I was watching a segment of a documentary film called 'The long commute for drinking water' where a group of women was going with pitchers to fetch water by boat. BRAC Executive Director Asif Saleh, sitting on the boat, asked them, “How far do you go for water?” They replied, “It is far away. We have to travel 2 to 3 hours.” They were all going down the river to collect drinking water. Despite having a water source so close to hand, they could not drink from it due to salinity. Climate change is increasing the salinity of soil and water in coastal areas.
After climbing down from the boat, they waded through knee-deep water. They went down slippery bamboo stairs to reach the much anticipated fresh water reservoir. They filled their pitchers with drinking water one by one and returned to the boat, carrying the heavy vessels. One woman sighed “We never have enough water to quench our thirst.”
I was shocked to hear that they didn't have enough water to quench their thirst. I felt very thirsty even with enough fresh water by my side. I lifted my mug and drank. But why was my thirst not quenched? I was assailed by a thousand thirsty voices and recalled the Ancient Mariner’s lines: "Water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink."
Close your eyes and imagine your soul going out for a drink of water but the water is full of salt or dirt. What to do in such a situation? Think that this problem is not for an hour or day. This is a persistent problem. But water is essential for life. So what to do if you have to measure water every day? It is difficult to even think about. The impact of climate change is alarming.
Just how close the link between water and climate change is, cannot be summed up in one sentence. Due to climate change, the temperature of the atmosphere is increasing, the ice is melting. The sea level is increasing day by day. Cyclones, storm surges, flooding, unusual rainfall, extreme heat, drought, and landslides bring risk to millions of lives and livelihoods around the world. Many coastal countries and small Island states such as Bangladesh, Maldives, the Philippines, Indonesia and Sri Lanka are at risk of submergence. Bangladesh is by no means a high emitter of carbon, but it is nevertheless one of the country’s most critically affected.
Climate change is also disrupting agricultural production, plants are dying, people are becoming homeless, bird and animal sanctuaries are getting damages. There is no rain when it is supposed to rain. When winter is supposed to come, it is not winter. Heavy rains, lack of rains, untimely floods, landslides, natural calamities bring endless sorrow and suffering in people’s lives. Social relations are changing because of climate change. As a result, instead of harmony people are becoming violent.
All the people of the world face the danger of climate change. But our girls and women have to pay more for this change. People with the disabilities, elderly and children have a high level of helplessness. We are more or less aware of the dire impact climate is having on our lives. But we are polluting the river, water, air, noise, environment every day. A large number of village people in every corner of Bangladesh are facing innumerable sufferings due to this. But they deserve to breathe healthy, drink and feed healthy, stay healthy because they are acting for a green planet. Our remote people are not involved with greenhouse gases which contribute to global warming. They are not involved with rapid urbanization, industrialization and others factor of pollution. But they are suffering as much as in the coastal areas.
What is the way out of the crisis of climate change?
#COP27 goal is to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius, and preferably to 1.5 degrees, compared to pre-industrial levels. To achieve this goal, everyone, regardless of gender, must work together. But the world should acknowledge the benefits that girls and women bring to climate action. It is impossible without women's participation and leadership. Let’s check why climate action needs girls and women. What does a person need to survive? Who are involved in the process of managing this basic right?
We can’t think of living without food, water, food grains, and fuel. Women and girls ensure the management of all these essentials. When the underground water levels goes down, when the river water becomes salty, dry, our women and girls have to do the work of fetching water from long distances. The women of the southern region have to suffer endless hardships to collect safe water.
The role of women in the household life starting from agriculture, plays an important role in preventing the effects of hydrological destruction. Therefore, women leadership must be thought of separately in the context of the relationship of women with climate, socially and culturally.
In all disasters including river erosion, when must the lead be taken in the fight? When children, elders fall ill due to climate change, women have to take care of them. In addition, women’s reproductive health is affected. In food crisis, they do not eat properly and suffer for malnutrition. In the difficult lives of poverty in the river basin, the male family members often go outside the area in search of earning. Then women have to handle everything alone. They are even subjected to sexual abuse, trafficking and other abuses, harassment and exploitation.
This year’s #COP27 conference is taking place against the backdrop of extreme weather events worldwide. Climate summit dialogues focus on climate change mitigation, adaptation and climate finance. There is no alternative to women empowerment. Girls and women are more able than men to earn from natural resources, agriculture, energy, livestock management, disaster risk reduction, forest, water and health. The contribution of women and youth is highly prioritized. But their participation is not appreciated.
While women play a role in climate change mitigation but they have little opportunity to play a role in climate management. At the last year of COP, only 34% of committee members were women. Women should be given importance at all levels of decision making, finance managing, participation, not just adaptation. Empowering women and girl can lead climate action, which will get us greener and bring prosperous future sooner. All Bengali, indigenous, girls and women should be included in this action plan.
We have to understand that women can safeguard the planet through climate change mitigation, adaptation and climate finance initiative and action more than the men. There is no substitute to empowering girls and women for operative climate solutions. The entire world must work together to tackle this crisis for our planet. Besides, local unity has always played a central role in dealing with natural calamities. Remember, if we cannot save our environment, we cannot sustain ourselves.
Let’s start acting together before gets too late.
Joyshri Sarker is an author, cultural activist and humanitarian professional. She may be contacted at [email protected]