Climate change-related disasters kill more women than men

  08 March 2018    Read: 2672
Climate change-related disasters kill more women than men Photo: AP/Eranga Jayawardena

by Leyla Jabbarzade

The environmental problems and natural disasters kill more women than men, said a report on Gender, Climate change and health from the World Health Organization (WHO) examining a disproportionate amount of the impacts of the natural disasters across 141 countries.

The climate change which leads to heatwaves, floods and storms threaten human health causing water and food shortages, air pollution and damaging their homes. 

“Climate change affects every aspect of society, from the health of the global economy to the health of our children. It is about the water in our wells and our taps. It is about the food on the table and at the core of nearly all the major challenges we face today,” said former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.  

The report revealed that people’s susceptibility to climate change-related disaster depends on their gender. According to the figures, 90% of all victims of 1991 cyclone disasters in Bangladesh and 61% of victims of Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar in 2008 were female. Nearly 2 million women and children died in the poorest communities in the world because of the black carbon which releases from the burning of biomass in unventilated homes.

WHO links the gender differences in health risks with the effect of physiological, behavioural and socially constructed influences.  

For instance, in 2003, the European heatwave killed more women than men that can be explained by physiological reasons for increased risk among elderly women. Also, the increasing temperatures lead to high malaria transmission among pregnant women which is associated with spontaneous abortion, premature birth, and low birth weight.

On the other hand, the report revealed that more men died in floods in the United Kingdom because of their heroic behaviour. 

As women are the main caregivers of their family accounting for cooking, cleaning, heating the home and finding drinking water, they are more likely to suffer from the deadly effects of the disasters. As climate change has caused water shortages, they have poor access to basic sanitation that leads to diseases. 

Also, cultural restrictions increase female mortality in disasters. For instance, the culture in some Latin American and Asian countries does not allow women and girls to learn swimming because of the rules on modesty. If they are taught swimming, they can save their lives during the floods. Besides, even during emergency cases, women in Bangladesh are required to cover themselves. Therefore, if they have lost clothing in the flood, they will not have access to aid. 

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) states, “women make over 80% of consumer decisions and are more likely to be sustainable consumers, with a higher propensity to recycle and placing a higher value on efficient energy compared with men.”

Therefore, the report stresses the significance of encouraging women to make eco-friendly choices for the planet and their health by moderating meat and dairy consumption as agriculture makes a large contribution to greenhouse gas emissions. 

To mitigate the grave impacts of climate change on human health, the report suggests working on the underlying causes of vulnerability through reducing poverty, promoting empowerment and improving health care, education, social safety nets and gender equity. It also states that disaster-response programmes and early warning initiatives can reduce the harm and loss during disasters highlighting women’s particular contribution to disaster reduction. In 1998, Hurricane Mitch which raged across La Masica, Honduras could not kill anyone thanks to warning systems and hazard management, which were started 6 months earlier. 

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