Section 1: ActionAid’s approach to emergencies


Why are emergencies important for ActionAid?

ActionAid’s core commitment is to work with people living in poverty and exclusion, particularly women. Disasters disproportionately affect these people, further violating their rights and making them even more vulnerable. Disasters can also strip away the advances that communities and ActionAid have made in securing their rights and ending poverty through ongoing development programming, and so affect ActionAid’s ability to deliver on its core commitment.

We believe that poverty is a violation of human rights: poverty underlies, and is exacerbated by, people’s vulnerability and their inability to cope with shocks and hazards. In emergencies, it is people living in poverty and exclusion who suffer the most. For example, in the 2004 Asian tsunami, an Oxfam survey found that in areas of Indonesia and India, women accounted for more than 70% of people killed by the disaster.

We believe that disaster-affected people living in poverty have the right to assistance. People without access to information and resources are less able to avoid and protect themselves from the impact of disasters, and to access the help to which they are entitled. ActionAid believes that change will only happen and be sustainable if rights holders are aware, conscious and organised to challenge power and hold the state and other duty bearers accountable.

Disasters and conflict also threaten the gains that communities have made with the support of ActionAid’s programmes and projects. For example, a major emergency can force children to drop out of school, either because the school building or transport infrastructure has been destroyed, because the family has had to fl ee to another area, or because the family’s livelihood has been affected and they can no longer afford school fees or materials. Girls are often particularly affected, as they are burdened with additional household work and childcare for younger siblings if their parents are forced to seek alternative means of livelihood. Violence against women and other violations of women’s rights often increase during and in the aftermath of emergency contexts. If ActionAid does not prepare for and respond to emergencies, the aims and achievements of the organisation’s programmes risk being eroded.

My husband beats me for no reason. After we lost everything in the flood it has become worse. Around us our neighbours think that there must be a reason for him to beat me so they blame me. Once, because I couldn’t bear this suffering any more I took poison. But I didn’t die.

- Anon

I am here alone. My husband was killed during the war. I was also raped. I have six children, five boys and one little girl. She is in the sixth grade, but she can’t finish school because there is no money. The others are here looking for petty work every day to bring something home to the family. Before the war, I sold fish in my village. But when they raped me, they tortured me. They hurt me. Now I am broken, I can no longer work. I sit in my hut. I wait.

- Masika Tshuma, 45, DRC