Within the disaster risk management community, we often speak about the window of opportunity that opens after a natural catastrophe. This is an opportunity to do things differently, going forward. The idea is that while devastating, the disaster brings a momentary period of raised awareness of risk, monetary resources, and both a real and metaphorical blank slate upon which people can build more resilient communities or initiate social changes on issues that may not advance during “normal” times.
After Hurricane Mitch devastated Central America, there were resounding calls for “transformation, not reconstruction.” We heard about “building back better” after the Indian Ocean tsunami, and the “peace dividend” that the tsunami brought to Aceh after decades of fighting between the Government of Indonesia and the Free Aceh Movement (GAM).
Experience has taught us that this window of opportunity is not a given and must be managed carefully. For example, the pressures to get people out of tents and back into houses, or to spend donor money quickly, often trumps the need to ensure quality in construction or adequate engagement of communities to ensure sustainability. Most would agree that Central America has yet to be transformed, and that the tsunami failed to deliver a peace dividend in Sri Lanka.
A key area, however, where much progress has been made after disasters is gender equity. Practical steps to promote gender equality can often be integrated easily and speedily in the recovery process. These include issuing deeds for newly constructed houses in both the woman’s and man’s names, including women in housing design as well as construction, and promoting land rights for women. Other steps include building non-traditional skills through income-generation projects, distributing relief through women, and funding women’s groups to monitor disaster recovery projects.
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