Governmental and Non-Governmental Response
Created July 2009

Priorities, resources, disaster preparedness and gender sensitivity are some of the factors which influence an organization’s response to an environmental crisis.

The tsunami in December of 2004 created thousands of internally-displaced persons (IDPs). In Indonesia, the military quickly mobilized to save tsunami victims and connect them with aid organizations. The government was successful at protecting children who were separated from their parents from abuse, such as trafficking; 85% of such children were placed with relatives, family friends, or in other homes. However, there were reports of violence against women by military personnel and by civilians. From:  Cohen, Roberta, Measuring Indonesia’s Response to the Tsunami, Statement at Workshop on “One Year after the Tsunami: Public Perceptions and Policy” at Woodrow Wilson Center, Washington, D.C. (12 January 2006) (PDF, 10 pages).

Human Rights Watch praised the Indian government in a 2005 report for promptly reacting to the tsunami by saving victims and distributing aid, not only to its own citizens, but by sending officials to the assistance of other affected countries. Yet Human Rights Watch also noted that the Indian government distributed aid to tsunami survivors via government issued ration cards, which were tied to male heads of household. As a result, unmarried and widowed women did not receive aid; even married women and their families often did not, when their husbands took the funds and spent it on liquor instead.  The 2005 report noted that even when they tried to earn their own money, women were treated unfairly. Human Rights Watch observed that women’s roles in the fishing communities were under-valued, and when they attempted to learn new skills, they were consistently steered toward low-wage and traditionally female trades such as basket-weaving.

There is evidence that women can enhance disaster preparedness plans and reduce risks to the general population when trained.  "Women's high level of risk awareness, social networking practices, [and] extensive knowledge of their communities..." contribute to their effectiveness as risk assessors, early warning responders, and disaster recovery participants. From:  Aguilar, L., et.al. (2008) Training Manual on Gender and Climate Change.

In addition to gender discrimination, women and girls experienced sexual harassment and sexual assault. Widows and Dalit women were most at risk. Overall, because of all these post-tsunami inadequacies, Human Rights Watch encouraged the Indian government to adopt the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement.

In Sri Lanka, there were many reports of sexual violence against female environmental IDPs, including harassment, molestation, assault, and gang rape. Perpetrators were armed forces and civilians. In addition, aid distribution was hampered by an ongoing armed conflict in the northeastern part of the country.  From:  Human Rights Watch, Tsunami Recovery Efforts: Human Rights Watch Letter to Clinton (9 May 2005).

In New Orleans,  80% of the citizens had left the city during the warning phase before the hurricane hit. From: 2007 Journal of Public Management & Social Policy.  Many of the remaining 20% either did not have access to a vehicle or other transportation in order to evacuate, or were unable to leave, such as law enforcement, other emergency and service personnel, the poor, the disabled, and the elderly. Over 75,000 peoplr were transported to government and NGO shelters.  Thirty percent of reported sexual assaults associated with Hurricane Katrina occurred in these shelters.  From: NSVRC 2006 findings, a joint report by the Louisiana Foundation Against Sexual Assault (LaFASA) and the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC). 

Several thousand citizens remained in New Orleans when the hurricane hit. Those who survived the storm suffered another natural disaster when the city flooded during the next few days. The flood was caused by the hurricane; the storm’s strength and rain water led to overtoppings and breaches in the city’s levee and floodwall system. The flood created an atmosphere of confusion and lawlessness in New Orleans. Communications systems and emergency equipment were damaged in the storm, and law enforcement, medical staff and fire departments did not have enough personnel to assist those left behind. Thousands escaped to their roofs or nearby bridges but lived without food, clean water, shelter, or sanitation for many days. Federal government agencies conducted airlift rescues. In the ensuing lawlessness, many women experienced sexual assault and domestic violence. From: 2008 Institute for Women’s Policy Research report.

Compiled from:

Aguilar, L., et.al. (2008) Training Manual on Gender and Climate Change, San Jose, Costa Rica:  IUCN, UNDP, GGCA.

Cohen, Roberta, Measuring Indonesia’s Response to the Tsunami, Statement at Workshop on “One Year after the Tsunami: Public Perceptions and Policy” at Woodrow Wilson Center, Washington, D.C. (12 January 2006) (PDF, 10 pages).

Human Rights Watch, After the Deluge: India’s Reconstruction Following the 2004 Tsunami (25 May 2005) (HTML). See especially the subsection on Women and Girls within Section IV, Addressing the Needs of Vulnerable Populations.

Human Rights Watch, Tsunami Recovery Efforts: Human Rights Watch Letter to Clinton (9 May 2005). See especially the section on Gender Discrimination.

Institute for Women’s Policy Research, Women in the Wake of the Storm: Examining the Post-Katrina Realities of the Women of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast (2008) (PDF, 36 pages).

Lauer, Nancy Cook for Women’s e-News, Rape-Reporting Procedure Missing After Hurricane (13 September 2005).

Lauer, Nancy Cook for Women’s e-News, Efforts to Track Rape Emerge Between Hurricanes (23 September 2005).

Louisiana Foundation Against Sexual Assault (LaFASA) and National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC), Sexual Violence in Disasters: A Planning Guide for Prevention and Response (n.d.) (PDF, 69 pages).

National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC), Hurricanes Katrina/Rita and Sexual Violence: Report on Database of Sexual Violence Prevalence and Incidence Related to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita (July 2006) (PDF, 3 pages).

Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, Document E/CN.4/1998/53/Add.2 (11 February 1998).

Oxfam International, Oxfam briefing note, "The Tsunami's Impact on Women," (March 2005) (PDF, 14 pages).

Thornton, William E. and Lydia Voigt, Disaster Rape: Vulnerability of Women to Sexual Assaults During Hurricane Katrina, 13 Journal of Public Management & Social Policy 23 (Fall 2007) (PDF, 27 pages).

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Guidelines on the Protection of Refugee Women (July 1991) (PDF, 56 pages). These Guidelines generally follow the UNHCR Policy on Refugee Women.

UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR), Gender Mainstreaming in Disaster Reduction, Panel Presentation by Sálvano Briceño, Director of UN/ISDR, to the UN Commission on the Status of Women in New York (6 March 2002) (DOC, 23 pages).

U.S. Newswire, As Domestic Violence Rises in New Orleans in Wake of Katrina, Catholic Charities Provides a Refugee for Abused Women (10 April 2006) (PDF, 2 pages).

The White House, President George W. Bush Archives, The Federal Response to Hurricane Katrina: Lessons Learned (HTML) (February 23, 2006) (or PDF, 228 pages).

Willinger, Beth, Ed., Tulane University’s Newcomb College Center for Research on Women, Katrina and the Women of New Orleans (December 2008) (PDF, 76 pages). Especially see Chapter 8: Domestic Violence and Hurricane Katrina by Pamela Jenkins and Brenda Phillips.

Women’s e-News, As Tsunami Recedes, Women's Risks Appear (7 January 2005).