Flood recovery programme in Fiji targets women and brings results for everyone
Global statistics show that disasters often impoverish and impact disproportionately on the lives of women. In April 2012, after days of torrential rain and combined with the effects of Cyclone Daphne and an overflowing dam, the Western Division of the Fiji Islands was hit by sudden and severe flooding. Local populations hadn’t even had a chance to recover from earlier flooding in January 2012 when they were again inundated with flood waters.
"I was about to open my shop, and then the floods came and destroyed everything. I was left with the payment for the groceries I bought for my shop,” Sofiya Bi, a resident in one of the disadvantaged areas in the Western Division of Fiji, said. “We were still trying to recover from the first flood when the second one hit. The flood water came as high as the roof and we could not save anything but our daughter," she said.
The floods resulted in huge losses, particularly in the agriculture and small business sectors. Major disruption was caused to food distribution in the island nation, and the incomes of market vendors and farmers were drastically reduced. The impact the floods had on women, who make up 80 percent of market vendors in Fiji’s Western Division, was immense. These vendors often grow their own crops to sell, normally working 10-hour days, six days a week. They struggle to keep their families above the poverty line, with average weekly earnings of between FJ$126 to FJ$250 before expenses.
For the first time in the Pacific a disaster recovery initiative that was tailored primarily for women was launched. UNDP and AusAID jointly funded a cash-for-work programme to assist in restoring the livelihoods of the flood-affected market vendors and help them get back on their feet. The programme provided a temporary source of cash income in exchange for work related to flood recovery and disaster preparedness activities.
- The cash-for-work (CFW) initiative provided emergency livelihood support to 1,209 recipients, 74 percent of whom were women.
- The initiative indirectly benefitted the wider population in two districts, totaling more than 47,000 people.
- The CFW programme was extended beyond the Western District to Nadi in August 2012, benefiting a further 865 individuals, 70 percent of whom were women.
- A follow-up survey conducted in January 2013 showed that approximately 50% of communities that engaged in farming activities under CFW continued the activities after the programme had ended.
- 24 women who participated in CFW went on to access small loans (FJD 150-500) provided from an NGO, Empower Pacific, and started their own small-scale enterprise.
“The cash-for-work provided an opportunity to combine some immediate recovery efforts, with small but much needed cash injections directly to those affected by the floods. This reduced the risk of creating deeper debts, and has also resulted in the empowerment of the participants and positive impacts on family and community relations,” said then UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative Knut Ostby.
The programme was implemented by UNDP in partnership with ILO, UN Women and Fiji Government agencies. By targeting assistance through women benefits within the wider community could be seen, with research completed by the Pacific Financial Inclusion Programme showing that women in Fiji are more likely than men to use cash income on family needs, such as children’s schooling and food. Involving women in recovery work is also important in order to ‘build back better’, that is to take the opportunity to ensure post-disaster recovery activities build back a more inclusive, secure and resilient community.
“I joined the cash-for-work programme as part of a group from Vuniyasi settlement. Some of us sewed eco-friendly bags using our old clothes and others worked on the farm. I helped their vegetable farm, too. A big achievement for us was coming together as a group, learning about different cultures and working with strength, sensitivity and sincerity, which made us feel empowered,” said Sofiya Bi. “I was able to finally open my shop. I also repaired the house damaged by the cyclone in December 2012 using the savings from the cash-for-work programme,” she explained.
This was the first time a cash-for-work initiative was implemented in Fiji and its success lays the foundation for further such initiatives in other Pacific Islands in the future. Longer-term impacts of the programme can also been seen as communities have become more resilient. As a result of the cash-for-work activities fourteen communities established small community-oriented farming ventures. After Cyclone Evan struck Fiji in December 2012 five communities put into practice the lessons learned from the earlier floods and utilized money generated from their farming activities to initiate their own recovery activities.
29-year-old Keresi Tamani, a participant of the cash-for-work programme, said she had benefitted in terms of learning new skills and knowledge, and putting them into practice. She now has her own backyard garden filled with cabbages, beans, and chillies that had been transplanted from the community nursery. “Come the next flood, I assure you that I can stand on my two feet,” Tamani said.
Related link: Empower Pacific