Dalit women bear brunt of climate change

Nov 11th, 2009

New Delhi: Marginalised groups, especially women, who are heavily dependent on natural resources for their livelihood are bearing the brunt of climate change that hardly affects those staying in cities, it was evident at a public hearing organised here on Wednesday.

Rural households, that are most affected by climate change, are also learning to slowly adapt to the changes in their lifestyle and agricultural practices, women and NGOs members said.

Civil society groups Oxfam India and Wada Na Todo Abhiyan (Dont break your promise movement) have been organising public hearings across the country - the last leg of which began in Delhi Wednesday - where people from marginalised communities and rural areas come together to speak about changes their lives have been seeing in recent times.

The first of the three-day hearing at the Constitution Club was dedicated to a women's tribunal in which more than 200 rural women from across the country came together to speak about the drastic changes in their lives because of delayed monsoons, drought and other effects of climate change.

Kamlawati Devi, 52, for instance said that a number of people from her village near Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh have left the main livelihood of agriculture because of poor harvest.

"The livelihood of around 80-85 percent people depend on agriculture in my village. But because the seasons - the summer, monsoons and winters - have lost their balance and their timings, the cultivation has been badly affected. Thus most people have migrated from the village in search of different jobs," Devi said.

Dalki Rawat of the Narmada valley similarly said: "The water table has drastically come down and this has seriously impacted the yield of our crops and forest produce".

While changes in the climatic pattern have affected the society in large, women are the worst sufferers, Sandhya Venkateswaran of the Wada Na Todo Abhiyan said.

"If a pond disappears, its the women who have to walk longer for water. They are the ones looking for fire wood. Whatever be the calamity it's the women who bear the brunt," Venkateswaran said.

Talking about the elevated impact of climate change on marginalised communities, Venkateswaran said: "Climate change does not impact the typical urban woman's livelihood as badly as those rural and marginalised women whose lives are dependent on the forests, agriculture and natural resources".

"Take an Adivasi woman for instance. Her life depends on the forests and climate change affecting the flora will impact her household economy immediately, " she added.

However, in the face of all these challenges, people are evolving new techniques to adapt to the changes.

Devi said that in the face of drought, they have changed their agricultural practices.

"We now sow corn, groundnut, arhar and other vegetables together so that even if one or two crops get destroyed for heavy or no rainfall, atleast the others survive. This is called mixed cultivation, " she said.

Venkateswaran said the voices of the people and their recommendations will be put together and submitted to the Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh at the end of the three-day hearing.

"We want the government to put the people's voices into focus when they discuss climate change at Copenhagen. As of now, even the National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC) doesn't focus on the people's voices," she said.