Extreme weather, climate events may lead to increase in violence towards women, girls, and sexual and gender minorities

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As the climate crisis leads to more intense and more frequent extreme weather and climate-related events, this in turn risks increasing the amount of gender-based violence experienced by women, girls, and sexual and gender minorities, say researchers.

In a study published in The Lancet Planetary Health, a team led by a researcher at the University of Cambridge analyzed current scientific literature and found that the evidence paints a bleak picture for the future as extreme events drive economic instability, food insecurity, and mental stress, and disrupt infrastructure and exacerbate gender inequality.

Between 2000 and 2019, floods, droughts, and storms alone affected nearly 4 billion people worldwide, costing over 300,000 lives. The occurrences of these extreme events represent a drastic change, with the frequency of floods increasing by 134%, storms by 40%, and droughts by 29% over the past two decades. These figures are expected to rise further as climate change progresses.

Extreme weather and climate events have been seen to increase gender-based , due to socio-economic instability, structural power inequalities, health-care inaccessibility, resource scarcity and breakdowns in safety and law enforcement, among other reasons. This violence can lead to long-term consequences including physical injury, unwanted pregnancy, exposure to HIV or other sexually transmitted infections, fertility problems, internalized stigma, mental health conditions, and ramifications for children.

To better understand the relationship between extreme events and gender-based violence, researchers carried out a systematic review of existing literature in this area. This approach allows them to bring together existing—and sometimes contradictory or under-powered—studies to provide more robust conclusions.

The team identified 41 studies that explored several types of extreme events, such as storms, floods, droughts, heatwaves, and wildfires, alongside gender-based violence, such as sexual violence and harassment, physical violence, “witch” killing, early or forced marriage, and emotional violence. The studies covered countries on all six of the major continents and all but one focused on cisgender and girls.

The researchers found evidence that gender-based violence appears to be exacerbated by and , driven by factors such as economic shock, social instability, enabling environments, and stress.

According to the studies, perpetrators of violence ranged from partners and family members, through to religious leaders, relief workers and government officials. The relationship between extreme events and gender-based violence can be expected to vary across settings due to differences in social gender norms, tradition, vulnerability, exposure, adaptive capacity, available reporting mechanisms, and legal responses. However, the experience of gender-based violence during and after extreme events seems to be a shared experience in most contexts studied, suggesting that amplification of this type of violence is not constrained geographically.

“Extreme events don’t themselves cause gender-based violence, but rather they exacerbate the drivers of violence or create environments that enable this type of behavior,” said Kim van Daalen, a Gates Cambridge Scholar at the Department of Public Health and Primary Care, University of Cambridge.

“At the root of this behavior are systematic social and patriarchal structures that enable and normalize such violence. Existing social roles and norms, combined with inequalities leading to marginalization, discrimination, and dispossession make women, girls, and sexual and gender minorities disproportionately vulnerable to the adverse impacts of extreme events.”

Experiencing gender-based violence can also further increase vulnerability. When faced with the likelihood of experiencing harassment or sexual violence in relief camps, for example, some women or sexual and gender minorities choose to stay home or return to their homes even before doing so is safe, placing them in additional danger from extreme events and further restricting their already limited access to relief resources.

Extreme events could both increase new violence and increase reporting, unmasking existing violence. Living through extreme events led some victims to feel they could no longer endure abuse or to feel less inhibited to report the abuse than before the event. However, the researchers also noted that reporting remains plagued by a number of factors, including silencing of victims—particularly in countries where safeguarding a daughter’s and family’s honor and marriageability is important—as well as fears of coming forward, failures of law enforcement, unwillingness to believe victims, and the normalization of violence.

Van Daalen added, “Disaster management needs to focus on preventing, mitigating, and adapting to drivers of gender-based violence. It’s crucial that it’s informed by the women, girls, and sexual and gender minority populations affected and takes into account local sexual and gender cultures and local norms, traditions, and social attitudes.”

