Thesis on Flood and Women: vulnerability and their coping mechanism

Thesis on Flood and Women: vulnerability and their coping mechanism- a Sociological Study on Rural Villages in Faridpur District

The occurrence of floods in Bangladesh is as old as its history but over the 51 years (1954-2006) the problem has been aggravated and one of the vital concerns of most people. Hydrological analysis suggests that consecutive floods of 1987 and 1988 were the highest in 70-100 years. The floods of 1998 have broken all records. Floods of 1987 and 1988 caused severed damage to Bangladesh and attracted international attention. The recent floods of 1998 are leading experts to further speculate about the causes of floods. Absence of comprehensive flood management polices can be considered as one of the major cause of flood in Bangladesh.
Researchers have pointed out that any steps to control flooding should emphasize both structural and non-structural methods. Flood management programs will be effective only when the main feature of flood plains is considered. People in Bangladesh have developed many strategies to cope with floods through their experience of living with annual floods or borsha severe floods or bonya. Any steps in flood management should incorporate the indigenous method use by the Rural poor women as a way of improving their chances of survival.

Coping system of villagers
In Bangladesh especially the poor becomes extremely vulnerable to environmental damage. Natural disasters badly affect the health, well-being and livelihood opportunities of the individuals affected by pollution or natural resource depletion. Soil erosion, deforestation, loss or reduction of animal and plant species limits the productive opportunities of vast numbers of people. Environmental decline also impacts social structures. Social groups are affected differently: some may benefit from changes in price structures or in social relations that result from scarcities caused by natural stress. At the same time poverty is the main cause of natural disasters and environmental degradation in the country. In these contexts government, NGOs and other development agencies concentrate more and more on poverty alleviation. Unfortunately, however, severe environmental degradation in Bangladesh, is often lost sight of in the poverty agenda, and should be linked with poverty. Even the recently introduced Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP) has been criticized for giving less attention towards environment (Nasreen, Hossain, and Kundu, 2006).
The study attempts to highlight how different groups of people and communities perceive and respond to flooding risks, especially in flood-prone countries like Bangladesh. Flood as a disaster creates vulnerability among different groups of people in the society. The researcher uses the concept of vulnerability to describe and analyze the exposure and adaptation strategies of different groups and individuals to environmental risks, primarily in the context of flood as a natural disaster in Bangladesh. To cope with disasters and vulnerability, coping mechanism is needed to fill knowledge gaps in addressing coping with flood and its impacts on the life and livelihoods. To address the coping mechanism, the study examines the community people’s coping strategies and assesses the role of NGOs and government organizations in disaster management, especially the management of floods. However, the researcher also examines the gender role of women in flood responses and coping mechanism. Based on the extensive research in two remote villages in Faridpur district, the research report argues that it is women who have coped many of this strategies which are crucial for the survival of their households.

1.2 Statement of the Problem
The economy of Bangladesh is based on agriculture. As vast majority of the people depends on agriculture for a large part of their food and income, agriculture resources in Bangladesh are under severe and disaster strain is already there . Bangladesh has achieved steady economic growth of 4-5% annually over the last decade. While the estimated economic losses associated with the sources of natural disaster select for analysis in the CEA amount to more than 4% of GDP. Agriculture accounts for some 23% of GDP and more than half of total employment (World Bank, 2006).

It is also mentioned that Bangladesh will be victim of degradation of environment. If the sea rises due to global climate change many parts of coastal area will go under water displacing about 33 million people. It is predicted that by the year 2030, an additional 14% of the country will become extremely vulnerable to floods, and currently vulnerable areas will experience higher levels of flooding (Nasreen and kundu, 2006).

Once every 10 years roughly one-third of the country gets severely affected by floods, while in catastrophic years such as 1988, 1998, 2004 and 2006 more than 60% of the country was inundated, an area of approximately 100,000 km2 for a duration of nearly 3 months. The long-run effects of flooding on morbidity and subsequent decline in productivity forms one of the major indirect impacts. During wide-spread and catastrophic floods in Bangladesh, poor victims are confronted with the shortage of food and employment. Shortage of food becomes particularly distressing in respect of children and women population. With the acute shortage of edible food and pure water, the victims are immediately confronted with the outbreak of water-borne diseases. Floods cause social disruptions also.

A flood can cause both emotional and physical stress. However, various reports attribute a major health hazard of floods to mental stress or psychological distress due to exposure to extreme disaster event.The economic costs of flood disasters have been rising globally. When a major disaster has immovable, the whole economy suffered. Agriculture suffered probably more than non-agricultural sectors. The effects of a natural disaster or a combination of more than one natural disaster may be direct loss of life, and certainly damage to physical properties. Bangladesh gets damaging floods like that of 1988, which bring untold sufferings to millions of people, and result in human deaths, loss of livestock, spread of diseases and hunger, damaged standing crops, destroyed physical and economic infrastructures.

Poor rural women in Bangladesh depend heavily on wood, dung and other traditional fuels for cooking. Women are more vulnerable to natural disaster than men because women are as closer as they dwell in domestic tasks, such as cleaning, cooking, and gathering water, whereby they are at closest contact with their environment, and are more exposed to disease causing agents. For example, women and girls suffer the most from indoor air pollution due to smokes and fuels from use of alga chula during flood.

Women are vulnerable in every sector in Bangladesh particularly during flood period. They have also lack access to justice on human rights, because of race, ethnicity, culture, religion, social and economic class distributions. During flood women’s gender related activities remain unconcealed to the mass people. Such kind of crucial activities need to be identified to ensure the equal contribution of women in case of adaptation strategies in the time of natural disaster.

Gender issues are strong factors contributing to vulnerability, for similar reasons of lack of access to or ownership over productive resources and access to information and services, such as education and health that can contribute to their capacity to adapt. In flooding situations, security of women is also a grave concern, with reports of increases in rape cases and domestic violence in part due to the increased pressures on families.

Women are often responsible for the collection of water and food preparation for their families, and significantly constrained in carrying out these important tasks of meeting the needs of children and their families. Poverty, gender, and other social factors contributing to vulnerability are not static. Similarly, there is a large degree of uncertainty of how flood events and impacts will play out at the local level. It will be important that efforts towards strengthening coping mechanism will consider not only exposure to hazards or impacts, but pay attention to underlying causes and factors that contribute to vulnerability.

Coping with flood related change will have to be a central component of any comprehensive and inclusive climate agenda. There is also greater awareness among domestic policymakers of the growing threats from flooding, as well as harder thinking about coping strategies programs. Coping with disaster has to be understood not just as a development challenge, but as one that can be solved only with the full backing of the international community.