‘The need of the hour is to build a line of defence for the vulnerable’


Innumerable studies highlight the fact that women and children in poverty are among the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, despite their disproportionately low contribution to the problem.


The effects of global climate change act as local and specific threats to particular eco-geographical regions, particular cities, and the lives of particular communities, families and individuals. And they interact adversely with many already existing problems – such as poverty, class, caste and gender inequalities – resulting in highly complex realities of inequity and crisis.


Climate change is a major challenge for developing countries like India that face large scale climate variability and are exposed to enhanced risks from climate change. Few countries in the world are as vulnerable to the effects of climate change as India is with its vast population that is dependent on the growth of its agrarian economy, its expansive coastal areas and the Himalayan region and islands. And it has now been recognised that the burdens of climate change fall disproportionately on the poor and on women – and poor women are the worst impacted.


In a natural disaster, women and children are 14 times more likely to die than men, says a United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) study . Second, climate change also leads to droughts and water scarcity. This adversely affects women and young girls as the burden of water collection largely falls on them. This is especially true for India where only about half the households have access to clean water on their premises. Third, women and children are more vulnerable to the health effects of climate change. For instance, data for 2000 and 2012 from South-east Asia show that diarrhoeal diseases, which are common during instances of flooding, killed more women than men . This is because of the perpetuation of gender inequality, which results in unequal access to health services as well as a general neglect of women’s health in unequal societies. Studies in India showed that the sex of a child influences the extent of the care given.


In many countries, including India, women are the first line of defense against the effects of climate change. Harmful effects of climate change on livestock, crop production and water supplies place an enormous burden on poor women in developing countries who often are responsible for sowing crops and collecting water. Not only are women in more affected by the depletion of local natural resources, but also climate change increases the likelihood of weather-related natural disasters, adding further strain.


These are only some of the examples of how vulnerable women are to climate disasters. Seeing climate change through the prism of gender and human health highlights the need for an integrated approach to development.


Women living in poverty are an untapped resource in efforts to address climate change but their vulnerability to it obscures the fact. Poverty alleviation - on the path to sustainable development - will help defend the vulnerable population impacted by the vagaries of climate change.


Gender equality and women’s empowerment are important aspects of India’s path to sustainable development. Efforts towards enabling the growth of developing nations out of poverty are an important part of tackling climate change. The benefits of development and climate change resolution should not be limited just to developed nations. The poor, especially women and children, suffer an unfair and disproportionate burden of a global issue, and natural justice dictates that the world look after their needs. A just and equitable climate agreement and help – by way of climate mitigation technologies and funding -- will go a long way in ensuring a line of defence for our most vulnerable.



1. https://www.unfpa.org/sites/default/files/pub-pdf/climateconnections_1_overview.pdf

2.The World’s Women 2015: Trends and Statistics






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