to finance these programs. An alternative system could address issues of coverage, duplication, quality and sustainability through a variety of policies. Several of the district disaster resource centers which were set up during the tsunami response have closed down: these include the Kanyakumari, Cuddalore, Tirunelveli and Thoothudiki centers. It would be beneficial if the state disaster management authority could maintain the infrastructure to at least re-activate these centers in case of a large-scale disaster, including being able to re-assign qualified staff who could map the affected areas. The state authority could act as a clearing-house of training programs, allowing NGOs and civil society latitude in choosing where to work, but making this subject to need by requiring NGOs to proceed through this channel regardless of their source of funding. The performance of these programs could be monitored and recorded after the passage of some time, for instance by the resource centers that are maintained, so that the most effective NGOs could enjoy priority in accessing central funding should another disaster strike. Government authorities need not assume more of the direct training responsibilities provided that capable NGOs continue to come forward, but they could complement these efforts by ensuring that the training that is delivered is supported by the existence of necessary infrastructure. Finally, certain types of skills such as marketing are systematically underprovided, which very often leads to the untimely demise of newly established enterprises. Bearing this in mind, the disaster authority or the government department in charge of development could issue calls for marketing training services, and earmark funding specifically for this purpose. The type of training offered and the occupations promoted can be a socially sensitive issue so that economic potential should not be the sole consideration when devising these courses. Some livelihoods are easier to support than others because they are seen as more socially acceptable. A specific concern in tsunami hit areas is that social relations are influenced in many fishing villages by the position an individual occupies in relation to fishing. As fishing is a relatively prestigious occupation, the further removed the type of work from fishing, the less prestigious it may appear. Some occupations are also seen as the reserve of the scheduled castes: basket weaving, for instance, is seen as inferior and NGO-offered training has been rejected for this reason in the past. While there are obstacles to the performance of non-traditional work, however, these should not be overstated. Indeed, social restructuring has taken place as a result in a number of locations after the tsunami that appears to have been driven primarily from the bottom up. There is much anecdotal evidence that activities that would have previously been considered out of bounds for women are now accepted by the men in the community as well. According to an Oxfam analyst, even in the early days after the tsunami there was a lot of resistance by men in the Naucherpettai village of Cuddalore when it was suggested that women be made collective owners of the boats being distributed in the village. But people are more open to such ideas now.

Knowledge Dissemination The initiation of disaster preparedness measures can also be seen as forming part of the recovery efforts, especially in view of the fact that the aftermath of major disasters is the most conducive period for institutionalizing major changes in disaster management. After the tsunami, the Community Based Disaster Preparedness program was revitalized on the mainland. It plans for the consultation of elders in mapping the types of disaster that given villages have been particularly prone to in the past, and it calls for the establishment of preparedness and disaster response teams with specific tasks assigned as the responsibility of individual villagers. In association with this, large-scale disaster awareness campaigns are also envisaged, to be carried out through means such as rallies, street plays, school competitions, wall paintings and the distribution of relevant materials, as well as through mobilizing key individuals who can personally reach many others. The implementation of these plans in practice is yet to take place in most locations: the states with the highest exposure to natural disasters, as well as with more financial resources dedicated to disaster management than average, have progressed the furthest. Another concern is the extent to which the project environment truly fosters womens participation in identifying priorities and leading disaster management. Women are encouraged to become members of the shelter management, search and rescue and first aid, and water and sanitation disaster management teams. While this in itself is positive, it also appears to imply that womens participation in other teams, such as the early warning or the damage assessment teams is not encouraged. Lessons Learnt There are reports that in many areas, women are considerably underrepresented among those who have been trained in disaster awareness and disaster response since the tsunami, because NGOs who have undertaken this task have found it easier in practice to train men, adolescent boys and children. In some cases, the obstacles were tangible and may have been prevented with some gender-aware preparation. As an example, rescue equipment that disaster trainers brought to the communities that needs to be strapped to the body could not be used by women because its design did not take into account that most women in this area wear saris.

In addition, shifting more of the responsibility and the resources for disaster management to the level of the local governance authority the panchayat in rural areas is laudable from the point of view of community participation in general, but it can raise concerns of its own from the point of view of womens participation. Of the two types of panchayat that exist as parallel structures in rural areas, elected panchayats are legally required to reserve at least 1/3 of the seats for women representatives. This requirement does not apply to traditional panchayats, whose significance in practice dwarfs that of the elected bodies in the fishing communities. In addition, most traditional panchayats are strongly male dominated in these areas, with little opportunity for the direct inclusion of womens voices. If only a sub-section of a community is eligible for participation in consultation and decision-making over disaster preparedness, this does not only undermine the concept of beneficiary participation, but it may also lead to suboptimal outcomes in failing to make use of womens perspectives and capacities. Knowledge dissemination has also been taking place through knowledge and training programs that have been set up by various NGOs in tsunami-affected states. Some of these have focused on providing training in practical skills, while others, such as the Madurai-based Peoples Development Association, have provided training in health awareness and personality development, with more indirect benefits for increasing disaster resilience. The M. S. Swaminathan Research Foundation established Village Knowledge Centers in Tamil Nadu and in Pondicherry that provide a range of services from knowledge about natural disaster threats through information on fish movements to computer training. The Development of Humane Action (DHAN) Foundation has set up a network of community radios backed up by community media centers, whose varied broadcast topics include disaster preparedness as well as information on

government schemes, education, womens healt h, agriculture news and so on. Some NGOs have also been working with women to explore the possibility of encouraging the wearing of salwar trousers or similar garments underneath their saris, instead of petticoats, which hinder their mobility in rapid-onset disasters. As with livelihood training, knowledge dissemination would also benefit from a more systematic approach. The framework for this already exists in the form of the CBDP system what is missing is the full implementation of these plans, and their linkage with civil society efforts. In addition, the quality and the gender sensitivity of preparedness training should be bolstered by establishing guidelines to be kept at the state disaster management institution and in district resource centers, and disseminated to those organizations that deliver preparedness training. Good Practice Caritas India, Action Aid and 26 local partners have been implementing a Tsunami Relief and Rehabilitation Program in all of the tsunami affected states, that shifted from relief and reconstruction programs to community based disaster preparedness and housing. Particular efforts were made to ensure that women took a key role in these programs. As a result, in Aleppey district of Kerala state, women now comprise 50% of disaster task force committee members, 50% of village disaster management teams, and 70% of central level resource teams and of trauma counseling teams. In a subsequent flood in Andhra Pradesh state, communities played a major role in rescuing victims, paying special attention to children, pregnant women, the elderly and those with functional limitations. In Pondicherry, womens self help groups took the lead in a subsequent disaster in supplying relief items. As part of the early warning system in Cuddalore, women read out weather forecasts, wave lengths and wind directions through a local public address system. Special attention is paid now to widows and other groups at a disadvantage even when selecting the beneficiaries of fishing equipment aid. Resistance from men, including the husbands of participating women, was indeed a challenge. Changes in attitudes were secured through a gradual process of securing an initial level of participation from women. As their numbers increased, their participation in decision-making started to be viewed as more acceptable. Their practical contributions gained recognition, and through this the women gained in confidence and became involved in a wider range of issues. Concrete examples and male involvement were found to be key in enhancing attitudinal changes.

One area in which training continues to lag behind, and which could bring great benefits, is in the provision of language skills. In many areas, locals only speak dialects that are not recognized widely outside their region this applies particularly to women. The ability to understand and communicate in more widely spoken languages would have economic payoffs as well as increasing communities disaster resilience through facilitating access to information from outsid e sources, and increasing the ability of locals to defend their interests in political venues.