You are here

From melting ice caps to drastic changes in weather patterns, the effects of climate change are seen far and wide, in every corner of the world. Yet, while the COVID-19 pandemic and more recently the Monkeypox continues to dominate global headlines, the call for climate action has been sidelined despite alarmist headlines such as “time is running out”or “there is no planet B”!  

As a landlocked country, Nepal experiences a range of different climate effects from colder winters to more severe summer monsoon rains which often leads to numerous impacts such as landslides and flash floods affecting over 80 percent of the population in one form or another (UNDRR 2019). The impacts these climate changes have on livelihoods and health are significant, especially on women and girls. Evidence shows that crises such as natural disasters and pandemics affect women and girls much more severely due to pre-existing inequalities which are often exacerbated during an emergency. During disasters and emergencies, women and girls are more at risk of experiencing gender-based violence (GBV), exploitation and abuse. With health systems also stretched in responding to the disaster at hand, women and girls are more impacted due to lack of access to health services, including sexual and reproductive health services which could lead to high-risk unintended pregnancies and maternal health complications. The trauma from disasters can also have lasting consequences on their mental health which could have a ripple effect on families and communities at large. 

In response to this, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) works with the Government of Nepal and several women-led non-Governmental partners such as the Women Rehabilitation Center (WOREC),  to ensure the needs of women and girls are addressed during and post-humanitarian disasters. For example, with support from the Government of Australia (DFAT), through prepositoned dignity and Inter-Agency Reproductive Health (IARH) kits, UNFPA ensures that women and girls’ sexual and reproductive health and hyigene needs are not overlooked even in the midst of crisis. UNFPA also works to capacitate the relevant authorities on gender-responsive disaster preparedness - preparedness efforts that include women. 

One such initiative is a series of Psychosocial First Aid training programmes conducted for women leaders in the Melamchi and Helambu flood affected areas to enhance their response skills so they can be mobilized if and when a major flood should occur. Some of the women trained in this area also go on to serve as Community-based Psychosocial Workers where they get to work directly with communities to check on their health and wellbeing, identify any potential violence, and engage them to promote positive change in their community.

24 year old Manisha is one such CPSW from Melamchi in the Bagmati Province of Nepal. Having been affected by previous floods, Manisha is more than committed to ensure communities are better prepared so they don’t face the same fate. “When we were in a difficult situation when our houses and lands were swept away by the flood it was emotionally distressing. We lost everything. I am glad to have been part of the training conducted by WOREC and UNFPA so I can now serve others. I am also feeling much more mentally strong and healthy and I am also able to earn much more in my new role so I am able to better contribute to support my family” she says. 

This World Humanitarian Day 2022, let’s take a moment to show gratitude to the heroic first responders who serve, often risking their own lives. It is also an opportune time to reflect on how humanitarian interventions are designed. Are they gender-sensitive? Do they include women? 

Women are often seen only as victims and hence are almost always recipients of support and help but investing in women to be part of the humanitarian response can be game-changing. As is evident in the life of Manisha and the 22 others trained to serve, investing in women to enhance their potential to contribute to the community is win-win for all! This is a great example of putting women at the heart of humanitarian interventions.