September 23, 2014

Our Uncommon Future: Women, Children and Climate Change

Written by Tara Morazzini, MAMA Global

This blog was originally posted on MAMA’s website here. Reposted with permission.

2014-09-23_54212444cb0d3_1901273_10152883341275934_7949441934542154405_n.jpgThis morning, inspired by the UN Climate Summit buzz, I read a report which eloquently describes the earth as “an organism whose health depends on the health of all its parts” and posits that in order to achieve sustainable development we must recognize that the many crises facing the planet are interconnected.

Sound familiar? If you guessed it was from the UN’s 2012 report “The Future We Want” or “The Report of the High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda” from 2013, you were wrong (although not far off and certainly well-read). It is from the ground-breaking “Our Common Future” produced by the UN World Commission on Environment and Development (and spear-headed by UNF board member Gro Harlem Bruntland) in 1987, the year I was born.

Almost thirty years later, Our Common Future’s vivid description of the interlinked nature of environmental and human health rings truer than ever. However, while we all live on the same planet, and will all be impacted by climate change, some of us will suffer more than others. Geography, socioeconomic status and gender, among others, will determine who among us will face the impacts of climate change most immediately and profoundly.

It is estimated that 99% climate change related deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries and of these 80% occur among children. According to Susan Alzner from the UN Non-Governmental Liaison Service, one of the reasons women disproportionately experience the impacts of climate change is “because 70% of the lowest income people worldwide are women.”  Women and children living in poverty who are already vulnerable to infectious disease (such as malaria and dengue) and water-related illnesses (such as cholera, typhoid and diarrhea) will face even higher risks as seasonal variability in temperature and rainfall increases.

Working for MAMA this past year, I have learned about many of the challenges pregnant women and new mothers face in low and middle income countries. Our mobile messages provide them with access to vital health information, empowering them to make healthy decisions for themselves and their families. However, this change can only take place in an enabling environment- and a dramatically changing climate is anything but enabling.

Water and food shortages caused by draught or extreme weather events will hit women and children hardest— women are already twice as likely to go hungry as men, and girls twice as likely to die from malnutrition as boys. Finally, extreme weather events have the most detrimental impact on women and children, who are less likely to have access to early warning systems, rescue mechanisms, or even the ability to swim. The horrific Indian Ocean tsunami was not indiscriminate in its devastation- 80% of those killed were women and girls.

But women are not exclusively victims of climate change – they are agents of change, powerful contributors to sustainable development and resilient, healthy communities. Take Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner, a young female poet from the Marshall Islands, for example. She started a non-profit organization for youth and the environment, and will speak at the UN Climate Summit’s opening ceremony.

Jetnil-Kijiner is just a year younger than me, a fellow baby at the time of the Bruntland Commission’s 1987 report. Now it is the future of her own seven-month baby that motivated her to travel halfway around the world. In order face climate change we must stand together—alongside brave and powerful women like Jetnil-Kijiner and Gro Harlem Bruntland. Our common future—but in particular the future of women and children in low and middle income countries– depends on it.