Bhagwan-Rolls: Protect the vulnerable

WITHOUT data on the number of women, children and persons living with disabilities in evacuation centres, there will not be an inclusive disaster management plan for the evacuation centres.

This was highlighted by the executive director of femLINKpacific Sharon Bhagwan-Rolls while responding to questions sent by this newspaper last week.

Ms Bhagwan-Rolls said this data was needed in order to better plan to address specific needs for vulnerable groups.

“Planning for the specific needs of the community including protection measures or even humanitarian assistance such as clothes, food and medication as well as self care packs for women and girls who maybe menstruating — it’s also vital to recognise the specific needs of persons with disabilities, not only in terms of access, but also their medication supplies,” she said.

Aside from physical access, Ms Bhagwan-Rolls said safety must be ensured for those living in these evacuation centres.

“First and foremost, everyone has the right to be safe at all times and aside from physical access, it is essential to ensure women of all diversities as well as children and persons with disabilities are safe,” she said.

“This starts at the preparedness stage by including all women in the planning and then management of evacuation centres.”

In a statement, the National Disaster Management Office has highlighted that data for these vulnerable groups were recorded and that authorities regularly monitored the centres to ensure safety of evacuees.

“Our disaggregated data collection and records of people in evacuation centres allows us to respond accordingly to different needs of different people in evacuation centres,” the statement said.

“In times of disaster, government agencies including the Department of Women and the Department of Social Welfare are part of our teams that check in on evacuation centres.

“Police continuously monitor evacuation centres for the safety and peace of all evacuees.”

Ms Bhagwan-Rolls added after Tropical Cyclone Winston many lessons have been learnt on how we can improve Fiji’s disaster management plan.

“There are many lessons learnt from TC Winston on how Fiji’s disaster management planning can be more inclusive and accountable to the gender equality and disability rights commitments,” she said.

“However, this is more than just having a policy in very practical terms such as the lack of disaggregated data reports if it’s not being translated into action.

“We have to go beyond the notion that women and persons with disabilities are simply vulnerable.”

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