Upholding the Rights of Women and Girls in the Aftermath of Sri Lanka Floods

May 26, 2016 AFP_B410W

Sri Lanka experienced the heaviest rainfall in twenty-five years, resulting in the worst natural disaster the country has faced since the 2004 Tsunami, affecting 21 of the country’s 25 districts. We are in solidarity with Sri Lankans as they carry out the immediate relief work and also face the monumental task of post-disaster resettlement, while ensuring that human rights of all people, including of women and girls, are upheld during this time.

According to the National Disaster Management Centre of Sri Lanka[1], the official death toll from floods and landslides is currently at 94 but 127 people are missing[2] and feared to have been buried in landslides. More than 350,000 people have reportedly been displaced due to the torrential rain that continued for days and while some have begun to return to their homes, over 185,000 people continue to be housed in temporary shelters. More than 125,000 houses and more than 300,000 small and medium businesses have been destroyed or damaged and the government currently estimates the cost of this natural disaster to be between USD 1.5-2 billion at the minimum[3].

The heavy rainfall was caused by a deep depression in the Bay of Bengal which gave way to Tropical Storm Roanu[4]. Sri Lanka is one of the countries[5] bordering the tumultuous Bay of Bengal that is often prone to natural disasters. Experts warn of a rise in the frequency and intensity of cyclones for this region due to global warming resulting from climate change.[6]

The effects of climate change go beyond the environment and have socio-economic and political consequences, exacerbating existing issues of poverty and inequities. In addition to causing deaths, injuries and displacement, such frequent extreme events would also result in the loss of livelihoods, food insecurity and malnutrition, lack of or limitations of access to resources and services such as water and sanitation, health issues including the spread of diseases, and increased intra- and inter-national migration.

The World Health Organization (WHO)[7] has reported no outbreaks of infectious diseases from the affected areas in Sri Lanka but disasters have a disproportionate impact on women and girls including on their sexual and reproductive health (SRH) and sexual and reproductive rights (SRR)[8]. Our work on the intersections between climate change, natural disasters and sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) show that during extreme weather events SRH services are excluded as priorities for disaster response and recovery and access to SRH services are constrained. Women face increased health risks due to pregnancy, childbirth as well as gynecological problems caused by contaminated water use[9]. Displacement due to natural disasters can result in women and girls facing a heightened risk of sexual and gender-based violence, including cases of women and girls being subjected to sexual violence by rescue workers[10].

We urge the government and other stakeholders to recognize the resilience of women and girls in the face of natural disasters but also how they can be disproportionately affected by disasters. Addressing and upholding women and girls’ SRHR during disaster response and recovery as well as when developing disaster risk reduction plans are imperative; ignoring SRHR in disasters violates human rights and the right to health and incorporating SRHR leads to greater efficiency and builds the resilience of communities.[11]

Tropical Storm Roanu may have passed through the Bay of Bengal and flooding may be gradually receding but the onset of the South-West monsoon means more heavy rainfall for Sri Lanka[12], further challenging recovery efforts. While there has been massive public mobilization to carry out immediate disaster relief work, it is important that this momentum is maintained and coordinated as long-term recovery and resettlement efforts continue. We highlight below some of the relief efforts being carried out and how contributions can be made to support this important work.

The Family Planning Association of Sri Lanka (FPA Sri Lanka)

FPA Sri Lanka is delivering specialized services targeting women and girls, in partnership with the government and the Sri Lanka Red Cross. They are providing dignity kits, maternity kits and working on various other SRH related issues such as gender-based violence and child protection. More information at http://www.facebook.com/fpasrilanka/

Sri Lanka Red Cross Society

The Sri Lanka Red Cross Society volunteers are providing relief, rescue and aid support to over 300,000 people affected from flash floods and landslides in Sri Lanka. Donate online at http://www.redcross.lk/online-donations/

Sarvodaya

Sarvodaya is Sri Lanka’s largest people’s organisation with a network of over 15,000 villages. More than 20 Sarvodaya District Centres in affected districts are ready to accept donations of clothes, dry rations, water, etc. and you can donate online at http://www.sarvodaya.org/donate

Charity Apple

Charity Apple is a non-profit initiative by the Rotary Club of Colombo and they are raising funds for both immediate and long-term support for those affected by the flooding. You can donate online at https://www.charityapple.org/cause/48/victims

More information on how to contribute towards relieft efforts can be found at https://www.yamu.lk/flood-relief-how-to-help/

Photo: People wait at a relief camp after being evacuated following flooding in the Kolonnawa suburb of Colombo. Ishara S.Kodikara/ AFP retrieved from http://www.ibtimes.co.uk

[1] http://www.dmc.gov.lk/index_english.htm
[2] https://www.dropbox.com/s/vv8noz149o6m1y5/current-sitiation.pdf
[3] http://www.reuters.com/article/us-sri-lanka-floods-idUSKCN0YE16J
[4] http://www.accuweather.com/en/weather-news/flooding-downpours-threaten-sr/57437771
[5] Bangladesh, India, Malaysia, Myanmar, Indonesia and Thailand being the others http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/14/opinion/the-bay-of-bengal-in-peril-from-climate-change.html?_r=0
[6] http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/14/opinion/the-bay-of-bengal-in-peril-from-climate-change.html?_r=0 and http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/home/environment/global-warming/Bay-of-Bengal-S-ParasuramanTata-Institute-of-Social-Sciences-Climate-Change/articleshow/46551510.cms
[7] http://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/Floods%20in%20Sri%20Lanka%20WHO%20Sit%20Rep%20No%203%20May%2023%202016.pdf
[8] http://arrow.org.my/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Climate-Change-and-SRHR-Scoping-Study_Working-Paper_2014.pdf
[9] http://arrow.org.my/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Climate-Change-and-Post-2015_Policy-Brief_2014.pdf
[10] http://www.massey.ac.nz/~trauma/issues/2005-2/rees.htm
[11] http://arrow.org.my/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/AFC-Vol.14-No.3-2008_Disasters.pdf
[12] http://www.sundaytimes.lk/160522/news/as-floods-cause-havoc-monsoon-from-tomorrow-194687.html