Southern Asia (SA) has roughly 20 percent of the world’s population. About 75 percent of the population is rural. A third live in extreme poverty, making up approximately 48 percent of the global poverty.
Climate change already impacts agriculture, water resources, ecosystems, human health and well being. SA is one of the most food insecure regions of the world. Arable land area is shrinking and soils are depleted from overuse. Predictions indicate historic declines for almost all crops due to climate change. The influence of climate change is both direct and indirect on all aspects of SA security.
Gender is the single greatest determinant of a sustainable civilization and human well-being. The female role in parenting, the family, health and social stability is vital. This is particularly evident in SA. The aggregate population of SA has tripled since 1950. The education, the sex trade and reproductive rights for women have improved little. In some regions, prostitution and human trafficking make up a larger percentage of GDP than agriculture.
Only a small percentage of women head rural households or manage agricultural holdings. In most SA nations women comprise more than 60 percent of the agricultural economy but their per-capita productivity is lower than that of the male population. Women do not have equal access or control over land, livestock, technology, credit or other resources. Women, therefore, do not have sufficient resilience capacity or ability to adapt or recover from climate change influences.
Women are affected more than men when extreme events take place. They have lower survivability. Their economic resilience is lower. They are more likely to be injured or die in disasters. Women also bear a greater burden in post-disaster recovery and reconstruction because of their family care role in society.
The societal role of women varies in different countries, but generally women (and girls) play the greatest role in Household Food Security (HFS). Their obligations may include:
- growing household crops
- raising domestic livestock
- fetching water for drinking, cooking and hygiene
- storing and preparing food
- collecting fuel (wood, dung fuel, fossil fuel)
- engaging in trade and marketing
- hygiene and health care for family members
- home maintenance
Despite the critical role women should play in the decision-making processes of the household, in community and government they are most often excluded. This is due more to a lack of awareness and understanding of the female potential than religious or cultural reasons.
Southern Asia’s Climate Risks
Water, food, energy and natural resources are the four systems critical to human prosperity. Climate change threatens SA in the security of all of these systems. Loss of security in any one of these exponentially increases economic, health, political and conflict risks.
The Himalayan range drains both north and south. Upper riparian and lower riparian nations will be at greater odds with each other as the Himalayan glaciers recede. Monsoon patterns are already becoming less reliable with greater frequency of storms and flooding. Strategically, China’s position as an upper riparian nation will give them first access and result in the loss of water to lower riparian nations. A similar situation will impact India and Pakistan. All three of these nations are nuclear powers with significant conventional military capacity.
Policy makers must think about the resilience of the population and the resilience of each of those four critical systems. Poorer nations will be less able to contribute to the mitigation of climate change. Those nations must focus on their own resilience and adaptability to both the climate already present and that projected for the future. They will need cooperation and assistance from developed nations to prevent destabilization as conditions worsen.
Improving resilience capacity is critical. Delays in assistance by wealthy nations only increases the risk of destabilization and ensures the payments of higher costs later. Nuclear proliferation and destabilization should be a strong motivation to industrialized countries. Improved resilience in one area tends to spread to all aspects of security and societal stability. It also tends to contribute to the resilience of those in the surrounding region.
Women are the powerful, untapped resource in SA. The nation that keeps their women barefoot, ignorant and pregnant in the fields, also limits the intellectual potential and technological labor force by 50 percent. Women will be able to contribute more to resilience as well as adaptability of developing nations if they receive domestic and international support in the following areas:
- Full social and political participation
- Occupational equality
- Reproductive autonomy
Increased support in these areas will not only reduce their personal, family and community vulnerability to climate change, it will also increase women’s ability to contribute to national, regional and international security.