Climate change dwindles women’s livelihood in Sindh

KARACHI: Climate change is shrinking women’s livelihood resources and affecting their health in rural Sindh. Due to climate change implications, sowing of cotton crop and forest cover have decreased to a larger level in Sindh province, causing heavy loss to the income of women who used to generate it from picking up cotton crop and selling milk & butter received from cattle depending mostly on forests. Women working in crop fields are hit by skin, respiratory and other infectious diseases, says Ghous Bux Pirzado, renowned environment researcher and Program Officer, Environment and Livelihood, Shirkat Gah, while referring to a research conducted by his organization entitled Climate Change and Women: A Study in Selected Sites in Rural Sindh, Pakistan, here on Sunday.

“Past natural disasters has showed that women were worst suffers. During 2010 floods, a total of 713,000 women with age range of 15-49 years and 133,000 pregnant women were affected, while rain inducted floods during 2011 in Sindh also affected 3,615,203 women,” he said.

Ghous said that due to climate change, grain and cotton crops had been replaced by bananas, sugarcane and other commercial crops in Sindh as a result, women have been deprived of labour facility because new crops need low labour of men.

He said: “The women used to earn significant livelihood by picking up cotton in the crop fields across Sindh in the past, but due to climate change, farmers have quit growing cotton crop in several districts of Sindh including Khairpur, Larkana and Sukkur. Resultantly, women have been deprived of their lucrative labour which they used to get from cotton crops. However, In Nawabshah, cotton crops are still grown on vast area, where women have become victims of heavy use of pesticide on cotton crop. The pesticides cause skin and respiratory diseases among women.

He said according to this research conducted in four villages of Nawabshah, the two main culprits were the pesticides used in banana plantations and deforestation. “Women working on these plantations faced more health problems than ever before as the result of being exposed to pesticides and pesticide runoff. Skin diseases, diarrhoea and respiratory problems were most common followed by hepatitis. Women from Meer Mohammad Lakho village were suffering from breathing problems in summer,” the official said.

“The infant mortality has also increased in recent years. The most of the women who lost their children worked on banana plantations. A case study conducted in village Tali also highlighted the correlation between use of pesticides in crops and increased diseases in women. Pregnant women working in cotton fields were putting their newly born children at risk.”

Ghous said: “The rains, lightening and floods have raised fear among those women who have developed heart problems. Women from Tali village informed that every winter 4 to 5 women between the ages of 35-60 years experience paralysis attacks.”

He said that climate change inducted natural disasters have affected routines, behaviours, diet and nutrition of women. “The intensity of weather due to changes in climate has added to women workload. Women have to look for alternative sources of work for income generation. All these factors have a negative impact on women.”

“Women rose early in the morning in the past, used to grind flour and completed their household chores, after which they went to well together for fetching water. It was easier to adapt to the season in the past but now extremes in weather have now made it difficult.”

He said that intense summer heat and the lack of proper nutrition due to poor diet have made it difficult for women to go about their normal household chores in the summer. Women have to face the additional problems of cooking and heating during the rainy season as fuel wood is rendered wet or damp by the rain, Ghous said.

“The burden on women has multiplied, particularly with the need for cash incomes while change in educational, information and skills level has been minimal, whereas in the past, women relied on natural resources for their domestic and reproductive roles with livestock and dairy products providing nutrition as well as an income cushion, but they now are compelled to sell the milk from dwindling livestock and have to look for alternate sources of work to bear household expenses on days that men fail to find work,” he elaborated.

“Inclusion of women in all decisions related to natural resources, their use and management and regeneration should be ensured, while restoration of local government systems with 33% women seats is also mandatory for women progress. There is also need to ensure more conventional schemes for promotion of secondary and high school education for girls, reproductive health services including family planning with follow up and training of women,” Ghous concluded.

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