Gender Based Violence and Climate Change: Linkages and Evidence
------ By Daniel Schensul
The impacts of climate change have already begun, and even with the prospect of a major global agreement on emissions reductions in 2015, will continue to increase, with enormous and far reaching implications for well-being, dignity and development. One of the challenges of preparing for climate change impacts, however, is that the most significant events will occur in the future. The best approach to meeting this challenge has been to use past natural disasters as proxies and as the basis of learning. By this approach, it is clear that gender-based violence is in critical need of significant focus in planning for and responding to climate change.
Available evidence indicates that the disorganization that accompanies natural disasters (e.g., separation of families and disruption in the rule of law) puts women and girls at heightened risk of multiple forms of violence. Observed frequency is high (even given significant underreporting, associated both with stigma and the absence of effective monitoring systems and health services in emergency situations), yet disaster risk reduction and disaster response have generally not included GBV-related activities.
According to WHO, increases in intimate partner violence levels have been reported in the Philippines after the Mt. Pinatubo eruption, in Nicaragua after Hurricane Mitch, in the USA after the Loma Prieta earthquake and the eruption of Mt. Saint Helens, and in several refugee camps worldwide. Women who were living in a violent relationship before the disaster may experience violence of increasing severity post-disaster, as they may be separated from family, friends and other support systems that previously offered them some measure of protection. After a disaster these women may be forced to rely on a perpetrator for survival or access to services. Displaced women and children are often at risk of sexual violence as they try to meet their basic needs. Rape of women and children collecting water and firewood has been reported in refugee camps in Guinea and the United Republic of Tanzania; as climate change exacerbates water shortages and spurs increasing competition over other natural resources including firewood, risk of violence will only increase.
In areas where human trafficking is widely prevalent, disasters may result in conditions that provide opportunities for traffickers (e.g. large numbers of unaccompanied children). Sexual exploitation may increase in situations where women's options for employment are diminished. Additionally, reports from the eastern Congo and Guinea show that refugee and displaced women and children may be coerced into sex in exchange for food or shelter for themselves or their families. In cultures with traditions of early marriage and dowry, adolescent girls' may face an increased risk of early and forced marriage because of poverty, which will be exacerbated particularly in high exposure areas like flood plains and in agriculture-dependent contexts where climate change is expected to cause decreasing yields.
A recent UNFPA report estimates that in the past 10 years more than 800 disasters in the Latin American and Caribbean Region affected about 64 million people. According to statistics on reproductive health kits for interagency use in crisis situations, about 65,000 women may have been violated in this context (no doubt a very significant undercount).
In Chile, data from clinics and centres for the assistance of domestic violence survivors confirmed that reported incidents of VAW had increased. In Guatemala, an evaluation by Gestión y Tecnología en Salud y Desarrollo (GETSA) in June 2010 revealed that psychological violence had increased from 7 per cent prior to the storm to 22.5 and 19 per cent during and after the storm, respectively. The evaluation also observed an increase in economic violence from 18.3 to 20.4 to 26.1 per cent, prior, during and after the storm, respectively. Other contributing factors were: scarce security in temporary shelters, particularly at night; improvised shelters, the majority of which housed both men and women together, that were inadequate to provide for the high number of displaced persons and generally lacked even basic security measures (e.g., lighting); and insufficient military personnel to provide security. Besides sexual violence, cases of femicide were also reported.
Similarly, investigations on this issue in the Dominican Republic in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Noel (2007) revealed that sexual violence, both within the home and within society in general, had increased. The following primary contributing factors were reported by the authors: destruction of traditional prevention and response services such as police stations, judicial courts and health centres; lack of priority given to medical and social services, the aim of which was to prevent and respond to VAW in the context of reconstruction efforts; loss of social and family protection frameworks that may have increased the vulnerability of women to SEA and/or survival sex. In the 2007 post-earthquake Peru, the majority of the GBV survivors who reported their cases were between 9 and 18 years old. According to testimonies, the majority of perpetrators were strangers who took advantage of girls’ being alone, either because they left their refuges or because their parents were away working.
