For woman in rural areas, the consequences of climate change have been a sharp increase in their daily workload and a host of health and social issues, according to a study conducted in Shaheed Benazirabad, formerly Nawabshah, district in Sindh.
Climate Change and Women: A Study, conducted by Shirkat Gah, assesses the impact of changing weather in four flood-affected villages, particularly on women. According to the study, yet to be published,the heavy floods of 2010 and 2011 affected women more than men as it had resulted in an increase in their workload.
A report cited in the study estimated that the floods affected 51 per cent of the women in the district and 40 per cent of the men. About 3.6 million women in Sindh were affected by the floods in 2010 and 2011, of whom 133,000 were pregnant at the time.
Since the floods, women in these villages have been travelling to other villages to find work such as cotton harvesting, while continuing with their household chores and home-based work like embroidery to make extra money.
The floods wiped away most crops, meaning families needed money to buy vegetables and grains previously available in the fields. The loss of a substantial portion of agricultural land meant more labour was required, so women were spending more time in the fields alongside men than before, in addition to their usual tasks.
Many women complained that the rise in heat intensity over the summer and loss of livestock in the floods meant they had to rise earlier to ground and knead flour, cook, fetch water from wells, buy firewood from markets, clean the house, and then also help in the field. Rising temperatures, coupled with poor diet, made it especially hard for women to work in the fields as well as do house chores.
Deforestation, which had made the floods worse, also meant less fodder available for livestock and fewer and sicker animals in these villages. In the past, livestock provided milk as well as income cushion. Now with fewer animals, women were compelled to sell milk and look for work on days men failed to find work.
The increased use of pesticides on the cotton crop had detrimental effects on women’s health. In the absence of firewood, dried and contaminated cotton was being used to light fires. Women, being in charge of the cooking at home, were exposed to the high carbon emissions in the smoke.
The study noted that the riverine forests in three of the four villages started disappearing in 2001, when local landlords and the Forest Department began to clear the land for agricultural purposes, mostly to plant banana trees. Until then, the forests provided beehives (honey was used particularly by pregnant women), grazing land for livestock and free wood.
With the forests gone, in the last three years locals have had to start buying wood and livestock fodder. The disappearance of beri beri and neem trees put an end to several traditional herbal remedies, meaning villagers must buy modern medicines.
The loss of trees has also led to the loss of indigenous bird species such as partridges, doves and parrots. The swamp deer, whose antlers were used in traditional medicines for kidney ailments and TB, has become extinct. The pollution in the Indus has increased, affecting fish populations.
The floods also destroyed several lakes in Sarkand, one of the four villages studied, compelling local fishing communities to take up seasonal wage labor.
The study said that the shift in agricultural patterns to cash crops and farmers using more chemicals and mechanisation had had adverse effects on income and health. In the last three years, cases of hepatitis, skin infections, hypertension and malaria have gone up considerably. The social fabric has also been damaged, with conflict, domestic violence, drug use and suicide rate among women going up.
The study cited several sources showing that rainfall and maximum temperatures had increased in the district since 2006.
The study recommends special adaptation funds for grass root levels to prepare for changes affecting their livelihoods. It also suggest including women in decision making regarding use of natural resources and 33 per cent representation of women seats in local government systems. Introducing schemes backed with green technologies (drought resistant crops, water conservation and management systems) and owned by women will help, it suggests.
The study also recommends promoting climate resistant crops, ensuring of schemes promoting secondary education amongst women, and extending services regarding reproductive heath education and training women in marketing skills. Measures for reducing degradation of natural resources is also suggested.
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