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Earth Today | Men under threat in natural disasters

Published:Thursday | May 24, 2018 | 12:00 AMPetre Williams-Raynor/ Contributing editor
Dr Leith Dunn
Poor men in Jamaica and the Caribbean are among those at highest risk in natural disasters.
Gay men, such as those evicted from the gully off Trafalgar Road in New Kingston (seen here) some years ago, are among those at high risk in natural disasters.

JAMAICAN AND Caribbean men at the margins of society, namely those who are poor, have disabilities or who are gay, are among those at highest risk in natural disasters.

Such is the revelation of Dr Leith Dunn, senior lecturer and head of the Institute for Gender and Development Studies (IGDS) at the University of the West Indies, who has penned a chapter in the book Men, Masculinities and Disaster.

"Men and women in the poorest quintile of the economy are most vulnerable to the effects of natural disasters. The gender profile of this group includes single, unemployed men in low-income inner-city communities; single, unemployed female household heads; poor men and women in rural areas; and men and women with disabilities who have significantly higher levels of unemployment". wrote Dunn.

The 2016 book is edited by Dr Elaine Enarson and Bob Pease, and available in paperback this July.

"These statistics show intersecting vulnerabilities and justify the need to integrate men, and masculinities in disaster risk management. This approach would also result in an increased focus on men and women with disabilities," wrote Dunn.

The IGDS boss said men who have sex with men (MSM) are also especially vulnerable.

"MSM in Jamaica are also vulnerable to disasters due to preexisting vulnerabilities that arise from hetero-normative cultural norms and stereotypes. A recent national survey confirms that negative attitudes toward homosexuals persist across all sectors of society (over 80 per cent), while there have been some positive changes toward tolerance," she added, referencing the 2012 work of researcher Dr Ian Boxhill and others.

"These attitudes present barriers to MSM accessing their basic rights before, during and after a natural hazard event," she wrote further.




Given climate-change realities, including sea level rise and extreme hurricane and drought events that threaten devastation if unchecked by strategic response actions, Dunn said a rethink about men and masculinities is necessary.

"New ways of thinking about men and masculinities may help explain and potentially reduce some of the hazards men face in disasters. For example, after Hurricane Mitch hit Honduras in 1998, there were reports of 'heroic' actions by men in their protector role which put them in danger ... men's risks and vulnerabilities in disasters and gender stereotypes need to be changed ... ." she wrote.

"The approach to disaster management requires increased focus on issues affecting men and boys, including the gendered psychological impacts of losing their family, neighbours, assets, livelihoods, income and social power. Jonkman and Kelman's (2005) analysis of the causes and circumstances of flood-related deaths also justifies the need for increased focus on men and masculinities in disasters. Results from their analysis of 247 deaths in 13 floods in Europe and the USA showed that men accounted for 70 per cent of flood-related fatalities ... ," she added.

"Other causes of death related to men's exposure to physical trauma, heart attacks, exposure to fire, carbon monoxide poisoning and electrocution. Jonkman and Kelman's gender-sensitive methodology could usefully be applied in future to analyse gender mainstreaming policies and programmes of the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency and its member agencies," Dunn said, further.