Climate Change Disproportionately Hurting Pakistan’s Women, Report Finds

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If Pakistan’s coastal region of Sindh is any indication, the adverse effects of climate change in developing countries will not be gender neutral.

The women in Sindh — a province of Pakistan with a population of approximately 42 million – have been socializing less, walking further, and encountering health issues due to shortages in fuel wood and fresh water, according to a report released Thursday by the women’s resource center Shirkat Gah. The shortages, the report said, are undoubtedly due to climate change.

“The changes in weather patterns and intensity of heat and cold have changed working patterns of people, especially female farmers,” Khawar Mumtaz, the chairperson of the National Commission on the Status of Women, told The Express Tribune. “Substantive cropping was replaced with cash crops. [The] second shift was from natural fertilizers to chemicals, pesticides and hybrid seeds. Forests were replaced with banana cultivation, and dams resulted in decrease of fish.”

Mumtaz told the Express Tribune that women in the region serve not only as workers, but as primary caregivers to their families. Because they must walk farther distances to fetch water and collect wood, they have less time for their families and friends, and more often end up with health issues because of it. In the province’s town of Kharo Chhan, the only girls’ primary school is facing a shortage of female teachers. Approximately 15 percent of the girls enrolled in primary schools there actually attend.

The report, among other things, suggests government initiatives that could teach women how to purify or filter water in order to decrease workloads.

Pakistan itself contributes very little to greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. It emitted less than one metric ton of carbon dioxide per capita in 2009, compared with the U.S.’s 17.28 metric tons per capita that year. The country, however, has been and will be severely impacted by negative effects of climate change.

Historic flooding and monsoons plagued the country in both 2010 and 2011, a “unique phenomenon,” which the Pakistani government attributed to a warming climate. The events were catastrophic, particularly for crops — between 60 to 70 percent of the Pakistani population depends on the country’s direct agricultural ecosystem to survive. “Poor slope of land, heavy soil and abandoned drainage infrastructure exaggerated the situation” and amplified the extent of the disaster, the government’s report said.

Pakistan is particularly vulnerable to climate change because of its already warm climate, its rapidly-melting Hindu Kush-Karakoram Himalayan glaciers in the north which feed the southern country’s rivers, and dry land — the majority of which receives less than 250mm of rainfall per year.

According to the Sewa Development Trust, a humanitarian non-profit in Sindh, global warming’s adverse effects are poised to hit Pakistan in a number of ways in the future. Glacier melt will increase flooding and eventually decrease river flows as glaciers recede. Crop yields will decrease, greatly affecting the country’s largely agrarian economy. The social inequalities of resource use will be aggravated, as the poor are more dependent on natural resources and have less of an ability to adapt to a changing climate.

And if Skirkat Gah’s report rings true, it is the country’s women who will bear the brunt of those changes.