UNIFEM, The UN Development Fund for Women, says the livelihoods of thousands of Somali women were shattered by the December tsunami. It’s calling on donors to provide more assistance, warning that women and children are often more at risk of exploitation following natural disasters or conflicts.
The tsunami that devastated the coastlines of many Asian countries also caused death and destruction in Somalia. About 200 people were killed, tens of thousands lost their homes, and thousands of fishing vessels were destroyed.
Nyaradzai Gumbonzvanda is UNIFEM’s regional director for the East and Horn of Africa.
"Somalia is already a fragile country with communities already living in a situation of vulnerability. In the area, which was hit most by the tsunami, the region had also previously experienced a drought. It’s a country, which had problems with conflict, with weak governance, infrastructure. And so this tsunami could not have come at a worse time within the context of Somalia," she says.
What’s not readily seen, she says, is the effect the tsunami had on women’s livelihoods.
She says, "Although women’s contributions at times are not highly visible because this is a community where the macro-economic activities that are visible are in the pastoral communities. The animals are owned by men. In the fishing industry, the boats are mostly owned by men. It’s men. It’s the fishermen. But indeed the women are also part of the economic activities. Women support the families for their greater involvement in these activities."
While most of the boats were owned by men, their destruction had direct consequences for women.
"Most women were dependent on the fishing industry. And they were also involved in some of the activities like drying fish, selling some of the fish. And also being involved around the fishermen with trade, like selling coffee, tea as part of their income generating. And it meant that by the destruction of the fishing sector there, women’s livelihoods have also been threatened. And yet at the same time, the response has not fully focused on women’s livelihoods and women’s issues," she says.
The tsunami contaminated many drinking water supplies along the coast, forcing women and girls to travel longer distances inland to find supplies.
Ms. Gumbonzvanda says more programs are needed specifically designed to help Somali women recover from the tsunami’s impact.
"I think first is to continue to assist the communities that have been worst hit by Hafun, El Garad, with the humanitarian assistance that they need, especially water provisions, food. These are very critical because for us when food is provided as part of the humanitarian assistance, it relieves the pressure on women. Who are also responsible for providing food everyday," she says."
The UNIFEM official says during times of natural disasters or conflict, women and children are most vulnerable – often at risk of exploitation.
UNIFEM’s Executive Director Noeleen Heyzer has said, “The voices and perspectives of women…need to be given visibility in national strategies for relief and reconstruction.”