Water, Women, and Climate Change: The Global Threat

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In recent months, IWHC has co-hosted two advocacy trainings in San Francisco and Washington, DC around climate change and sexual and reproductive rights and health.  The following  post was written by Lisa Fouladbash, a member of the Sierra Student Coalition and one of the original training participants who went on to give a presentation at the second training on the dangers of global reliance on coal. Her post today is part of Blog Action Day 2010, an annual event hosted by Change.org that unites the world’s bloggers in posting about the same issue; this year the theme is Water.

Despite the protests of coal and oil barons nationwide, the scientific community is in agreement:  climate change is very real, it’s happening now, and it is a result of human actions*. In the past five years, we’ve seen a chain of severe storms and weather events unlike anything America has seen before:  Hurricane Katrina, so-called “Snow-pocalypse” in Washington, D.C., record temperature highs in cities across the nation, and more. These are NOT a disconnected chain of events (It’s not every day the nation’s capital shuts down for a week due to 40 inches of snow). These are the symptoms of a disrupted climate system.

As part of the group of “developed”** nations that put us in this mess—with our excessive consumption of fossil fuels— we should assume some responsibility. So let’s begin by sorting the facts.  First, this is a social justice issue.  People in developing equatorial regions consume the least energy but are at the greatest risk from the effects of climate change, especially women and children. Second, global warming does not mean the world gets hotter everywhere. While global temperatures rise on average, local weather systems (microclimates) will experience varying effects in weather systems such as unpredictable shifts in temperature, rainfall, and storms. Third: What is the first resource under threat from these shifts?  That which is most vital to human life: water.

With rising temperatures and disrupted weather systems, floods, tropical storms, and droughts are expected to increase in occurrence and severity. Rising sea levels threaten to submerge small island nations entirely. The Maldives are fighting for their survival. In coastal regions, families may need to leave their homes behind to seek drier land. Communities in semi-arid regions, where water is already hard to come by, may experience severe droughts.

Women and children in equatorial regions are the most vulnerable to these changes. In many countries, it is the role of the women to retrieve water for their families, and some have to walk several miles each day just to the nearest source. With increasing droughts worldwide, this daily task will become more burdening to families, with women and girls becoming more vulnerable to violence and assault during trips to get water that involve journeys that are further and further from home. With increased flooding, communities with poor sanitation infrastructure are at a greater risk of disease spread.  As it is often the women and children who frequent community wells, they will be the first to come into contact with these pathogens. Not to mention the mercury poisoning that results from the burning of fossil fuels (coal to be specific) in the first place. But that’s another story.

Chin up! This is not a doom and gloom story (though it may look like one). It’s not too late to make real changes. Activists worldwide are fighting everyday against fossil fuel corporations to halt climate change at the source and ensure the health and rights of the world’s most vulnerable people and communities, including women and children. Youth are stepping up to tell the national government we need to move beyond coal to clean energy. And scientists are finding new and innovative ways to help communities adapt to these changes.

And what can you do? So much! Learn how to increase energy efficiency in your home, join a local campaign to move your campus or community beyond coal, or find another way to get involved in your community! It’s the culmination of individual actions that bring about huge global change. Will you join the movement?

Lisa Fouladbash is staff member of the Sierra Student Coalition. She encourages youth activists to visit the Sierra Student Coalition website to learn how to get involved in the youth climate movement on campus or in communities.

*Want to learn more? For the facts from climate experts, read the full study on “Climate Change and Water”, by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Visit the IPCC website for all of the facts on climate change.

** The term developed nations is generally used to signify those countries that are industrialized and have a higher per capita.I put “developed” in quotes because it seems ironic that a country considered to be “developed” would be so backwards thinking to in its abusive over-consumption of global natural resources.



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