Examples of such interventions include providing post-disaster shelters and relief services—including toilets and bath areas—designed to be exclusively accessed by women, girls, and sexual and gender minorities or providing emergency response teams specifically trained in prevention of gender-based violence.

Likewise, empowerment initiatives for women and sexual and gender minorities that challenge regressive gender norms to reduce vulnerability could bring opportunities to negotiate their circumstances and bring positive change. For example, women’s groups using participatory- learning-action cycles facilitated by local peers have been used to improve reproductive and maternal health by enabling women to identify and prioritize local challenges and solutions. Similar programs could be adapted and applied in extreme event management to empower women as decision makers in local communities.

Case studies

Hurricane Katrina, violence and intimidation

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, which struck the Gulf Coast of the United States in August 2005, gender-based violence increased, particularly interpersonal violence or intimate partner violence, and physical victimization increased for women. Likewise, a study on internally-displaced people in Mississippi found that sexual violence and rates of intimate partner violence increased in the year following the disaster.

Furthermore, the New Orleans gay community was blamed for Hurricane Katrina, with the disaster being described as being “God’s punishment.” Same-sex couples were prevented from receiving relief from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, transgender people were threatened in shelters or prohibited access after a natural disaster, and LGBTQI people experienced physical harm and violence in post-disaster shelters.

Flooding and early marriage in Bangladesh

Studies suggest a link between flooding incidence and early marriage, with spikes in early marriages observed in Bangladesh coinciding with the 1998 and 2004 floods. Next to being viewed as a way to reduce family costs and safeguard marriageability and dignity, these marriages are often less expensive due to -induced impoverishment lowering expectations.

One study included an example of the head of a household explaining that the 2013 cyclone had destroyed most of his belongings, leaving him afraid that he would be unable to support his youngest unmarried daughter, who was under 18. Marrying off his daughters was a way of reducing the financial burden on the family.

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Extreme temperatures compound poverty in Pakistan’s hottest city

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A woman fills containers with water from a hand pump during a heatwave in Jacobabad.

By the time Pakistani schoolboy Saeed Ali arrived at hospital in one of the world’s hottest cities, his body was shutting down from heatstroke.

The 12-year-old collapsed after walking home from school under the burning sun, his day spent sweltering in a classroom with no fans.

“A rickshaw driver had to carry my son here. He couldn’t even walk,” the boy’s mother Shaheela Jamali told AFP from his bedside.

Jacobabad in Pakistan’s arid Sindh province is in the grip of the latest heatwave to hit South Asia -– peaking at 51 degrees Celsius (124 Fahrenheit) at the weekend.

Canals in the city—a vital source of irrigation for nearby farms—have run dry, with a smattering of stagnant barely visible around strewn rubbish.

Experts say the searing weather is in line with projections for .

The city is on the “front line of climate change”, said its deputy commissioner Abdul Hafeez Siyal. “The overall quality of life here is suffering.”

Most of the one million people in Jacobabad and surrounding villages live in acute poverty, with and power cuts compromising their ability to beat the heat.

It leaves residents facing desperate dilemmas.

Doctors said Saeed was in a , but his mother –- driven by a desire to escape poverty –- said he would return to school next week.

A woman uses a paper sheet to fan her child in a power cut.

“We don’t want them to grow up to be labourers,” Jamali told AFP, her son listless and tearful at her side.

Heatstroke –- when the body becomes so overheated it can no longer cool itself –- can cause symptoms from lightheadedness and nausea to organ swelling, unconsciousness, and even death.

Nurse Bashir Ahmed, who treated Saeed at a new heatstroke clinic run by local NGO Community Development Foundation, said the number of patients arriving in a serious condition was rising.

“Previously, the heat would be at its peak in June and July, but now it’s arriving in May,” Ahmed said.

Labourers forced to toil in the sun are among the most vulnerable.

Brick kiln workers ply their trade alongside furnaces that can reach up to 1,000 degrees Celsius.

“The severe heat makes us feel like throwing up sometimes, but if I can’t work, I can’t earn,” said Rasheed Rind, who started on the site as a child.

