Protecting the most vulnerable during emergencies and disasters

In disasters and emergencies, it’s often the most vulnerable groups that are hardest hit. When regular supports and daily routines are disrupted, it can mean the needs of children, people with disabilities, the elderly and other groups are forgotten.
This is why the Red Cross has placed an emphasis on Protection, Gender and Inclusion (PGI) in disasters. PGI considers four key areas – dignity, access, participation and safety – in terms of these vulnerable groups, and looks at how they are integrated into an emergency response.
Emergency response doesn’t only mean meeting basic needs. Assistance must respect the dignity of all people, be accessible to everyone regardless of their abilities, be undertaken with the participation of those in need to make their voices heard and ensure the safety of those involved. All of this is considered through the lens of those vulnerable groups that may require additional support.
While this has always been a focus during response operations, for the Cyclone Idai response in Mozambique, the Canadian Red Cross has sent an aid worker to evaluate PGI for the first time and ensure these often-marginalized groups are being considered in every aspect of the operation.
Aid worker Red Cross aid worker Evelyn VallejoFor Evelyn Vallejo, the PGI aid worker in Nhamatanda, Mozambique, it’s not about criticizing how things are done, but “looking to compliment the operation, address gaps and look for opportunities to move forward.” Evelyn notes that PGI can’t be operated in a vacuum, but instead needs to be integrated across the whole response in a variety of areas.
Evelyn’s role in Mozambique will involve looking at how well PGI has been incorporated into the response so far, as well as how PGI can continue to be integrated moving into the transition phase of the operation. The transition phase will include longer-term programming, as well as continued rehabilitation of Nhamatanda District Hospital, in the coming months under the direction of a smaller Red Cross team. Evelyn is also collecting lessons learned during this response and looking for opportunities for future responses to better integrate PGI from the beginning
Aid workers discuss PGISo what are some of the ways PGI fit into the Cyclone Idai response? In the emergency hospital, something as simple as having privacy shields helped patients feel more comfortable. On the construction side, a concerted effort has been made to bring more women into the daily labour force, with a goal of having gender parity. The waiting house – a place for women with complicated pregnancies to stay close to the hospital – has also had a number of renovations done to make the location more comfortable, including fresh paint and a clean water source that’s easier to access. Local hospital staff and volunteers with the Mozambique Red Cross were also trained in areas related to PGI, including gender-based violence and child protection.
As the operation moves toward the transition phase, improvements will continue. For example, ensuring washroom facilities have locking doors, functioning lights and an emergency whistle can help reduce the risk of gender-based violence. Efforts will also be made to make the hospital more accessible to those with disabilities, and to ensure local staff and volunteers are aware of the services available for individuals who disclose incidents of gender-based violence.
The overall aim of evaluation is to look at how PGI was integrated well during a response, where it can be improved and any lessons learned. This will then be taken into account when planning the next response, ensuring that over time, the needs of the most vulnerable become integrated into each response.

Related stories: 
To reach the most vulnerable,  especially vulnerable people must be remembered
What happens to women and girls during disasters?

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