Daily Trust (Abuja)

3 February 2013

Nigeria: Empowering Women Reduces Disaster Risks

Women are hitherto maginalised from community discussion and development planning in many Nigerian communities.

A recent survey conducted by the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR) revealed that to attain a full-fledged sustainable community-based development, there is need to involve the knowledge and energies of women.

Similarly, Founding Director of the Brazil Network for Human Development, Thais Corral said: "Without women fully taking part in decision making, leadership and implementation, real community resilience to climate change and disasters simply cannot be achieved".

On the whole, more women did than the children or men as a result of gender inequalities. Their roles as mothers compel them to consider the safety of their children and the assets before their own survival.

It was reported by Disaster Emergency Committee in 2009 that women spend their lives within their households and have very limited experience interacting with others outside this private space. Consequently, during the initial response to disaster, women find it difficult to access relief and rehabilitation support, as they are not involved in the distribution process.

Building women's resilience to disasters is a vital process of empowering them as participants in the community decision-making. This can only be achieved in the country through what the Director General National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), Alhaji Muhammad Sani Sidi in 2011 termed 'Participatory Vulnerability Analysis' (PVA). PVA gives women space for raising awareness, sharing experiences, skills-training, and forming participatory women groups and community groups.

Besides, hazards can be effectively identified, accessed, prepared for and respond to through non-discriminatory collaboration between men and women for safer communities. Whereas with the accelerated cases of disasters in Nigeria it is important to see women not as person to be helped but as participating subjects in building a community resilient towards disaster risk reduction. This is because women are not only the victims but agents of change.

It is worthy of note that real community development changes and effective development must include women as planners, sources of knowledge, decision-making and implementers. Women involvement could be ensured through the creation of Participatory Rural Approach Projects that would take into consideration, other social factors of the community such as age.

One of the vital areas community women can contribute towards disaster preparedness, prevention and sustainable development is the Sustainable Agricultural Projects (SAP), which are presently booming across the Pacific. To ensure the workability of this, the State Emergency Management Agencies (SEMAs) and Local Government Emergency Management Committees (LEMCs) must work closely with vulnerable rural communities in order to identify their real problems and constraints.

The SEMAs and LEMA can establish SAP among community women using their local methods and technology. Taking cognizance of this, will help to accomplish disaster-resilient related benefits like improvement in quality of soil, more use of drought resistant crops, improved irrigation systems, better management of pests and diseases, evaluation of tissue plants cultures, terraced and planted hillsides to prevent landslides and runoffs, and support for widespread home gardens for better access to nutritional foods.

Globally, it is doubtless that community women are endowed with traditional knowledge and practices to improve land-use and natural resource management. It was in view of this that, ISDR in 2009 noted that as the essential managers of natural and environmental resources, and key frontline implementers of development, women have the experience and knowledge to build the resilience of their communities to the intensifying anticipated natural hazards.

Also, a survey conducted by Association des Jeunes de Zammour (AJZ), Tunisia in partnership with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in 2004 confirmed that the participation of women was particularly important for identifying local knowledge for reducing desertification. Using the women participatory approach, sophisticated awareness can be initiated among Nigerian women in desertification prone communities like Borno, Jigawa, Bauchi, Gombe, Yobe, Kano, Katsina, Sokoto/Zamfara and Kebbi.

While on its own part, Youths Against Disaster Initiative (YADI) encourages SEMAs and LEMCs to initiate in the communities such disaster-resilient techniques as rainwater harvesting, innovative irrigation, and increase the areas' biodiversity and plant cover to reduce risks of hazards likely to be exacerbated by climate change like crop losses from drought, desertification and landslides triggered by extreme weathers.

Abubakar Jimoh is the National Coordinator, Youths Against Disaster Initiative (YADI), and lives in Abuja.

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