Written by Bhawana Upadhyay
A growing body of literature suggests that climate disasters such as heatwaves and flash floods disproportionately affect the most vulnerable inhabitants of rural communities. An analysis of 130 peer-reviewed studies published in Nature Communications suggests that women and children often face disproportionately higher health risks posed by climate change impacts than others. For example, pregnant women often experience more risks and limited access to reproductive and maternal care services during and post disasters.
UNICEF reported that due to the recent flooding in Pakistan, about 3.4 million children needed urgent humanitarian assistance and faced an increased risk of waterborne diseases, drowning, and malnutrition and more than 22.8 million children between the ages of 5-16 were out of school nationwide. The hardest-hit province, Sindh, has had nearly 16,000 schools destroyed alone. Thousands of schools were used to house displaced families. More than 400 children were killed in the floods, and many more got injured.
Likewise, the flash floods of June 2022 in Bangladesh affected 3.7 million people in 11 districts in the northern region, of which 1.9 million were women and girls. A key finding of a rapid gender analysis undertaken by the Gender in Humanitarian Action Working Group states that 60 percent of women surviving on daily wage and rearing livestock lost their incomes. Most affected households had no food stock and had to survive on food relief. The dry food supplied as relief was not sufficient to cover all affected households’ needs. The flooding caused a serious reduction in the food intake of those families. It was estimated that 60,000 women were pregnant in the affected area, and more than 20,000 births were expected to occur in September 2022.
In the risk framework of the Fifth Assessment Report of IPCC, vulnerability to climate change impacts is inseparably linked to adaptive capacity. The relationships between gender inequality and adaptation capacity span from unequal access to resources and opportunities to stereotypical socio-cultural norms. It is clear from numerous empirical research that social and gender inequalities are present in all spheres of human development, which is essentially why women and girls are disproportionally impacted.
The IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report has identified South Asia as particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change in the coming years, with critical implications for marginalized and disadvantaged communities including women and children. Unfortunately, climate disasters further reinforce the existing gender inequalities, thereby pushing rural communities into the peril of food insecurity. As a result, they become more vulnerable and incapable of bracing for future hazards and risks.
So, what could be the long-term strategy to empower women to build climate resilience for food security?
In South Asia, food security and nutrition have not improved significantly despite the region’s satisfactory economic growth. We are now barely seven years away from 2030, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) target year.
The irony is that the leap toward the SDG is growing wider each year, while the clock is ticking. Working for SDG 2, 5 and 13 (Zero Hunger, Gender Equality and Climate Action) requires a holistic approach towards empowering rural women in climate-smart agriculture by supporting them through inclusive policies and practices.
The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World Report 2022 explains a growing gender gap in food insecurity reflecting that world hunger rose further in 2021 (worsening inequalities across and within countries.
Asian Disaster Preparedness Center (ADPC) through its Climate Adaptation and Resilience for South Asia (CARE for SA) project recently completed mapping and assessing of gender landscape in climate-resilient agricultural policies and practices in three South Asian countries (Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Nepal). Key findings highlight untapped opportunities for governments and other relevant stakeholders to take forward toward not just achieving SDG 5, but also building resilience in the face of food insecurity.
Immediate attention is required towards building and strengthening rural women’s and youth networks and enhancing their linkages with extension services; Engaging private sectors in investing in climate-smart tools and machines that are sustainable and women-friendly; These tools need to be marketed with government subsidies and/or insurance coverage; Harmonizing and strengthening capacity at provincial and local levels on the concept and process of empowerment of women and youth engaged in climate-smart agriculture; Enhancing close coordination among respective National Disaster Management Authorities, concerned sectoral ministries, and province and district level Women Development Departments in the three countries.
Bhawana Upadhyay is Senior Specialist (Gender and Inclusion) at the Asian Disaster Preparedness Centre (ADPC).