Zonta International's Response to Northern Africa Natural Disasters

The catastrophes that have hit Northern Africa over the last week have been heartbreaking. On 8 September, Morocco experienced the strongest earthquake in more than a century as 6.8 magnitude blast surged through the country. Then, just two days later, a Mediterranean cyclone pushed into Libya, causing two major dams to break. As of 15 September, more than 11,000 people have already died. As the death toll is expected to tick higher with continued threats of quakes and flooding, it is almost impossible to think of what to do next as the communities are struggling to even recover from the initial impacts and now ongoing effects.

While the disaster itself does not discriminate and everyone is affected, we as Zontians know that every action after the initial crisis is not gender-neutral. According to the United Nations Development Programme, when disaster strikes, women and children are 14 times more likely than men to die. Governments, aid organizations and first responders cannot remain gender-blind in disaster response and recovery efforts.

Natural disasters lead to a chain reaction of many other issues for women and girls including forced migration, gender-based violence and increased poverty. “In cases when many people want to escape their country of origin due to natural disaster… organized migrant smugglers often seem to be the only opportunity to cross borders, albeit illegally, and reach the country of destination. Despite the risks on those hazardous journeys, the high costs make the migrants, particularly women and girls, vulnerable to trafficking, abuse and exploitation,” (Zonta International Statement on Women Migrants and Refugees, 2022).

We must remain focused on how victims of these disasters are being treated; otherwise the cycle of abuse will continue. While Zonta International is not a disaster response or relief organization, we know that women and girls face unique challenges in times of crises. Therefore, we will continue to call on all governments to include women in the formation of disaster preparedness and response plans before disaster strikes. These plans should:

  • Recognize the unique needs of women and girls.
  • Prioritize their health and safety.
  • Include responses to gender-based violence.

For more information about Zonta International’s work around gender-equal climate action, please visit https://www.zonta.org/zontasaysnow.