photo - L.
The deadly tsunami that hit South Asia in December 2004 has had an unprecedented global affect on the environment, livelihood, and knowledge in the region. It has ruthlessly taken away the lives of almost 150,000 people across Asia, and has given birth to endless sufferings for the survivors - hunger, homelessness, disease, and trauma. Though the death toll of this catastrophe has made no distinction between men and women, old and young, it certainly has heightened some gender-specific aftershocks, as reported by the UN. It has left women and girls vulnerable to a wider range of threats, including violence.
The issues of health and violence against women are arguably the two most important and impending gender sensitive areas of concern in the post tsunami phase. Thousands of pregnant women have been left homeless and helpless. According to Dr Samlee Plianbangchang, WHO director for South East Asia, "Mothers, newborns, and young children are the most vulnerable of the displaced people." Along with the lack of food, medicine, drinking water, and shelter, the destruction of clinics and hospitals and the death of doctors and nurses have made the scenario frightening for pregnant women. Their chances of delivering in a safe, clean environment have been jeopardized by the damage to health facilities and loss of basic delivery care.
Women are also increasingly vulnerable to sexual exploitation. The fear of sexual violence has restricted the mobility of some women, making it an obstacle for them in their everyday tasks. It has also restricted their ability to go out and search for new economic opportunities for their livelihood.
The needs of these women range from immediate practical aspects, to long-term sustainable aspects. Thanks to the efforts of international development agencies, governments, community-based groups, and the concerns of millions of people across the globe, there has been a generous flow of help and support to the region, bringing a ray of hope to this devastation. Intensive work is going on to restructure, resettle, and reassure women with their reproductive and maternal health care, physical safety, dignity, and psycho-social needs. Nonetheless, long-term work needs to be done on their livelihood opportunities with income generating programs. A prompt and fair distribution and mobilization of resources is essential to rescuing women in this region from a fresh poverty trap.