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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Hexbyte Glen Cove Severe weather ‘new normal,’ US emergency chief warns after tornadoes

Hexbyte Glen Cove

More powerful, destructive, and deadlier storms will be the “new normal” as the effects of climate change take root, the top US emergency management official said Sunday after massive tornadoes ravaged six states.

Meteorologists and other scientists have long warned of the growing intensity of weather events like storms, fires and flooding.

But the crisis hit home in a terrifying way overnight Friday into Saturday when more than two dozen twisters raked across large swaths of the American heartland, leaving more than 90 people dead, dozens missing and communities in ruin.

“This is going to be our new normal,” Deanne Criswell, head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, told CNN’s “State of the Union” as she did a round of national Sunday morning talk shows before she headed to Kentucky to assess the damage and help coordinate the federal response.

“The effects that we’re seeing from are the crisis of our generation,” the FEMA chief added.

Criswell warned of the challenge that the United States faces in addressing such severe weather events.

“We’re seeing more , severe weather, whether it’s hurricanes, , wildfires,” she said on ABC’s “This Week.”

“The focus I’m going to have is, how do we start to reduce the impacts of these events?”

The tornado that reduced several towns to rubble was a gargantuan twister. It rumbled along the ground for over 200 miles (320 kilometers), one of the longest, if not the longest, on record.

US President Joe Biden said Saturday the system was likely “one of the largest tornado outbreaks in our history.”

And while he stressed that the impact of change on these particular storms was not yet clear, “we all know everything is more intense when the climate is warming—everything.”

Scientists have stopped short of conclusive determinations that more violent storms are the result of climate change, but they agree that evidence is building.

One paper published recently by scientific association AGU says its analysis “suggests increasing global temperature will affect the occurrence of conditions favorable to severe weather.”

Daniel Swain, a UCLA climate scientist, tweeted Saturday in response to the study, saying that while the effect of climate change on like tornadoes is not well established, “there is a growing body of research (including this late-breaking paper) suggesting that warming likely does increase such risks in many regions globally.”

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Severe weather ‘new normal,’ US emergency chief warns after tornadoes (2021, December 12)
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Hexbyte Glen Cove 2020 weather disasters boosted by climate change: report thumbnail

Hexbyte Glen Cove 2020 weather disasters boosted by climate change: report

Hexbyte Glen Cove

The ten costliest weather disasters worldwide this year saw insured damages worth $150 billion, topping the figure for 2019 and reflecting a long-term impact of global warming, according to a report Monday.

The same disasters claimed at least 3,500 lives and displaced more than 13.5 million people.

From Australia’s out-of-control wildfires in January to a record number of Atlantic hurricanes through November, the true cost of the year’s climate-enhanced calamities was in fact far higher because most losses were uninsured.

Not surprisingly, the burden fell disproportionately on poor nations, according to the annual tally from global NGO Christian Aid, entitled “Count the cost of 2020: a year of climate breakdown”.

Only four percent of economic losses from climate-impacted extreme events in low-income countries were insured, compared with 60 percent in high-income economies, the report said, citing a study last month in The Lancet.

“Whether floods in Asia, locusts in Africa, or storms in Europe and the Americas, climate change has continued to rage in 2020,” said Christian Aid’s climate policy lead, Kat Kramer.

Extreme weather disasters, of course, have plagued humanity long before manmade global warming began to mess with the planet’s climate system.

But more than a century of temperature and precipitation data, along with decades of satellite data on hurricanes and sea level rise, have left no doubt that Earth’s warming surface temperature is amplifying their impact.

Massive tropical storms—variously known as hurricanes, typhoons and cyclones—are now more likely, for example, to be stronger, last longer, carry more water and wander beyond their historical range.

2020’s record-breaking 30 named Atlantic hurricanes—with at least 400 fatalities and $41 billion in damages—suggest the world could see more such storms as well.

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) had to use Greek symbols after running out of letters in the Latin alphabet.

Extremes, not averages

Intense summer flooding in China and India, where the monsoon season brought abnormal amounts of rainfall for the second year running, are also consistent with projections on how climate will impact precipitation.

Five of the most costly extreme weather events in 2020 were related to Asia’s unusually rainy monsoon.

“The 2020 flood was one of the worst in the history of Bangladesh, more than a quarter of the country was under water,” said Shahjahan Mondal, director of the Institute of Flood and Water Management at the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology.

Wildfires that scorched record areas in California, Australia and even Russia’s Siberian hinterland, much of it within the Arctic Circle, are also consistent with a warmer world, and a predicted to get worse as temperatures climb.

The planet’s average surface temperature has gone up at least 1.1 degrees Celsius on average compared to the late 19th-century, with much of that warming occurring in the last half-century.

The 2015 Paris Agreement enjoins the world’s nations to collectively cap global warming at “well below” 2C, and even 1.5C if feasible.

A landmark report in 2018 from the UN’s IPCC science advisory panel showed that 1.5C is a safer threshold, but the likelihood of staying below it have grown vanishingly small, according to many experts.

“Ultimately, the impacts of will be felt via the extremes, and not average changes,” noted Sarah Perkins-Kilpatrick, a senior lecturer at the University of New South Wales’ Climate Change Research Centre.

If the growing frequency and intensity of natural weather disasters is consistent with modelling projections, the new field of attribution science is now able to put a number on how much more likely such an event is due to global warming.

The unprecedented wildfires that destroyed 20 percent of Australia’s forests and killed tens of millions of wild animals in late 2019 and early 2020, for example, were made at least 30 percent more likely, according to research led by Friederike Otto at the University of Oxford’s Environmental Change Institute.

In Europe, meanwhile, the chance of deadly heatwaves occurring has risen nearly 100 fold compared to a century ago, according to recent research.

“Heatwaves and floods which used to be ‘once in a century’ events are becoming more regular occurrences,” noted WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas.

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