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Asian Development Bank

Chapter 5 Inclusion


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Ethnicity, race, caste and other aspects of ‘otherness’ – groups perceived by their neighbours to be different, such as migrants and refugees – are generally acknowledged to be important factors in determining vulnerability. To a large extent, this is because these minority groups are socially excluded. Living on the margins of society before a disaster, they may become even more vulnerable afterwards. There is relatively little good practice guidance on this subject in the context of DRR.+For an overview of some of the key issues, see N. Dash, ‘Race and Ethnicity’, in D. S. K. Thomas et al. (eds), Social Vulnerability to Disasters (Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 2013), pp. 113–37. Basing projects on the key principles of inclusion and participation is essential. From this, it will be possible to identify particular vulnerabilities and capacities, and develop appropriate responses.

Dominant groups have control over resources and political power, and tend to use these to their own advantage. The needs of minority ethnic groups are likely to be overlooked by decision-makers; so are their capacities, including indigenous knowledge and coping strategies. They may even be deliberately excluded from decision-making. The displacement of communities of all kinds in the cause of socio-economic development – for example forcing them to make way for the construction of large dams, or taking over common land on which they depend to graze animals or collect food – has become a highly controversial political issue. Development and humanitarian work needs to bear such matters in mind.

The indigenous knowledge and coping strategies of different minority groups can be used as a resource. Some tribal and nomadic communities have considerable experience of coping with stress and crisis, or strong social structures that can adapt to difficult conditions (see Chapter 7). In the area of warnings, one important improvement might be to make greater use of minority languages and media in order to ensure that the warnings reach minority communities.

5.6.1 Race, ethnicity and caste

The exclusion and attendant poverty of ethnic minorities may force them to settle in dangerous locations or on land of poor quality that produces little food, while language, educational and cultural barriers can restrict access to information on risk and risk avoidance. Ethnic minorities that depend heavily on natural resources are highly vulnerable to developments that affect the natural environment. Forcible displacement of ethnic groups for political reasons can make those affected highly vulnerable to all kinds of external pressures.

Ethnic, caste, political and class divisions often overlap. Ethnicity is a significant political factor in many countries, at local and national levels. Polarisation can result from development programmes that are perceived to favour one community over another. Tensions between communities often emerge when aid for relief and recovery is targeted at one particular group. For example, it is common practice to give food aid, tools and household goods to people displaced by disasters, who have lost their possessions, but communities hosting the displaced are likely to feel that they too deserve some compensation, especially if they have given assistance such as food and shelter. It is also common for relief aid to be captured by dominant social groups, and denied to minorities.

Race and related poverty were significant factors in the Hurricane Katrina disaster in New Orleans in 2005. The city’s Afro-Americans, with a history of economic marginalisation and segregation, were concentrated in low-lying districts that were most exposed to the risk of flooding. Consequently, they suffered most when the hurricane storm surge overwhelmed the city’s flood defences. Official hurricane evacuation planning assumed that people would evacuate themselves by car when warnings were issued, overlooking the fact that in these poorer districts few families had their own cars. Afro-American families displaced by the disaster also faced bureaucratic and financial obstacles in returning to their neighbourhoods and rebuilding, and as a result have been slower to recover than other sections of the community.+Center for Social Inclusion, The Race To Rebuild: The Color of Opportunity and the Future of New Orleans (New York: Center for Social Inclusion, 2006), Overcoming problems such as these requires greater effort on all sides to communicate and collaborate. Establishing a level of trust is vital. For example, after floods in 2006 the Romanian Red Cross worked hard to build trust with marginalised Roma people, creating sub-branches in flood-affected areas with Roma communities. Red Cross National Societies in other European countries have helped Roma to register with the authorities, obtain identity papers and get access to services.+World Disasters Report 2007: Focus on Discrimination (Geneva: IFRC, 2007),

