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Women in environmental disasters: the 1991 cyclone in Bangladesh

Begum, R, 1993. Focus on Gender, vol. 1 (1): pp. 34-39

"On 29 April 1991, a cyclone hit the eastern coast of the Bay of Bengal. The force of the storm was concentrated between Chittagong to the north and Cox's Bazar to the south. Casualty rates and destruction were catastrophic. The death toll of women became the commodity used to attract the sympathy of the relief donors. The real needs of the women in the wake of this disaster,however, were ignored by the Bangladesh government and by the relief agencies. Women had died in greater numbers than men, not just because of their physical weakness, but because of Bangladesh's male-dominated socialstructure, underpinned by religious traditions, which restricts the mobility of women. During the cyclone, many women died risking their lives to save their children. When markets were damaged, leaving no food, Oxfam was the first NGO to bring in supplies. This paper outlines the efforts of a female relief worker trying to help victims of the cyclone and describes the various problems that were encountered, often because of her sex. A team of volunteers was set up from an NGO called TUTTARAN. Proper co-ordination among the different relief teams and with the government relief efforts should be maintained. In the short term, overlap of relief programmes must be avoided to ensure all opportunities are open to everyone. For the longer term they must develop arrangements for strategic planning." (abstracted in Gender and Emergency Annex)

Key words: Bangladesh, cyclone, women's groups, vulnerability, NGO, emergency relief