It is the poorest people whose lives are most undermined by changes in the weather, said Chair of the Global Leaders Council for Reproductive Health Mary Robinson
at a side event on “Healthy Women, Healthy Planet
” during COP-17
in Durban, South Africa. “When farmers don’t know how to predict the seasons, when there is more flooding than there was, when there are longer periods of drought and then flash flooding,” she said, people need more resilience. “They have to be even stronger in being able to cope with the drought and flooding.”
“In the past, February and March were planting months, while June and July were harvest months in the first season,” explained Constance Okollet, chairperson of the Osukura United Women Network in eastern Uganda, in an interview. “The second season started in August and September as planting months, but now we don’t have any seasons anymore.”
Okollet said that since 2007, there have been floods in her area that have destroyed homes and fields and forced some to leave their homes. “I actually had to leave when the floods destroyed my house and when I went back there was nothing; and immediately after that there was a drought after planting,” she said.
“These days we gamble with agriculture, as we are not sure when to plant. What we see now is, if it is not torrential rains, then it is a storm. During the rainy season, you find a lot of winds. We never used to see them and now we have mudslides, which are occurring every year. With heavy rains it has been difficult for people to dry cassava and groundnuts. Last month, I lost two fields of groundnuts because the rain has been very heavy,” Okollet said. “In the community, we used to harvest heavily, but it is not the same anymore.”
African women are often particularly vulnerable to such environmental disruptions. Okollet pointed out that women walk long distances to look for water and feed children before they go to school. “Women always eat little and leave the rest for their children,” she said. “Children are sick and there is a lot of death in the village because of hunger and lack of food security.”
Water-borne diseases, such as cholera, erupt after floods contaminate the water, and getting health care can be difficult for women because the health center is very far away.
Okollet said that when all this was happening, she and her fellow network members thought that maybe God was punishing them. “We only knew what was happening when Oxfam talked to us about climate change,” she said.
The Osukura United Women Network has asked the Ugandan government for help supplying early-maturing crops that will adapt to the seasonal change. The group is working to sensitize their community to the importance of hygiene and sanitation as well as working with men in the community to build wells and latrines.
“We need women to be agents of change in their local communities,” said Robinson.
Brenda Zulu is a member of Women’s Edition for Population Reference Bureau and a freelance writer based in Zambia. Her reporting from the COP-17 meeting in Durban (see the “From Durban” series on New Security Beat) is part of a joint effort by the Aspen Institute, Population Action International, and the Wilson Center.
Video Credit: “Fatima’s Story – Weathering Change Extra,” courtesy of vimeo user Population Action International.