Climate changes create havoc, women bear the brunt

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Climate changes create havoc, women bear the brunt

Saturday, 14 August 2021 | ARCHANA DATTA

Climate changes create havoc, women bear the brunt

Plans must count on the gendered impacts of climate changes and ensure women's participation in adaptation, mitigation and empowerment

Amid catastrophic climate calamities around the world, the IPCC’s 6th assessment report affirmed that the earth’s climate has changed ‘irreversibly’ by human activities. ‘There is about 46% rise in the frequency of weather-related calamity (2007-2016), and the radiative forcing caused by long-lived greenhouse gases (LLGHGs) has increased by 43 per cent (1990-2018), mainly due to the increased presence of CO2’, confirmed a recent study in the Lancet. In 1994, the UNFCCC, a key international treaty to reduce global warming, asserted that ‘women face higher risks and greater burden of climate change outcomes, especially, in terms of the health, and becoming a great risk-multiplier for gender-based health disparities’.

Though, the evidence on the gendered effects of climate change remains limited, many researchers surmised that in poor households in developing countries, mostly, women and girls bear the brunt of adverse economic shocks, be it climate-induced or otherwise’.

In the case of India, its economic gains in terms of five-fold hike in GDP, from $443 in 2000 to $2014 in 2019, couldnot bridge either the gender poverty gap or health-based gender inequalities. There are 120 extreme poor women, as against 100 extreme poor men in 2021, and the gap is likely to widen further to 129 extreme poor women by 2031. In India, the average inpatient health-care expenditure is 1.5 times higher for Indian men than women.

Now, India is the seventh-worst hit country in terms of climate change in 2019 and is estimated to lose 3 per cent of the GDP because of declining agricultural productivity, rising sea level, and negative health outcomes. Further, ‘as climate changes and public health nutrition are inextricably linked, women in low-income groups will be affected disproportionately, and their nutritional deficiencies will be carried over inter-generationally’, commented, Dr Shweta Khandelwal, Head, Nutrition Research, Public Health Foundation of India.

India is already experiencing a rise in temperature of about 0.6 degrees Celsius, as compared to a century ago.  Research studies indicate that ‘women, especially older and pregnant women, endure a greater burden of heat-related ailments, since physiologically, they dissipate less heat by sweating, have a higher working metabolic rate’. Moreover, women face ‘limited access to cooling facilities, personal transportation, and compulsion to wear gender-specific heavy clothing that limit evaporative cooling’. The combined effects of extreme heats, increased CO2 in atmosphere, and changes in precipitation patterns, make ‘women demonstrate higher risk of cardiovascular complications than men, and high prevalence of anaemia among Indian women also makes them more sensitive to toxicologic influences of airborne pollution’.

The large-scale variations in temperature and rainfall augment the risk of contracting vector-borne diseases (VBD), as women spend more time near domestic standing water. Malarial infection in pregnant women, often leads to serious hemorrhagic complications at the time of delivery, while, the Dengue and Zika virus, cause restricted intrauterine growth, preeclampsia, increased risk of cesarean delivery, and adverse foetal impacts. 

Mira K Desai, Professor, Extension and Communication, SNDT University, was categorical that ‘any ecological imbalance impacts women directly, as they are primary food and security providers for the families’. India is already facing extended periods of draughts, especially in Rajasthan, Punjab, and Haryana, because of increase in extreme precipitation and simultaneous decrease in seasonal rainfall.

In case of any crop failure due to environmental damage, women often fail to get any compensation. They own less than 10 per cent of land, and barely 2 per cent have proper ownership documents. At the household level, many women ‘suffer from hunger. The recurring cyclones and consequent droughts, land loss, crop failure, etc., are also seriously impeding livelihood opportunities. A survey in twenty coastal Odisha villages revealed that ‘80 per cent of women, engaged in farm activities, failed to get any alternative work during and after disasters, as post disasters available jobs are mostly in male dominated fields like construction and rebuilding’. A study in the aftermath of cyclone Amphan, in the Sundarbans in West Bengal, found that 'women and girls from impoverished families are becoming victims of child marriages, trafficking and domestic violence'.

Now, as the countries, including India, meet for the COP 26 in November, the national climate plans must count on the gendered impacts of climate changes, and ensure women's participation in adaptation, mitigation, and empowerment actions. 

(The writer is former Director-General, Doordarshan& All India Radio. The views expressed are personal.)  

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