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Drought-hit women struggle as "compassion" runs dry at climate talks

by Megan Rowling | @meganrowling | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Saturday, 19 November 2016 17:18 GMT

Zimbabwean women harvest maize from a field in a peri-urban suburb of Mabvuku in Harare, April 10, 2014. REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo

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Too little support through worst drought in decades means women and girls are selling sex for food to survive, CARE says

By Megan Rowling

MARRAKESH, Morocco, Nov 19 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - In southern Mozambique, women and girls are struggling to cope with a two-year drought, the worst in 35 years, and are resorting to survival tactics such as eating less and selling sex for food or money, aid group CARE International says.

Women in Inhambane province are spending up to six hours a day in search of water, three times as much as before the drought, which was made worse by a strong El Niño climate pattern, according to research by CARE, issued at the U.N. climate talks in Morocco this week.

And with four-fifths of families forced to cut meals to just one or two daily rations, tens of thousands of children in the southeast African nation are expected to be acutely malnourished.

Teenage girls are particularly at risk, the agency said, because they lack the knowledge to protect themselves and their children from hunger.

"We found that girls as young as 11 or 12 years have been lured away from water collection points by older men in exchange for food stocks or money. Some of the girls discover later that they are pregnant and are consequently stigmatised by the community and family," said Marc Nosbach, CARE's Mozambique director.

The charity argues the increasingly "destitute" situation of women and girls like these is why rich countries should cough up more funding to help hard-hit communities adjust to extreme weather and longer-term climate change.

But the response to the call by CARE and other humanitarian groups at the Marrakesh talks fell short, they said.

A decision adopted at the conference late on Friday urged donor countries to continue increasing finance for climate action in developing states towards a promised $100 billion a year by 2020.

Donors should also reinforce efforts to channel "a substantial share" of government climate funding into adaptation measures, it added.

Development workers say this money is desperately needed to protect the lives and incomes of poor people in the face of worsening droughts, floods, storms and rising seas as the planet heats up.

Rich governments have stumped up barely $10 billion a year targeted at helping those people adjust, while estimated needs run into tens of billions of dollars - and are rising fast.

But the Marrakesh meeting failed to set targets that would lead to adequate amounts of cash flowing to support those on the frontlines of climate change, experts said.

Isabel Kreisler, who leads Oxfam International's climate change policy, noted "a stubborn refusal from developed country ministers and negotiators to fill the adaptation finance gap".

"Adaptation finance is not just an abstract numbers game. It's about providing women farmers in Africa with seeds to plant drought-resistant crops and feed their families," she said.

CARE said those who have participated in its programmes introducing new cultivation practices, better seeds and alternative ways of earning a living were far better prepared to manage lean months.


The Marrakesh conference yielded some positive news, with the Adaptation Fund - which backs resilience projects in developing states - receiving around $81 million in fresh contributions and securing its future under the new Paris Agreement on climate change, subject to future decisions on how it will operate.

There was also consensus among governments that efforts must be stepped up to boost money for adaptation and ensure it is spent effectively, even if there was no agreement on concrete ways to do that.

Moroccan Foreign Minister Salaheddine Mezouar, who presided over the Marrakesh talks, said the magnitude of climate impacts means "turning billions into trillions is indispensable".

"2017 must be the year of large-scale projects, of mobilising finance, and accessing financial facilities that will be necessary for adaptation," he said in a statement on Saturday.

That could include initiatives such as "Climate Risk and Early Warning Systems" (CREWS), a donor partnership led by France. It announced $12 million in funding for Mali, Burkina Faso, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Pacific island developing states to improve their alerting systems and forecast services.

Another large programme which received new donations in Morocco, is "InsuResilience", led by G7 nations. It aims to increase the number of poor people with insurance coverage against climate-related hazards by up to 400 million by 2020.


But Teresa Anderson, a climate policy expert with ActionAid International, said the world was ignoring a major weather and climate-related humanitarian emergency unfolding right now.

Over 400 million people have been affected this year by droughts caused by El Niño, from southern Africa to Ethiopia, Brazil and Vietnam, ActionAid said in a report issued in Marrakesh. Relief agencies face a funding gap of $3.1 billion to meet basic needs, it said.

"Women are missing meals and are walking hours every day to find water. Girls are dropping out of school, and child marriages are on the rise. In some countries, women are resorting to sex work to feed their families," said Anderson.

"Governments that promised climate compassion in Paris (in 2015) have apparently turned their backs on an actual global climate crisis," she added.

(Reporting by Megan Rowling @meganrowling; editing by Laurie Goering. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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