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KARACHI: A latest study says climate change induced disasters and left negative impacts on psychology and behaviour of people, in particular women, who bore the major brunt of various disasters that struck Sindh in recent years.

“There is evidence that shows interlinkages between climate change, health and sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR),” says the study titled ‘Understanding climate change, impact on women’s reproductive health: Post-disaster interventions in Sindh’.

The study was carried out by the Sindh Community Foundation and Asian-Pacific Resource and Research Centre for Women (ARROW).

The study selected Jacobabad, Shikarpur and Kashmore districts, which were among the worst affected areas in 2010 and 2011 floods. Besides, Thatta was taken for the 1999 cyclone and 2010 flood.

It said that Pakistan had been experiencing the effects of climate change, flash floods, drought and cyclones over the years as the country fell within the disaster-prone zone of South Asia.

The Global Climate Risk Index 1993-2012 released by German Watch ranked Pakistan as the 12th on the list of the states most affected by extreme weather conditions.

It said Sindh witnessed two consecutive floods in 2010 and heavy rains followed by flash floods in 2011.

“Of Pakistan’s four provinces, the 2010 floods are widely acknowledged to have hit Sindh worst. More than seven million people were affected including around half of the province’s rural population, and more than 2.5 million acres of agricultural land was flooded,” it said.

It said that nearly 350,000 homes were destroyed, leaving at least 1.5 million people homeless, causing displacement on a massive scale. The floodwaters also took longer to recede in Sindh than in other provinces. “These two events exposed weaknesses in the health system to cope with such situations.”

The study said that climate change incidences directly impacted human lives, and negatively affected general, sexual and reproductive health.

It said disasters left the worst impact on women’s’ health, access to food security, and reproductive health experienced psychological stress during the flood, in camps and even after returning home.

The disasters did not rein in animosities among communities which was evident from the fact that three cases of honour killings were reported in Jacobabad.

Climate change incidents also directly impacted general, sexual and reproductive health during floods and disturbed the reproductive health of women, men and young people.

Some women staying in camps reported about one maternal and three infant deaths due to severe complications. Women also reported sexual harassment. Because of strong gender barriers and strict male dominance, women were not allowed to get food, access services at camps or even when they had returned home.

It said Sindh had the highest level of malnutrition even before the floods. Due to floods, women who were involved in agriculture lost their livelihoods because floodwater took extraordinary time to recede.

That resulted in poor yield of crop for the next year, thus it increased food insecurity and impacted on women’s and girls’ health. Access to livelihoods of women decreased because of the lack of alternative livelihoods skills.

“Girls and pregnant women are vulnerable to psychological fears. Women and girls felt insecure and psychologically fearful while staying in camps,” it noted.

Besides, women’s access to health revived slowly in rural areas as government health outlets lacked health facilities. There was lack of resources for economic revival of home-based women. Their economic recovery got delayed.

“Because of lack of proper shelter, women’s insecurity increased and a few cases of sexual violence were reported,” said the report.

It said that mobility of rural women suffered because of damages to community infrastructure like roads, streets, etc. Distribution points by the NGOs and private sector was not gender sensitised and appropriate, so women received lesser relief.

The report blamed environmental organisations for not being attentive to incorporating sexual and reproductive health and rights or women’s health in their regular programmes.

The report quoted UNFPA, which estimated that at least 1.2 million women of reproductive age were among the people affected by heavy monsoon rains and floods across Pakistan in 2010.

The maternal and child health services in at least 40 per cent of health facilities were disrupted. At least 115,000 were pregnant and every day close to 400 women went into labour, with at least 60 having life-threatening pregnancy-related complications.

Due to floods, women living in camps experienced difficulty in accessing reproductive health services and pregnant women did not get proper attention. Services for child delivery were not much provided by the government, NGOs and INGOs. Water for consumption was unhygienic; insecure environment in camps, lack of privacy for women especially pregnant women, in shelters and in toilets; faced waterborne diseases even after returning home; health-related infrastructure rebuilt slowly that increased maternal deaths; National Disaster Risk Reduction Policy did not have specific focus on reproductive health; and, in post disaster recovery, SRHR was not given focus even in rehabilitation and reconstruction phases by the government, NGOs and INGOs.

The health outlets and reproductive health services were given low attention, very few NGOs and international organisations provided reproductive health services to women in the districts of the research.

The report said that women’s role and participation was low in early recovery interventions so these interventions did not address their actual needs.

Published in Dawn, April 26th, 2016