Yet data and research also show some important temporal considerations for GBV response related to disasters. A preliminary study by the World Bank right after Hurricane Mitch hit Nicaragua and Honduras describes a pattern in which familial and sexual violence seems to have decreased in the immediate aftermath of the disaster and to have steadily increased in the reconstruction phase. This may mean GBV programmes are particularly vital in the period after immediate relief efforts, when world’s attention, and that of the humanitarian response community, is often already turning elsewhere.
Proxy analysis of natural disasters has its limitations for climate change impacts, but the direction of error is likely in underestimating GBV. Climate change impacts are pervasive, including not just short term, acute impacts like storms, but cyclical events, huge long term changes that will impact livelihoods on a pervasive basis, and impacts across a nearly all sectors of society. The breadth of climate impacts, and the strong links between GBV and disasters, yet further emphasize the urgency of climate change mitigation and adaptation.
 Gender-based Violence Area of Responsibility Working Group. “Handbook for Coordinating Gender-based Violence Interventions in Humanitarian Settings.” http://gbvaor.net/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/Handbook-for-Coordinating-Gender-based-Violence-in-Humanitarian-Settings-GBV-AoR-2010-ENGLISH.pdf
 UNFPA Fact Sheet on Gender Based Violence in Disaster Settings, LACRO. http://unfpa.org/webdav/site/lac/shared/IMAGES/2012/Violencia%20de%20genero/unfpa-english_final.pdf
 WHO Factsheet on Violence and Disasters. http://www.who.int/violence_injury_prevention/publications/violence/violence_disasters.pdf
 UNFPA. “Gender-Based Violence and Natural Disasters in Latin America and the Caribbean.” http://unfpa.org/webdav/site/lac/shared/IMAGES/2012/Violencia%20de%20genero/UNFPA%20version%20ingles%201.pdf
Climate Change in a Growing, Urbanizing World: Understanding the Demography of Adaptation (Book Launch)
// Thursday, November 7, 2013
Posted on New Security Beat - blog of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars' Environmental Change and Security Program (ECSP).
The effects of climate change are often conveyed through the lens of changing physical landscapes. Shifting weather patterns, the intensification of drought, flooding, and coastal erosion are all primary areas of climate research. But do researchers know enough about changes in the size, distribution, and composition of human populations as they relate to climate vulnerability?
No, according to The Demography of Adaptation to Climate Change, a new book co-produced by the United Nations Population Fund, International Institute for Environment and Development, and El Colegio de Mexico .
“This book addresses a gap in our adaptation efforts to date by pointing to the vital role that an understanding of population dynamics and the use of demographic data can have in developing proactive and effective adaptation policies and practices,” said Kathleen Mogelgaard, an ECSP consulting expert on population and climate, at the Wilson Center on October 2.
Mogelgaard and three of the book’s contributors discussed avoiding static perceptions of human vulnerability to climate change and how to use population and survey data to better inform adaptation efforts.
“The discussion around adaptation…continues to be oriented to ‘what’ rather than ‘who,’ to the physical environment and vulnerability and impacts therein, without always the recognition that the end we are trying to achieve is resilience, security, and well-being for people,” said Daniel Schensul, a technical specialist at the United Nations Population Fund. “The population perspective can really bring that.”
“How the world adds 2.5 billion new urban residents in the coming decades is going to shape enormously the livelihoods, the wellbeing, and the environmental security of those urban residents, and our societies, and our economies overall,” he said.
As some of the fastest growing cities are located on coastlines, this incredible rate of urbanization moves people towards areas of vulnerability, rather than away. And rather than some future movement of people fleeing environmental disasters, he noted these urbanization trends are happening already. “It’s not about your environmental threats 10, 20, 30 years down the line, it’s about your job and your wellbeing and your social networks and your family,” Schensul said.
But in order to understand patterns of urbanization and human migration, Schensul said researchers need access to better aggregated socioeconomic and housing data. Climate vulnerability depends on an individual or household’s ability to prepare and respond to crises, said Schensul. For example, the ramifications of a flood will be profoundly different for a family with the means to leave an at-risk area, compared to a family without that option. “The way a climate hazard impacts a society is highly differential…what you bring to the table really shapes the way you can respond to environmental disasters that may occur,” he said.
