EMERGENCIES: World Disasters Report 2007 - Focus on discrimination

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[13 December 2007] - Discrimination threatens lives in emergencies, and governments and aid agencies should pay more attention to the needs of vulnerable groups who suffer most in disasters, the Red Cross said in a report released on Thursday.

Crises worsen discrimination against the elderly, people with disabilities, children, some minorities and women, and those who respond to disasters have a responsibility to identify and tackle discriminatory attitudes and procedures, according to the World Disasters Report 2007.

"The answer to this discrimination must be dialogue, openness and understanding," said Markku Niskala, secretary general of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC). "Aid agencies need to work to change attitudes, develop inclusion and advocate on behalf of marginalised groups."

Existing discrimination is often invisible - either because of a lack of official data about vulnerable groups, or because it is formed and fostered within communities and families.

And when a disaster happens, aid agencies sometimes carry out assessments without analysing the needs of marginalised people - meaning they fail to receive life-saving food, water and medical care.

Power play

Blind, deaf or paralysed people may not be able to flee danger on their own. Young and old people lose out when relief is dropped from helicopters, and emergency shelters often exclude people with disabilities.

Poorly designed camps can make women more vulnerable to sexual violence, and prevent minorities from accessing aid, the report says.

"Humanitarian workers have heightened power in disasters; they have money, resources, information, networks, emblems and authority," writes Judi Fairholm, technical director of a Canadian Red Cross programme to prevent child abuse.

"The risk of discrimination is high. The success of disaster operations and the prevention of discrimination may depend on the way in which power is exercised."

The report calls for a clear international definition of marginalisation and vulnerability, as well as tools to help governments and aid agencies reduce discrimination.

It says individual countries should carry out a census to identify groups at risk in an emergency, and aid agencies need to share information and improve their understanding of the impact of discrimination.

It also recommends that vulnerable groups should be included in planning for disasters before they happen, as well as recovery efforts afterwards.

Disaster deaths drop

According to the annual report, the number of natural disasters reported worldwide in 2006 was slightly lower than the previous year - 427 compared to 433 in 2005. The deadliest disaster of 2006 was May's earthquake in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, in which 5,778 people died.

The number of people reported to be affected by disasters dropped by 10 per cent to 142 million, and there was a dramatic fall of 75 per cent in the number of people reported as killed, to 23,833.

But the trends in the past ten years show a large increase over the previous decade. Between 1997 and 2006, there were 6,806 reported disasters compared to 4,241 from 1987 to 1996, and the number of deaths doubled from more than 600,000 to more than 1.2 million. The average number of people affected per year rose by 17 per cent from around 230 million to 270 million.

The Red Cross attributes the rise to better reporting of smaller disasters and an increase in severe disasters.

The IFRC said in a press statement it had recorded 410 disasters for 2007 up to early October, just over half of which were weather-related. It said this was consistent with the rising trend in the numbers of disasters linked to climate change.

[Source of press release: AlertNet]

Further information

 

pdf: http://www.crin.org/docs/Red_Cross_Disasters_2007.pdf

Countries

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