Climate change is pushing Malawi further into poverty: women are hit worst

Climate change in Malawi is pushing people further into poverty and women are suffering most, according to our new report (Wed June 17).

The report, The Winds of Change: Climate change, poverty and the environment in Malawi, says that an increase in temperatures and intense rain in Malawi over the past 40 years has led to drought and flooding, causing shorter growing seasons, poor crop yields, food shortages, hunger and the spread of disease in a country where 29 per cent of people already live in extreme poverty.

As women have multiple roles in Malawi as farmers, child carers, providers of food, water and firewood, they are affected most by the changing climate, according to the report. Women’s weak position in Malawian society also means that, generally, they have less access to income and credit and no voice in decision-making, making it difficult for them to find other sources of income or influence action on climate change in Malawi.

The report also warns that, in the absence of food, some vulnerable women may be forced to resort to selling sex for food, which could lead to an increased vulnerability to HIV/AIDS. The spread of HIV/AIDS in turn weakens people’s ability to respond to the changing climate.

Oxfam Malawi Country Director, Sanjay Awasthi , said:

“Despite the fact that Malawi’s greenhouse gas emissions are minuscule, climate change is hitting poor countries like Malawi first and worst and people are suffering, especially women. Climate change is exacerbating the inequalities that already exist for women in Malawi. Men are also struggling to cope with the effects of climate change, but as we are more likely to be educated, to have savings and skills to earn money, we have more opportunities to adapt.”

Esther Chanache from Tsite village in Southern Malawi, adds:

“We women have largely been affected in terms of fetching water. Previously the rivers would run all year round but now when the rains stop, the rivers dry up. We have to walk long distances.”

The report calls for rich countries, who produce three quarters of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions that are instrumental in causing dangerous climate change, to slash their emissions and also provide funds to help poor countries like Malawi, who are not responsible for the changes the climate is forcing on their environment, to adapt.

It also makes recommendations for Malawian government and society to encourage them to take action to adapt to the vagaries of climate change, but makes clear that women’s participation must be central to any of these efforts.

Sanjay Awasthi adds:

“Climate change adaptation should take women’s needs into consideration. It should include things like practical help for women caring for orphans to allow them time and energy to cultivate their gardens and implement soil and water conservation, and access to credit to allow them to start small businesses.”

Oxfam is already supporting Malawians to mitigate and adapt to climate change. For example, an Oxfam-funded irrigation system has enabled 400 farming families to become completely self-sufficient, cultivating crops all year round.

Notes to editors

Read more:

'The Winds of Change: Climate change, poverty and the environment in Malawi' - new report (June 2009).

  • According to the UN’s Human Development 2007/8 report, Malawi is responsible for 0.0 per cent of global emissions. Rich countries are responsible for three quarters.
  • 29 per cent of people in Malawi live in extreme poverty. Infant mortality is estimated at 134 per thousand. Between 800,000 and one million people are living with HIV. There were 70,000 AIDS-related deaths in 2007.
  • More than 90 per cent of the population of Malawi is engaged in subsistence-level rain-fed agriculture, and 60 per cent of these are food insecure on a year round basis.

Oxfam is a founder member of the 'tck tck tck' campaign. The campaign brings together an unprecedented alliance of faith groups, NGOs, trade unions and individuals. As world leaders prepare to strike a climate deal in Copenhagen in December, ‘tck tck tck’ aims to harness the voices of people from around the globe to demand an ambitious, fair and binding climate deal which reflects the latest science.

Oxfam is a member of the Stop Climate Chaos Coalition,

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