Can social protection help ensure the most vulnerable women are included in disaster response?

7 March 2019
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Dani Baur interviews women who felt excluded from the flood response in Nepal in 2017’ © Rachel Slater 2018.
Dani Baur interviews women who felt excluded from the flood response in Nepal in 2017’ © Rachel Slater 2018.

Today, on International Women’s Day, Dani Baur and Rachel Slater reflect on CIDT’s research in Nepal on how social protection can support disaster risk management.  

Last year, we reported on a remarkable experience when carrying out research in the Nepal Himalaya. Throughout the year, CIDT’s research team worked with the World Bank and Government of Nepal to explore how far Nepal might use social protection systems and programmes in their efforts to manage disasters. Early this year, our report was launched by the World Bank which also produced a briefing paper that situated the findings of the report within the Bank’s own framework for Adaptive Social Protection.

So, why reflect on this work today, on International Women’s Day? During the work we found that social protection could potentially play a key role in ensuring that women – especially very vulnerable women such as single parents and widows – are not excluded from support during a disaster response. Here’s why:

Although survey data shows that social protection reaches a reasonably large share of households in Nepal – for example the old age allowances reach nearly 12% of households – households receiving social protection don’t substantially overlap with those that are affected by disasters. So, our initial assessment was that trying to route a disaster response through existing social protection systems, i.e. paying an emergency ‘top-up’ payment to existing social protection beneficiaries, would not reach enough of those who are affected by flood or earthquake or drought.  

However, interviews in communities affected by disasters both confirmed the lack of overlap between social protection receipt and exposure to disasters, AND provided a new angle to consider. Between April and June, we interviewed people right across Nepal – from urban to rural, and from the high mountains of the Himalaya to the terai where the vast of Nepal’s agricultural production takes place on seasonally flooded land. We interviewed beneficiaries of social protection programmes – from those receiving the old age, disability or widows’ allowances, to those doing road construction in return for a daily wage. All were affected by disasters – the 2015 earthquakes, repeated floods on the terai, landslides in the mountainsand successive droughts in the mid and far west of the country.

What did we find? Many of those receiving social protection found it difficult to get their names on the list for humanitarian support following a disaster. This was particularly the case for households who were affected by the 2017 floods when hundreds of lives, thousands of homes damaged and agricultural livelihoods destroyed. In the immediate aftermath of the flood, displaced households received food, utensils, tarpaulins and sleeping mats but after that assessments were made at community level to decide who need support. Some were excluded automatically because they were social protection recipients, but, more commonly, others – especially single women, widows and elderly women – didn’t have the social networks or relationships to ensure they got on the list of disaster relief beneficiaries. Essentially, they were invisible in their communities and in the eyes of humanitarian actors doing needs assessments. This led us to recommend that, in situations where vulnerable women are routinely or systematically excluded from accessing disaster relief, routing a share of the disaster response directly to them through social protection, might prove an effective way of achieving a more equitable disaster response. On International Women’s Day the lesson for us is that we need to look carefully at our mechanisms for needs assessment and how women access support, if we want to ensure they aren’t excluded from disaster responses.

Images: Social protection beneficiaries often find themselves at the bottom of the list for receiving disaster relief © Rachel Slater 2018.