‘Water mafias’

Life in Jacobabad is dominated by attempts to cope with the heat.

“It’s like fire burning all around. What we need the most is electricity and water,” said blacksmith Shafi Mohammad.

Students sit for an exam during a power cut at a government school.

Power shortages mean only six hours of electricity a day in rural areas and 12 in the city.

Access to drinking water is unreliable and unaffordable due to scarcity across Pakistan and major infrastructure problems.

Khairun Nissa gave birth during the heatwave, her last days of pregnancy spent wilting under a single ceiling fan shared between her family of 13.

Her two-day-old son now occupies her spot under its feeble breeze.

“Of course I’m worried about him in this heat, but I know God will provide for us,” said Nissa.

Outside their three-room brick home, where the stench of rotting rubbish and stagnant water hangs in the air, a government-installed water tap runs dry.

But local “water mafias” are filling the supply gap.

They have tapped into government reserves to funnel water to their own distribution points where cans are filled and transported by donkey cart to be sold at 20 rupees (25 cents) per 20 litres.

“If our water plants weren’t here, there would be major difficulties for the people of Jacobabad,” said Zafar Ullah Lashari, who operates an unlicensed, unregulated water supply.

A boy takes a bath during the heatwave.

‘Nothing we can do’

In a farming village on the outskirts of the city, women wake up at 3am to pump drinking water all day from a well –- but it is never enough.

“We prefer our cattle to have clean drinking water first, because our livelihood depends on them,” said Abdul Sattar, who raises buffaloes for milk and sale at market.

There is no compromise on this, even when children suffer skin conditions and diarrhoea.

“It is a difficult choice but if the cattle die, how would the children eat?” he said.

Pakistan is the eighth most vulnerable country to caused by climate change, according to the Global Climate Risk Index compiled by environmental NGO Germanwatch.

Floods, droughts and cyclones in recent years have killed and displaced thousands, destroyed livelihoods and damaged infrastructure.

Many people choose to leave Jacobabad in the hottest months, leaving some villages half empty.

Sharaf Khatoon shares a makeshift camp in the city with up to 100 people surviving on a few meagre rupees that male family members earn through menial labour.

They usually relocate the camp in the hottest months, 300 kilometres away to Quetta, where temperatures are up to 20 degrees Celsius cooler.

Water is a scarce commodity in Jacobabad.

But this year they will leave late, struggling to save the money for the journey.

“We have headaches, unusual heartbeats, skin problems, but there is nothing we can do about it,” said Khatoon.

Professor Nausheen H. Anwar, who studies urban planning in hot cities, said authorities need to look beyond emergency responses and think long term.

“Taking heatwaves seriously is important, but sustained chronic heat exposure is particularly critical,” she said.

“It’s exacerbated in places like Jacobabad by the degradation of infrastructure and access to water and electricity which compromises people’s capacity to cope.”


Along a dried up canal filled with rubbish, hundreds of boys and a handful of girls in Jacobabad pour into a school for their end-of-year exams.

They gather around a hand pump to gulp down water, exhausted even before the day begins.

“The biggest issue we face is not having basic facilities—that’s why we experience more difficulties,” said headteacher Rashid Ahmed Khalhoro.

“We try to keep the children’s morale high but the heat impacts their mental and physical health.”

Patients suffering from heatstroke are treated at a hospital in Jacobabad.

With extreme temperatures arriving earlier in the year, he appealed to the government to bring forward summer vacations, which normally begin in June.

A few classrooms have fans, though most do not. When the electricity is cut just an hour into the school day, everyone swelters in semi-darkness.

Some rooms become so unbearable that children are moved into corridors, with youngsters frequently fainting.

“We suffocate in the heat. We sweat profusely and our clothes get drenched,” said 15-year-old Ali Raza.

The boys told AFP they suffered from headaches and frequent diarrhoea but refused to skip lessons.

Khalhoro said his students are determined to break out of poverty and find jobs where they can escape the heat.

“They are prepared as though they are on a battlefield, with the motivation that they must achieve something.”

