Disasters are not gender neutral. Women and other minorities are disproportionately affected by climate change impacts in Asia and the Pacific. Their voices, needs, and experiences are often excluded from the conversation, including in policymaking and urban planning.

The ASEAN Australia Smart Cities Trust Fund (AASCTF) – supported by the Government of Australia, managed by the Asian Development Bank, and implemented by Ramboll – has conducted a gender and social inclusion study to identify the most vulnerable communities in Baguio City in the Philippines and understand how they are particularly affected by floods.

AASCTF worked with Practical Action Consulting and applied their UN Women-endorsed ‘Missing Voices’ methodology to garner insights that will help design an upcoming smart flood early warning system. The Missing Voices methodology is an interview approach to find, build trust with, and listen to individuals facing multiple axes of marginalization, and who are likely excluded from traditional datasets and mainstream narratives. Through this methodology, which prioritizes privacy and anonymity, they are able to share their candid and detailed accounts, and the study can then provide the city with more data to improve its disaster preparedness and emergency response.

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Missing Voices No More: Integrating Gender Needs in Baguio’s Flood Early Warning System

These quotes reflect the lived experiences of gender minorities and marginalized individuals who are disproportionately affected by climate change and disaster impacts in Asia and the Pacific, which is home to some of the most disaster-prone areas in the world, including the Philippines.

With the mountain city facing a growing risk of flooding, Baguio City in the northern Philippines has incorporated a gender-transformative approach in the design of its Smart Flood Early Warning System and flood information and mitigation measures, which is currently being developed with the help of the ASEAN Australia Smart Cities Trust Fund, or AASCTF.

Benjamin Magalong, Mayor, City Government of Baguio, the Philippines:

“I talk about Baguio’s strategic vision of becoming a resilient city within the context of climate change and increased risk of flooding and natural disasters. Key to becoming a more resilient city is ensuring that we can better meet the needs of all our citizens, particularly those who are marginalized and vulnerable. So with AASCTF support, we identified this project to ensure appropriate, applicable, and timely early warning reaches the last mile.”

AASCTF partnered with global consulting firm Rambøll and Practical Action Consulting for a study to identify the most vulnerable communities in Baguio. The study will help shape the design of the city’s smart flood early warning system, which is currently being developed with the city of Baguio.

The study applied Practical Action’s UN Women-endorsed ‘Missing Voices’ methodology, which utilized anonymous phone interviews to allow for open discussions with the most marginalized and vulnerable members of the Baguio community. Interviews were then combined with data from community surveys, interviews with local groups and government agencies, and supported by existing studies.

Alison Sneddon, Disaster Risk Reduction Advisor, Practical Action:

“Our holistic approach gave us insights into how gender affects people’s experiences of floods and of flood early warning, and with our Missing Voices interviews specifically, we were able to understand the experiences of people with intersecting vulnerabilities, such as women who are also widows or who have a disability.

A lot of the time we have people who are in these vulnerable, very marginalized communities or groups, and they can often be missing from the data because they're hard to reach in some way, or because they're not comfortable speaking with researchers. And when they're missing from the data, that means they're missing from policies.”

The report gave recommendations on nine key areas, including:

  • that Baguio's early warning system should prioritize enhancing people’s knowledge of flood risks to improve preparedness;
  • to meet people's varying needs, the current ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to early warning needs to be modified, with separate warnings to be issued for weather forecasts, preparedness alerts, and evacuation instructions; and,
  • that gender vulnerabilities are important factors in setting up evacuation shelters as study respondents cited concerns on safety, overcrowding, and lack of toilets and facilities in these centers.

Disasters are not gender-neutral. The needs and priorities of women and other marginalized groups are complex and diverse. Their voices must be heard when designing and implementing flood early warning systems to ensure the method works for everyone.