Habitat Observatory

    Gender mainstreaming in community-based flood risk management
  In Bangladesh, people living in flood-prone areas follow coping mechanisms and survival techniques developed through traditional practices and family wisdom. During and after disasters, local communities are usually the first to respond.

In early 2004, the Centre for Environmental and Geographic Information Services (CEGIS),together with other national agencies, took the initiative to implement a project on flood vulnerability, risk reduction and better preparedness through a community-based information system in a flood-prone zonealong the left bank of the Jamuna River covering Daulatpur Thana (sub-district) in Manikganj District and part of Nagarpur Thana of Tangail District of Bangladesh.

The objective was to help reduce vulnerability of affected communities by identifying best practices regarding flood preparedness and information dissemination.The process began by organising a sensitization meeting with relevant stakeholders. Research was carried out through interviews, questionnaires and focus group discussions to identify specific needs of the people.

The study found that floods have more of an impact on women than on men with regards to food,nutrition, health and sanitation. While men can leave their villages to go out and look for work, women are responsible not only for ensuring food for themselves, but also for their children. Sanitation is also a great problem for women in flood affected areas.They usually have to wait until dark to defecate or urinate which can result in them getting diseases. One of the most important findings of this research study was that the local community could not relate to the forecasts as the forecasts were given in a language or a metric system alien to their culture. Padma Rani a beneficiary said, “Timely messages which address the concerns of women in the village could enable them to prepare for floods. I can store dry food, my poultry, shift my paddy and raise my plinth level if I understand the language of the forecast.”

The study also found important differences between men’s and women’s abilities to access information. Women receive very little information in comparison to men before and duringfloods, as they are busy in daily chores. It was also found that in terms of resources for relief, recovery and benefits, men have more access and control than women. This disparity indicated that for maximum gender equality and community involvement, disaster management policy and planning must be designed to address gender issues. As a result of this research, which was done in preparation for that year’s monsoon season, newforms of communicating flood information were tested. The danger level for the river flow was set for every village. Flood warnings in the local language were prepared using different media,including posters, photographs and audio tapes. These were selected as ways of providing access to information, in particular to illiterate people, regarding activities such as evacuating cattle, crop and emergency food preparedness and organising boats for evacuation.

After the monsoon, CEGIS studied the effectiveness of the measures implemented. It was found that if a warning is given one week prior to a flood, men and women are able to save their belongings and take harvest-ready crops to a safe place. As a result of the warning system being adapted to the needs of both men and women, their attitudes about information reception have changed and they are able to take precautions based on the information provided.

An impact assessment survey done for this initiative at the end of 2004 found that a gender-aware approach demonstrates the roles played by both women and men as disaster managers in the family and in the community. The increased involvement of women in decision making processes, information exchange and networking on disaster risk management can be effective in making the community safe from future disasters.

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    Affordable Mass Housing
  In today’s inflationary era, constructing a house of one’s own is a dream that remains unfulfilled for most people on account of rising material and construction costs.

IIT Mumbai researchers have come out with a technologyfordelivering affordable mass housing. According to their calculations a 500 sq. ft house can be built in just INR 6 lakh rupees and a 800 sq. ft house in 10 lakhs.

The idea is based on using pre-fabricated glass fibre reinforced gypsum (GFRG) panels instead of bricks. The GFRG panels are made of calcined gypsum plaster, combined with special additives and glass fibres. These panels are 12m long, 3m high and 124mm thick (with hollow cavities). The IIT-Mumbai research group has extended the application of this product for the entire building system including floors, roofs and staircases, thus significantly reducing the consumption of reinforced cement and concrete (RCC). The team has also collaborated in the indigenous development of an excellent water-proofing material, which is essential for prolonged durability of the GFRG panels, especially in the case of roofs and toilets.

IIT Mumbai has developed a model housing apartment at the IIT-Madras campus using thistechnology. This apartment comprises of four flats in a two-storeyed building. Interestingly, this method of construction besides being less expensive is also less time consuming as the 'GFRG demo building' was constructed in just one month. The panels are prefabricated and cut to desired sizes based on room dimensions with openings for doors and windows, thus making rapid construction possible.

The four units in the demo building make up a total built-up area of 1981 square feet - two flats with a carpet area of 269 square feet each intended for the economically weaker section (EWS), and another two with a carpet area of 497 square feet each intended for the low-income group (LIG).

BhaskarRamamurthi, Director, IIT-Madras said, "Use of prefabricated light-weight GFRG panels not only results in faster overall construction time but also a safer working environment. Cost of construction, with all amenities, has been reduced to about Rs 1,250 per square feet." According to T K A Nair, Advisor to Prime MinisterManmohan Singh, this technology has the potential to help state housing boards complete its projects faster.

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