© 2022 AFP

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‘Extreme’ plants grow faster in the face of stress

Schrenkiella parvulais a plant that can grow – even thrive – in extremely salty conditions. Researchers in the Dinneny lab study this plant to understand this special adaptation and how they might be able to modify other plants to withstand similarly stressful environments. Credit: José Dinneny

When faced with conditions that are too dry, salty, or cold, most plants try to conserve resources. They send out fewer leaves and roots and close up their pores to hold in water. If circumstances don’t improve, they eventually die.

But some plants, known as extremophytes, have evolved to handle . Schrenkiella parvula, a scraggly, branching member of the mustard family, doesn’t just survive in conditions that would kill most plants—it thrives in them. It grows along the shores of Lake Tuz in Turkey, where salt concentrations in the water can be six times higher than in the ocean. In a recent paper published in Nature Plants, researchers at Stanford University found that Schrenkiella parvula actually grows faster under these stressful conditions.

“Most plants produce a stress hormone that acts like a stop signal for growth,” said José Dinneny, an associate professor of biology at Stanford, who is senior author of the paper. “But in this extremophyte, it’s a green light. The plant accelerates its growth in response to this stress hormone.”

Dinneny and his colleagues are studying Schrenkiella parvula to better understand how some plants cope with challenging conditions. Their findings could help scientists engineer crops that are able to grow in lower-quality soil and adapt to the stresses of .

“With climate change, we can’t expect the environment to stay the same,” said Ying Sun, a postdoctoral researcher at the Salk Institute who earned her doctorate at Stanford and is a lead author on the paper. “Our crops are going to have to adapt to these rapidly changing conditions. If we can understand the mechanisms that plants use to tolerate stress, we can help them do it better and faster.”

An unexpected response

Schrenkiella parvula is a member of the Brassicaceae family, which contains cabbage, broccoli, turnips, and other important food crops. In areas where climate change is expected to increase the duration and intensity of droughts, it would be valuable if these crops were able to weather or even thrive in those dry spells.

When plants encounter dry, salty, or cold conditions—all of which create water-related stress—they produce a hormone called abscisic acid, or ABA. This hormone activates , essentially telling the plant how to respond. The researchers examined how several plants in the Brassicaceae family, including Schrenkiella parvula, responded to ABA. While the other plants’ growth slowed or stopped, the roots of Schrenkiella parvula grew significantly faster.

Schrenkiella parvula is closely related to the other plants in the study and has a very similar-sized genome, but ABA is activating different sections of its genetic code to create a completely different behavior.

Image of an S. parvula root taken with a confocal microscope. Credit: Prashanth Ramachandran

“That rewiring of that network explains, at least partially, why we’re getting these different growth responses in stress-tolerant species,” Dinneny said.

Engineering future crops

Understanding this —and how to engineer it in other species—could help more than just , Dinneny said. Schrenkiella parvula is also related to several oilseed species that have the potential to be engineered and used as sustainable sources of jet fuel or other biofuels. If these plants can be adapted to grow in harsher environmental conditions, there would be more land available for cultivating them.

“You want to be growing bioenergy crops on land that is not suitable for growing food—say, an agricultural field that has degraded soil or has accumulated salinity because of improper irrigation,” Dinneny said. “These areas are not prime agricultural real estate, but land that would be abandoned otherwise.”

Dinneny and his colleagues are continuing to investigate the network of responses that could help plants survive in extreme conditions. Now that they have an idea of how Schrenkiella parvula sustains its growth in the face of limited water and high salinity, they will try to engineer related to be able to do the same by tweaking which genes are activated by ABA.

“We’re trying to understand what the secret sauce is for these —what allows them to grow in these unique environments, and how we can use this knowledge to engineer specific traits in our crops,” Dinneny said.