Through the analysis of both large-scale trends (such as human migration) and household-level data (such as economic capacity), a more complete understanding of climate resilience and vulnerability can be achieved. “To put it very simply, knowing the size density, composition, and characteristics of the people in exposed areas is critical for finding ways to help them adapt,” Schensul said.
Much of the information needed is already available, said José Miguel Guzmán, regional coordinator of demographic and health surveys at ICF International, a consulting firm that, among other things, works with public and private organizations to plan for environmental change. Extensive census and survey data for many regions is there to be had, but climate researchers don’t or can’t take advantage of it. For example, he noted that the UN’s 2010 World Population and Housing Census, which covered more than 90 percent of the world’s population, provides information on household capacities such as construction materials and the availability of temperature control, but has been largely ignored by the climate field.
Rather than invest in new large-scale data collection programs, Guzmán said existing data sets can be adapted to give analysts the information they need to assess a population’s resilience and vulnerability to climate shocks. The challenge, he said, is opening up access.
Because census and survey data is primarily collected by individual countries, information is often kept confidential and not made available to foreign researchers. Further, the sheer quantity of information being collected from different sources makes analysis cumbersome without proper standardization – especially for researchers from another field. “There is so much data available that just a compilation of indicators on everything in existence in a central database is not very useful,” he said.
Guzmán suggested that action be taken to increase access to national censuses and surveys and implement cross-country trainings to facilitate knowledge transfer and establish standard data collection methods. “What we propose here is the need to create, reprocess, [and] rearrange existing individual and household data to map and analyze the vulnerabilities and adaptive capacities to climate change impacts,” he said.
Once data is available, geographic information systems (GIS) can be a powerful tool to link different indicators in multi-level, customizable maps that policymakers understand, said United Nations Population Fund consultant Sainan Zhang.
As part of her interactive presentation, Zhang showed how indicators as diverse as “the percentage of people that are involved with agriculture, whether a household has a grass roof, and whether a household has a radio to get information” can be combined to show different levels of vulnerability in Malawi.
GIS technology can also be used to model climate scenarios, and combined with thorough household-level indicators, create very detailed maps of vulnerability. “For each risk level we can have a closer look at their population structure and housing conditions, and in this way we can know where the high risk areas are and who lives there,” Zhang said.
Watching the event from the Society of Environmental Journalists Conference in Chattanooga, Tennessee, several journalists asked the panelists their advice on how best to report such a complex story of climate change, urbanization, and vulnerability/resilience.
Schensul urged them to “pay attention to the secondary and tertiary cities,” pointing out that nearly 1.9 billion people live in cities smaller than 500,000 residents. “The majority of the population in coming decades will continue to live in cities under a million people, and these cities are precisely those that don’t necessarily have the enormous resources, the capacity, and the ability to engage with international partners to conduct international adaptation activities.”
“There is no doubt that census and household survey data are excellence sources of good and quality data for climate change adaptation,” said Guzmán. “This is an important area of research and practical work that can help to connect the dots between individual and community adaptation, between demography and geography, and between environment and population dynamics.”
By providing a framework linking demography and adaptation, The Demography of Adaptation to Climate Change attempts to close a major gap in climate research and provide the foundations for continued research.
“We all understand the complexities of communication around climate change, and this work we hope will contribute, by making data accessible and by making population change understandable,” said Schensul.
Image Credit: 2010 U.S. census data on density of adults (red) and children (blue) in the Bay Area, courtesy of flickr user Eric Fischer.
GeoCensos would like to invite geo developers communities and UNFPA stakeholders to follow the Geocensos Mapps Hackathon an event to develop geo apps to solve the challenges of using open source for population and climate.
This event will take place next October 4 and 5 in 12 different cities of the north of South America and mostly all Central American countries.
We envision that more than 600 registered participants will join us to massively collaborate and create geographic applications and visualizations of the geographic issues of population and climate of six countries, mainly Colombia, Guatemala, Panamá, El Salvador, Ecuador and Venezuela.
GeoCensos foundation has organized this initiative, calling teams of interdisciplinary participants who will use geographic publicly available data to develop innovative solutions within a series of environmental challenges such as smart cities, coastal tourism, natural disasters, regional climatic change and the development in cities starting in San Salvador to Cuenca, Ecuador.