Climate change is happening now, and is threatening the poorest women and children in society. Before our governments meet in Paris this November, it’s up to us to act, and hold them to account.
To say climate change is one of the biggest challenges facing women and children living in poverty today, is an understatement. Countries like Bangladesh are at the receiving end. We see women and children already living in poverty losing whatever little resources they had, frequently being threatened by the next disaster. Even before they can overcome one storm, the next one is around the corner.
Amina: "I don't want to go into the water but I have to."
For girls, it's often their futures that are at stake. In climate disasters, girls are likely to drop out of school, and are often pressured to marry young.
We met Amina, aged 12, who fishes every day to feed her family of nine. Although she goes to school and has ambitions to work, her parents talk about arranging a marriage to ease the financial strain.
Yet despite the deep challenges, we work with women every day who are tirelessly campaigning to ensure the safety of local people and build the resilience of their communities.
Taslima: "My livelihoods were destroyed in an instant."
Taslima, 35, is a single mum living right on the edge of a river embankment with her five children. She cannot grow crops there, and storms have destroyed her home twice. Just like Amina, Taslima's daughter has to fish with heavy nets so the rest of the family doesn't starve. She says: “When my children say they are hungry, my heart stings. I try to console them… sometimes I get a loan of rice from my neighbours.”
Her story is not uncommon. With women largely responsible for their households, research shows that climate change is more likely to adversely affect women than men.
Sabita: "We helped people feel less scared about the storm."
Sabita, 38, was trained by ActionAid to be an emergency response leader in her village. During Cyclone Mahasen in 2013, she worked with other women to assist 500 people to find shelter. The death toll of that storm was just 17, compared to 3,500 in Cyclone Sidr, which Sabita believes was largely down to their evacuation effort.
She says, "Men would rush to someone's house and harshly say 'you need to get to the shelter now'. This can cause people to get scared and lose courage. We went to people's houses and explained to them that the storm was coming. We asked, 'Will you be able to get to the shelter alone? How can we help you?’ This way they felt encouraged and less scared about the storm."
Helping people to respond to climate change
Working with women like Sabita, we’re not only improving the way villages respond to emergencies, we’re also leading the way in helping people to protect their lives and livelihoods. In the village of Faridpur, we have built a village 2.5ft above the highest recorded flood levels. In the five years since it was built, it has stood firm against storm surges, floods and cyclones. This village, its construction and projects have been adopted by the Bangladeshi government as best practice. However, a date has yet to be set for when the government will start to construct similar villages.
And this is just the start. People in Bangladesh and other countries affected by climate change urgently need more help to adapt. When world leaders meet in Paris at the end of November for crucial climate talks, the new deal has to be for the people across the globe who are living in poverty.
What you can do
It is not just world leaders we are calling on. Everyone, everywhere must take action. We need to combat this problem together, and hold our governments accountable.
March with ActionAid on 29 November in solidarity with all those facing the real and dangerous threat of climate change. Whatever world leaders decide, the change will come from below. Paris is not the end of the road but a beginning.
Photos: Mahmud /MAP/ActionAid