More information:
José Dinneny, Divergence in the ABA gene regulatory network underlies differential growth control, Nature Plants (2022). DOI: 10.1038/s41477-022-01139-5. www.nature.com/articles/s41477-022-01139-5

‘Extreme’ plants grow faster in the face of stress (2022, May 2)
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Hexbyte Glen Cove Extreme climate fluctuation drives South African domestic migration

Hexbyte Glen Cove

Using a modified network modeling approach, researchers at Princeton looked specifically at water availability, temperature extremes, and migrants’ socioeconomic statuses during two migration periods in South Africa. They found that, in many cases, residents were likely to leave areas struggling with climate instability, and regions with more reliable climates were more likely to attract migrants. Credit: Egan Jimenez, Princeton University

As the climate crisis worsens, some South Africans are relocating to places with more stable climate conditions, according to a study led by Princeton University researchers.

Using a modified network modeling approach, the team looked specifically at , , and migrants’ socioeconomic statuses during two periods in South Africa. They found that, in many cases, residents were likely to leave areas struggling with climate instability, and regions with more reliable climates were more likely to attract migrants.

Some of the biggest migration differences were seen between those relocating to urban areas, or non-urban areas, like farmlands. Migrants moving to urban areas often left places with heavy rainfall—likely relocating to escape urban flooding. However, people moving to non-urban areas left locations with excessive heat—potentially indicative of temperature-sensitive livelihoods from farming, the researchers noted.

Socioeconomic factors also seemed to play a role. Some migrants relocating to were particularly motivated by the country’s fluctuating unemployment rate. Non-urban migrants appeared to be especially influenced by outside factors that were not explicitly modeled, like the abolition of apartheid policies in the late 1990s.

The findings, published in Population and Environment, showcase the benefits of using network modeling—which often isn’t used in this context—to study migration. Because of the model, the research team was able to investigate a geographical network of districts, rather than just individual migration.

“This type of model presents a promising method for conceptualizing and analyzing migration flows,” said Michael Oppenheimer, the Albert G. Milbank Professor of Geosciences and International Affairs at the High Meadows Environmental Institute. “We believe that it could be applied in other migration cases, different types of network flows, and conflict analyses in a variety of contexts, including projection of climate-driven migration in a warmer world.

The study was led by Tingyin Xiao, associate research scholar, under Oppenheimer’s direction.

“South Africa is predicted to experience severe increases in temperature averages, shifts in precipitation patterns, and greater exacerbation of extreme water scarcity. It also has a uniquely high rate of internal migration, which is why we chose it as the focus of our study,” said Xiao, who is based at the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs’ Center for Policy Research on Energy and the Environment.

Xiao and Oppenheimer conducted the study with Xiaogang He, who was a High Meadows Environmental Institute—Science, Technology, and Environmental Policy (PEI-STEP) graduate fellow at Princeton and now an assistant professor at the National University of Singapore; and Marina Mastrorillo, an economist at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

The team gathered migration and socioeconomic information from community surveys and censuses provided by Statistics South Africa. They examined the number of adults between ages 15 and 64 who moved from one district to another within five years. The time periods studied were between 1997 to 2001 and 2007 to 2011. These time frames were chosen based on the data available and also because these periods came after the apartheid, which could have played a role in migration at the time.

Migrants were then divided into two groups: those who moved to an urban destination and those who moved to non-urban locations. The researchers then observed the effects of the long-term water availability reflecting streamflow and reservoir levels, excessive heat, rainy season water deficit, and soil moisture conditions on migration across South Africa.

Past studies focused on migration flows primarily use a “gravity model” to predict and examine migration flows. However, this type of model, said the authors, has many limitations and can lead to biased estimations and results. Instead, the researchers modified an existing network model not previously applied in the migration context to analyze each factor’s influence on South African internal migration. This allowed the team to consider and observe many factors involved in domestic migration and predict their relationships. They were able to identify climate-specific movement patterns and differences for both urban and non-urban migrants, examine socioeconomic influences, and compare previous migration trends.