Case Study 5.8 Supporting indigenous communities’ recovery and resilience

After Hurricane Mitch in 1998, Garifuna communities on the north coast of Honduras were neglected by the government and international aid agencies (the Garifuna are an indigenous people of African descent). Initial relief work by community volunteers led to the creation of a formal NGO, the Garifuna Emergency Committee of Honduras, with elected community groups in 16 communities. Early activities focused on disaster recovery: obtaining funds, tools and materials for repair and reconstruction; distribution of seeds and loans of agricultural equipment to farmers. Subsequently, the committee shifted its attention to longer-term livelihood and resilience-building by promoting techniques and skills for soil conservation, organic composting, crop diversification, food preservation and marketing. An extensive reforestation programme was undertaken, both to provide income (from fruit trees) and to protect against erosion. Nine years after the hurricane, it was estimated that more than 9,000 people were benefiting from these ongoing initiatives.

‘Indigenous Women’s DRR Efforts Trigger Sustainable Development Process: Reducing Vulnerabilities in Marginalized Afro-Indigenous Garifuna Communities’, in UNISDR, Gender Perspective: Working Together for Disaster Risk Reduction. Good Practices and Lessons Learned (Geneva: UNISDR, 2007),, pp. 7–11.

5.6.2 Migrants and transients

Migrants can be doubly vulnerable: as members of minority ethnic groups they may be neglected or even persecuted; as strangers to an area they lack the knowledge and coping strategies to protect themselves. More and more people are expected to become migrants in the coming decades as a result of environmental degradation, loss of land and livelihoods, climate-related disasters and water scarcity. Migrant workers often have to take on hazardous jobs where health and safety standards may be poor, especially if they are illegal or unregistered labour. Transient visitors, including tourists, are also at risk. Even if they have more financial and material assets than those who live in the communities they are visiting, they may be more vulnerable. They are unfamiliar with the hazards in the places they visit and do not know how to identify, anticipate and protect against hazard threats. When a tsunami hit the coast of central and southern Chile in February 2010, for instance, most of the deaths were among holidaymakers. Local fishing communities, with knowledge of tsunamis passed down over generations, were quick to recognise the warning signs and go to higher ground.+A. Marin et al., ‘The 2010 Tsunami in Chile: Devastation and Survival of Coastal Small-scale Fishing Communities’, Marine Policy, 34 (6), 2010.
The tourist industry has an important role to play in ensuring that tourists are well informed about potential dangers and how to avoid them.

Camps for refugees and internally displaced people (IDPs) can be exposed to risks if they are sited in hazard-prone areas and lack adequate infrastructure. In 2009, heavy rainfall in IDP camps in Khartoum, Sudan, destroyed 10,800 shelters and over 10,900 latrines: water could not drain away because the camps’ drainage canals quickly filled up with soil and garbage washed down by the rain.+D. DeVoe (ed.), The Road to Resilience: Case Studies on Building Resilience in the Horn of Africa (Baltimore, MD: Catholic Relief Services, 2013),, pp. 36–40.

5.6.3 Sexual minorities

Evidence of discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in disaster response is beginning to emerge, including in countries which are relatively tolerant regarding a person’s sexual identity. This is particularly apparent in emergency shelters (where sexual minorities may face hostility from other inhabitants and emergency professionals) and in the allocation of relief assistance and housing (where official regulations may restrict distribution to ‘traditional’ families). Disaster managers do not, at present, consider the needs and capacities of LGBT people in their disaster planning or identify them as a specific audience for preparedness advice. Dialogue between disaster agencies and LGBT organisations can improve mutual understanding and lead to modifications in disaster planning and procedures: there are initial indications of this in Nepal, for example. However, in many countries people are reluctant to be identified as LGBT because of discriminatory legislation and official and social prejudice.+K. Knight and P. Sollom, ‘Making Disaster Risk Reduction and Relief Programmes LGBTI Inclusive: Examples from Nepal’, Humanitarian Exchange, 55, 2012,