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Kate Jongbloed

5 ways girls’ rights are threatened in a natural disaster

Kate Jongbloed

natural disaster, Plan Canada, Because I am a Girl

Girl holds her emergency kit provided by Plan after an earthquake in Sichuan, China.

Whether it’s a massive natural disaster covered in the global media, or a lower profile disaster like regular flooding or drought, girls’ rights are threatened in emergencies.

Powerful forces of nature such as earthquakes, cyclones and tsunamis impact children, families and communities right away, as well as in the long term. For girls who are already vulnerable because of poverty and discrimination, the impact of these sudden events is more severe.

These are 5 ways girls’ rights are affected in an emergency – and a few of the ways Plan is taking action to help:

1. Food & Water: A sudden flood or prolonged drought can wreak havoc on a community’s local food and water supplies. In areas where child malnutrition is already a problem, these extreme events can make the situation even worse. Local water supplies may be disrupted or contaminated by a natural disaster, causing a water shortage and increasing water-borne illnesses.

Plan in action: Plan provides emergency food and clean water supplies (such as water storage containers) as part of its immediate disaster response. From there, we help communities and families rebuild.

2. Safety: In moments of crisis, such as conflict or tsunami, our first impulse is often to run in the opposite direction. Girls in disasters are vulnerable when they are separated from their parents and families, like Fadimata and Madi from Mali. Resource shortages – like the fuel shortage in Zamzam refugee camp in Sudan – can force girls and women to travel longer distances to find fuel and food, putting them at risk.

Plan in action: Plan’s fuel-efficient stoves in Sudan’s biggest refugee camp help reduce the need for fuel so that girls can stay close to home.

3. Education: When lives and routines are disrupted by natural disaster, it’s tough for girls to stay in school. School buildings may be destroyed or unreachable, and teachers may be called to other tasks. Even if schools are still standing, families whose livelihoods have been destroyed may no longer be able to afford to send their daughters to school.

Plan in action: Plan helps girls and boys in crisis continue their education by providing emergency school materials and temporary classrooms, such as during the Sahel Crisis.

4. Identity: Important government documents can get destroyed or left behind in the event of a natural catastrophe. But without a birth certificate, it can be a major challenge for girls to access rights such as health, education, and citizenship.

Plan in action: Plan helps individuals whose birth certificates and ID cards went missing in emergencies to access services and regain their proof of identity.

5. Mental and Physical health: Injury and even death are a reality of most natural disasters. Emergency assistance may be hard to reach if health centres and personnel are affected by the tumult. An often hidden impact of experiencing a catastrophe is the trauma. Children’s scars from witnessing the destruction wrought by a disaster, as well as the disruption to daily life, are invisible.

Plan in action: Plan’s child-friendly spaces provide a place for children affected by natural disaster to play, learn, relax and get support.

Plan’s approach is to help girls and boys become more resilient in the face of disaster by giving them the skills to respond and adapt. In case of emergency, Plan steps up to provide the supports children and their families need to survive and thrive through adversity.

Donate a girls’ essentials hygiene kit to support a girl during a natural disaster!