The team also determined that prior migration flows influence subsequent migration. Past migrants may form connections between locations they moved from and to, which facilitates more future migration between these locations. In certain cases, past movement patterns may weaken the associations the researchers found between climate change and South African migration. Still, each migration trend is inevitably dependent on various climate, destination, socioeconomic, and historical factors. Specific outcomes should not be generalized without considering these contextual factors, the researchers warn.

The authors believe this study successfully fills gaps in previous ones. It improves the understanding of the climate’s impact on migration and indicates a need for preparation of more humane and effective migration policies in countries experiencing extreme climate conditions, or those that may receive migrants. They advocate for further environmental migration research with the use of network models.

The paper, “Complex climate network effects on internal migration in South Africa revealed by network model” was published on Jan. 6 in Population and Environment, an open-access academic journal.

More information:
Tingyin Xiao et al, Complex climate and network effects on internal migration in South Africa revealed by a network model, Population and Environment (2022). DOI: 10.1007/s11111-021-00392-8

Extreme climate fluctuation drives South African domestic migration (2022, February 11)

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Hexbyte Glen Cove 'Extreme' wildfires and heavy smoke grip western US and Canada thumbnail

Hexbyte Glen Cove ‘Extreme’ wildfires and heavy smoke grip western US and Canada

Hexbyte Glen Cove

Firefighters have been dispatched from as far away as San Francisco to tackle the massive Oregon blaze.

A brutal start to the wildfire season in the western United States and Canada worsened Thursday as a massive Oregon blaze exploded in dry, windy conditions and a new California blaze threatened communities devastated by the 2018 Camp Fire.

Wildfire officials raised their preparedness level to the highest tier—the earliest such move in a decade—and Canada’s military joined evacuation efforts, as the region reels from the effects of consecutive heat waves that experts say have been worsened by .

“This fire is going to continue to grow—the extremely dry vegetation and weather are not in our favor,” said Joe Hessel, who is leading a team tackling Oregon’s 227,000-acre Bootleg Fire.

Burning through the equivalent of 130,000 soccer fields, the Bootleg Fire some 250 miles south of Portland is the largest active blaze in the US, bellowing heavy smoke visible from space that is blanketing parts of neighboring Washington and Idaho.

Firefighters have been dispatched from as far away as San Francisco to tackle the massive blaze, which is showing “extreme” growth through drought-affected brush and due to hot, dry and breezy conditions.

It began more than a week ago and is just seven percent contained, having destroyed 21 homes and threatening almost 2,000 more.

The inferno is just one of around 70 burning some one million acres (400,000 hectares) in the US alone.

The Bootleg Fire some 250 miles south of Portland is the largest active blaze in the US.

‘Deja vu’

The governor of the northwestern state of Montana on Wednesday declared a statewide wildland fire emergency.

And in California, the newly ignited Dixie Fire began ripping through land near the town of Paradise which was razed by the notorious 2018 Camp Fire—the deadliest in the state’s modern history, killing 86 people.

“The fire started just a couple of miles [away], on the same road, as the Camp Fire in 2018,” David Little of the North Valley Community Foundation, set up to help Camp Fire victims, told the Los Angeles Times.

“It’s really a sense of deja vu that’s uneasy.”

The Dixie Fire doubled in size overnight and was zero percent contained, but was moving away from populated areas such as Paradise.

Elsewhere in California the much larger Beckwourth Complex—a combination of two blazes sparked by lightning last week—neared 100,000 acres Thursday.

Last year was the worst in California’s by acres burnt, but 2021 is currently outpacing even that record destruction. The season is starting earlier and ending later each year, while much of the state is in the grip of a severe multi-year drought.

In Canada, the armed forces are now participating in wildfire evacuations in British Columbia for the first time since the fires began, a military source told AFP.

Air quality alerts have been issued in many parts of British Columbia due to smoke from forest fires.

As of Thursday afternoon, the province had 309 fires, 23 of which started in the last two days.

Scientists say heat waves arriving in the western US and Canada in late June would have been “virtually impossible” without human-caused climate change.

Human activity has driven global temperatures up, stoking increasingly fierce storms, extreme heat waves, droughts and wildfires.

© 2021 AFP

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