Friday, July 29, 2011

Climate change and its impact on women of a marginalised community: a global perspective and Nepal

By Deepika Rana, Matthias Moyersoen Research Apprentice 2009

*The research was funded by Social Inclusion Research Fund (

Climate is changing from generation to generation. But this natural change of climate has been disrupted and altered by the human induced uncontrolled emission of green house gases. This human-induced climate change is modifying patterns of extreme weather, including floods, cyclones and droughts. In many cases, climate change is making these hazards more intense, more frequent, less predictable and/or longer lasting. This magnifies the risk of “disasters” everywhere, but especially in those parts of the world where there are already high levels of human vulnerability (IPCC, 2007).

Though Nepal's population is 0.4 per cent of the world population and responsible for emitting only 0.025 per cent of global share of green house gases, climate change is slowly taking significant toll in the country (CARE-Nepal, 2009). From a study based on data from 1975 to 2005, the mean temperature of the country was found to be increasing at a greater rate of 0.04oC/year.

Though there is no significant trend observed in annual rainfall pattern between the year 1971 to 2005, a significant year to year variation can be observed. Among the many impacts observed due to such variations in temperature, retreating of glacial lakes across Himalayan region of Nepal and high probability of glacial lake outburst floods (GLOF) is threatening the lives and livelihoods of many people living in the region. Monsoon rainfall pattern is also changing due to the rapid glacier melting which is threatening the critical water cycle around which rice production in particular has evolved. With so many lives, more than 60 per cent of the total population, depending on agriculture and its production, any change will not only have its impact in socio-economic condition but also the health condition particularly the nutritional status of the people.

The vulnerability of people towards climate change depends on their socio-economic and livelihood status. The high level of dependence on physical or natural resources also makes people vulnerable to such change. Globally, women are more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change due to their different social and household roles and status. Similarly, due to their socio-economic status and dependency on the natural resources as a primary source of livelihood, indigenous, poor and marginalised people also fall under the vulnerable category.

A case study was conducted in Sangharshanagar, a Kamaiya (bonded labourer) settlement of Rajapur Village Development Committee (VDC) in Bardiya district to study the impacts of the global phenomenon on local livelihood and food system with possible change on nutritional status in women of a marginalised community.

Sangharshanagar, a freed Kamaiya settlement located in Chhediyafata or ward no.4 of Rajapur VDC, is relatively a new settlement lying near the bank of Karnali River. After the announcement of abolition of the Kamaiya system in the year of 2000, many Kamaiyas working for Jamindaar or local landlord were freed from the bondage. However, as they left their Jamindaar’s house or some also evicted by their own Jamindaar, they became landless and unemployed. For the search of their own land and earn their own living some of the freed Kamaiya in Rajapur VDC came to Chhediyafata, a barren land, in the year 2005 (2062/63 B.S.). They cleared all the bushes and shrubs covering the land and built temporary settlement. During the first year, they had to face difficulties. The local police administration threatened them to move from the place. As the government started identification and land distribution process, the freed Kamaiyas living in Chhediyafata stressed the local government to distribute them the land they were temporarily residing in. Therefore, four to five kathas (1 katha: 338.62 sq. km) of land was distributed each to a freed Kamaiya family depending upon their household condition in 2065 B.S. Both man and wife of a family legally shared the land ownership. Altogether 226 Kamaiyas were identified then and given land ownership certificates while 481 still remained as Sukumbashi or refugees in Sangharshanagar. Majority of Kamaiyas residing in the settlement belonged to the Tharu ethnic group.

Agriculture played an important role in their livelihood. However, due to their inability to invest in fertilisers, irrigation and other inputs on the small piece of land, they were unable to produce to optimum capacity of the land. To add up to their miseries, almost every year they also had to face flood consequences. Since they were living on the flood prone region, flood used to destroy their cultivated and harvested crops, and damaged their homes almost every year. Apart from the flood, different crop diseases also decreased the crops productivity. Though agriculture played a vital role in their livelihood, it was becoming increasingly vulnerable due to the unpredictable climate. The occurrence of flood was an annual event; however, they could not do much to cope with the adverse effects of flooding and the changing climate. The limited crop production used to last from 2 to 5 months only and they had to face difficulties in meeting the household needs rest of the year. Therefore, many men and young boys migrated to different parts of the country and India to work as waged labourer so as to earn extra amount. The migration of the men put extra physical burden to women as they had to handle both their household duties and the works done by their men.

The daily food consumption pattern was assessed during the field study. It showed that they used to have meal only twice a day with mainly cereal based food as their diet. Fishes were consumed occasionally depending upon the seasons. Although snail is regarded as one of the delicatessen in Tharu community, people in the settlement had reduced its consumption due to the fear of getting infected by diseases. Mushuro, a lentil, produced was mostly sold to buy other food items like rice, flour and oil. Protein based foods like milk, egg, legumes and lentils were consumed rarely or to only limited amount. Eggs were particularly saved to produce chickens. The limited intake of food coupled with frequent suffering from seasonal acute illnesses such as fever, diarrhoea and typhoid was putting effect on their health status. From the measurement of Body Mass Index (BMI) on 40 women respondents also showed undernutrition among 45 per cent of the women. In conclusion, the limited or inadequate food intake and additional workloads of the women were affecting their nutritional status.

The impact of climatic variation on nutritional status of women was felt due to the low livelihood condition of people in the study area. Therefore, this research recommends that through the agriculture diversification, promotion of off-farm activities can uplift the livelihood condition of people in the study area which will help them to develop better coping strategies against changing climate.