Dr. Tavida Kamolvej: “Every country has to realize that disaster risk reduction has to be integrated every step of the way”

Dr. Tavida Kamolvej
UNDRR/Antoine Tardy

How Tavida (known today in Thailand and beyond as “Lady Disaster”) got into the DDR space in the first place is some kind of coincidence. “My PhD professor in the US was very fond of DDR and he picked the topic of my research for me,” Tavida recalls with a smile.  

“In 2004, the devastating Indian Ocean tsunami hit southern Thailand. Some of my family members lived in the area at that time. None of them were among the victims but it was a decisive moment for me. The issue of DDR really became vivid in my mind.” 

What struck Tavida at the time, and boosted her motivation, is the realization that little attention was being paid to disaster management from a political science and management perspective.  

At the time, a handful of women were professionally engaged in the field, especially at the decision-making level. “In this line of work, associated with muscle strength and hard and fast decisions, people tend to think that men are better equipped,” Tavida says.  

“As for me, I was given a chance by my government (though the the Department of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation in Thailand) as well as the Pacific Disaster Center and UNDRR to make my research work recognized and translated into national policy and national law. That opened doors for me.” 

To the point that today, Tavida is is the Deputy Governor of Bangkok. “There is no question that the Thai society is much more open and equal today. We still have a lack of female representation in top positions but the glass ceiling is thinner. Things are changing.” 

Given her experience, Tavida can be a bridge between the realms of scientific insight and policy action. “In my political role at the moment, I can really make things happen. As a professor, you might only be able to formulate recommendations. Now I get to implement them.” 

Prior to her election, Tavida worked for 20+ years as a disaster specialist, Dean of the Faculty of Political Science at Thammasat University and a well-known Thai public policy professional. She developed the country's first disaster study curriculum and, through her academic work, she has challenged traditional approaches, advocated for innovative solutions, and influenced the direction of policy implementation in disaster management.  

“When I go back to my university in two years’ time, I will keep carrying out work that is actionable, together with the government and other stakeholders.”  

Looking back, Tavida is optimistic as to how much has positively changed in the DDR sector in Thailand: “I think every level of government now pays more attention to safety.” On the global scale, she remains conscious of how much still needs to be done and formulates her wishes: “every country has to realize that disaster risk reduction has to be integrated every step of the way, into every policy. If we can do that, if we can make it simpler, as part of our daily lives, then we will have succeeded.” 

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Themes Gender
Country and region Thailand
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