The vulnerable sidelined

The vulnerable sidelined

A worker of the National Office of Drinking Water (ONEP) distributes water to the population on June 2, 2018 in a district of Bouake, central Ivory Coast, where the largest dam of the "Societe de Distribution de l'Eau de la Cote d'Ivoire" (SODECI - Water

Climate change will have adverse impacts on human and natural systems. Besides, there will be both gainers and losers due to the adverse impacts of climate change.

The Fifth Assessment Report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and other studies show that while some countries in the northern hemisphere such as Canada, the US, Russia and China may report agricultural gains, those in the tropical belt, especially sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia including India, will witness significant declines in agricultural yields which will aggravate food security and other climate vulnerabilities and risks. Studies suggest that increasing temperatures and uncertain rainfall patterns will lead to a 10-40% reduction in food production in India in the absence of adaptation measures.

Women and children, especially in developing countries, are most vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change and occurrence of extreme weather events and natural disasters due to their low adaptive capacity. Poor people, women, children and indigenous peoples face disproportionate risks from climate change.

To get an idea of the costs and magnitude of the losses and damage caused by extreme weather events and natural disasters, a 2015 report by Munich RE notes that between 1980 and 2015, weather-related losses were estimated at $3.3 trillion (in 2014 values adjusted for inflation based on country consumer price indexes), of which only 28.5% was insured. Further, 88% of all reported disasters, numbering 21,700 events, 78% of all losses from all disasters ($4.2 trillion in 2014 values) and 49% of all lives lost (total lives lost from all disasters being 1.74 million) were caused by weather extremes.

Evidences suggest that women are affected the most by these extreme weather events and natural disasters. For example, the 2004 Tsunami which hit South-east Asia and South Asia reported higher deaths among women as compared to men in Sri Lanka, India and Indonesia. After Hurricane Katrina in 2005 in the US, Afro-American women were among the worst affected by flooding in Louisiana. United Nations figures show that 80% of people displaced by extreme weather events and natural disasters are women.

Climate change will have differential impacts on different sectors and women will be affected depending on their role. Women play an important role as caregivers (especially taking care of children, the sick and elderly) as well as in collecting water, food, fuel and non-timber forest products. Women also play an important role in collecting water to meet their household needs. A survey in 25 sub-Saharan countries showed that women still spend 16 million hours per day collecting water, compared to six million hours by men and four million hours by children.

Many countries in Asia and Africa, including India, are in high water-scarce and risk regions and climate change will aggravate water availability and affect women who need to spend longer hours fetching water, with consequent impacts on households and child care. Increasing water scarcity and risks will also lead to greater conflicts between households and within and across cities and regions.

Women depend on natural resources for their lives and livelihoods, and climate change will affect this. Forest and land degradation will aggravate availability of food, fuelwood and non-timber forest products. Studies in India show that climate change will have differential impacts on forests and forest vegetation.

Climate projections by scientists at the Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru, suggest that wet forests may become wetter and dry forests may become drier in India due to global warming. These studies also suggest that forest vegetation will undergo change under these climatic impacts, which will affect availability of food, fuelwood and non-timber forest products that play an important role in household nutrition and incomes.

Climate change will also lead to a rise in mean sea levels threatening coastal cities and livelihoods. A study by the Royal Society, London, in 2014 notes that larger coastal cities could face combined annual losses of $1 trillion from flooding by the mid-century. As per UN statistics, women account for about 47% of the world’s 120 million people working in fisheries and outnumber men both in inland and marine fisheries. Women account for about 54% of the people engaged in small-scale inland fisheries and 66% in large-scale marine fisheries.

Greater health risks

Evidence suggests that climate change will aggravate health risks and lead to an increase in the number of populations affected and deaths caused by water-borne and vector-based diseases such as diarrhoea, malaria and dengue. For instance, a study by the Asian Development Bank in 2014 shows that the number of people who will be affected by diarrhoea in India by 2050 is estimated at between 24.3 million and 42.4 million under low, medium and high carbon emissions scenarios.

Those affected by malaria are similarly estimated to range between 1.7 million and three million and the number of deaths to range between 0.01 million and 0.12 million under low, medium and high emission scenarios. New health risks and diseases are emerging due to global warming.

Mainstreaming resilience into development plans and making climate polices gender-sensitive is therefore critical to tackling poverty, inequality, ill-health and nutrition. If we look at the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, all have implications, especially for women such as those arising out of the SDG goals on no-poverty, zero-hunger, good health and well-being, quality education, gender equality, clean water and sanitation. Women have lesser economic, political and legal clout and are hence less able to cope with and are more exposed to the adverse effects of changing climate.

(The author is an economist)

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