In post disaster situation, it is important to pay special attention to the needs of people who are deemed particularly at risk or most vulnerable. There are different ways to categorize vulnerable groups. The term vulnerable group has many meanings. The Canadian Minister of Public Works and Government Services (2001) describes vulnerable groups refer to the very young, the very old, women, people with disabilities, and also the aboriginal or First Nation people.
John R. Lindsay (2003) describes the central theme of the ability to cope with change has important implications when considering vulnerability to threats commonly associated with either health or disasters. Furthermore, Lindsay formulates that a vulnerable population is characterized by its inability to handle change, be it an intimate change in personal health or widespread change in the environment. Moreover, the factors influencing an individual or population’s ability to cope are similar regardless of the scope of the change.
The definition of vulnerability expands to include pre-existing social, political, and economic condition since mid-1970s. In this vein, vulnerability has been defined as the degree to which different classes in society are differentially at risk, both in terms of the probability of occurrence of an extreme physical event and the degree to which the community absorbs the effects of extreme physical event and helps different classes to recover. In this context, classes in society are strata of the population with common social and economic characteristics. Vulnerability describes the relationship between these characteristics of the group, individually and collectively, and their ability to cope with hazards they face.
Pan American Health Organization (2005) formulates that women are made more vulnerable to disaster through their socially constructed roles. First, women have less access to resources. The resources take form of social networks and influence, transportation, information, skills including literacy, control over land and other economic mobility, secure housing and employment, freedom from violence and control over decision making. These resources are essential in disaster preparedness, mitigation, and rehabilitation process. Second, women are victims of the gendered division of labour. Women are over-represented in the agricultural industry, self-employment and informal economy, in under-paid jobs with little security and no benefits such as health care or union representation. The informal and agricultural sectors are usually the most impacted by natural disasters. Furthermore women become over-represented among the unemployed following a disaster. Third, women are primarily responsible for domestic duties such as childcare and care for elderly or disabled and they do not have freedom of migrating to look for work following a disaster. Men often do migrate and leave behind very high numbers of female-headed households. Fourth, housing is often destroyed in the disaster and many families are forced to relocate to shelters. Daily simple task such as cooking increases domestic burden of women, leaving them with less freedom and mobility to look for alternative source of income.
It is often argued that post disaster becomes gendered phenomena as mentioned by Feminist Studies (2005). Women are disproportionately disadvantaged when faced with disasters. The reasons for this disparity in the effect of disasters are many. Women are more often the caretakers for children or disabled or old people, so they are less mobile and therefore less able to flee disaster situations. In many areas, women with dependent children are more likely to be poor which are also hampers their ability to avoid or survive disasters. In many regions of the world, due to the gendered division of labour, women are more likely to be at home when disasters occur, which makes them more vulnerable in natural disasters such as earthquakes, landslides, or tsunami.
Women are more likely to be discouraged or inhibited from being physically active or capable. Additionally, women are more vulnerable in the aftermath of disasters. Reports have documented increased rates of sexual assault and domestic violence, of which women are almost exclusively the victims, following disasters. Women's role as caretaker can also hamper them from being able to relocate to a safer area following a disaster, resulting in the uncommon scenario where large numbers of men vacate a disaster area, leaving women and children behind. Women also have less access to resources including social networks and influence, transportation, information, and skills that are needed in the aftermath of a disaster.
Patriarchal traditions also can interfere with women's receipt of medical care, for example, when women are inhibited from letting male medical doctors treat them, or when female medical doctors, who would be better received by women disaster survivors, are reluctant to travel to and stay in remote disaster areas where the female doctors may be exposed to risks to their safety from local men. Finally, women are uniquely affected by disasters due to reproductive and sexual health issues. Pregnant women need emergency obstetrical care to ensure safe deliveries, to prevent premature labour, and to prevent maternal and infant deaths in the event of a disaster. Women with newborns are also particularly vulnerable in a disaster situation.
UNHCR (1994) provides that post disaster creates vulnerability of children as the following reasons. First, children are vulnerable because they are susceptible to disease, malnutrition and physical injury. Second, children are dependant. They need support of adults not only for physical survival particularly in early years of childhood but also for their psychological and social well-being. Third, children are developing. They grow in developmental sequences, like a tower of bricks, each layer depending on the one below it. Serious delays interrupting these sequences can severely disrupt development.
Studies by the County of Santa Clara (2008) show that vulnerability of older people in post disaster because of the following situations. Elderly are often slower to register for disaster assistance and once they are registered, may not follow through and complete the necessary applications to obtain assistance. Elderly may be at higher nutritional risk in post disaster and may forget to take necessary medications. Elderly may be susceptible to physical and mental abuse as family stresses increase in larger stages of disaster. Elderly are less likely than younger generations to use formal aid sources and have slower economic recovery. They suffer a pattern of neglect in the receiving social support in post disaster, have more health problems, and do not necessarily comply with disaster warnings.
The approach to measure women, children, and elderly become vulnerable groups in post disaster based on the view of beneficiaries as mentioned by Betty Hearn Morrow (1999). First, the concept of vulnerability is not straightforward. For example, a vulnerable target group cannot necessarily be selected as the most vulnerable in all situations. Second, when social and cultural aspects are taken into consideration, the mechanism for community support will further differentiate the situations of group(s) in one community from another. Third, hardship might have assisted a certain group in the population to cope with distress, while similar situation in other places lead to different aspect.
Getting the perception of beneficiaries can be done by combining the common denomination of vulnerable groups and integrate those lists with the view of the population. Derived from common target groups in humanitarian assistance programmes as formulated by UNHCR (2000) and (Jaspar & Shoham, 1999), the analysis of women, children, and elderly are vulnerable groups in specific situation is post disaster situation will make use the following categories. First, the physiologically vulnerable refers to the malnourished and sick, pregnant and lactating women, young children and elderly. Second, the socially vulnerable refers to female-headed households, unaccompanied minors and disabled. Third, the economically vulnerable refers to the poorest. Finally the politically vulnerable refers the internally displaced, refugees, ethnic minority, humanitarian and human rights workers. (Emilia Yustiningrum)