Climate Change and Mothers' Health

The climate of the world is changing. The climate change or climate shift has started showing its colors both on geo-diversity and biodiversity. While most of the reports pertain to changes in biodiversity and its impact on the availability of food, air and water for the mankind, very few try to comment upon the impact on geo-diversity. We should not forget that the geo-diversity is the cradle of biodiversity and any impact on the former will certainly affect the later too. 

Today we shall peep in to the impact of natural hazards on the mankind, especially the women. Mothers need a special care because a healthy mother means a healthy child. A healthy child is the future of a nation.

The frequency and extent of natural hazards seems to have increased as per the daily reports pouring in the newspapers from around the world. Some of the events turn out to be disastrous, for example, the recent floods in the Kosi River and hopscotch by the River millions of people have been affected by the floods.

The weather-men expect more incidents of freak weather, storms, cyclones and unexpected rains. More rains mean more water in the rivers and more floods. We have constructed bunds to make our rivers flood-proof. For the might of a river these bunds are like sieves-is there a point trying to contain the stream within its channel with a sieve? Similarly earthquakes and landslides seem to have become more killers than earlier! Is it because the incidents have increased in the recent years or the reason is elsewhere?

In a developing and densely packed country like ours the natural hazards become more threatening and devastating because a larger chunk of population is exposed in each event. 

The environmentalists forewarn of climate change and the specter of Global Warming looming large over the Planet. Instead of going in to the alarming reports of possibilities submergence of vast areas along the Indian coasts, we will try to look in to the possibilities of Climate change and its aftermath. We will also try to find out, that in a developing nation like ours, who is going to be most affected by the vagaries of weather.

Climate change is an innate process of the earth's environment. If we turn the pages of the earth's history we find that the process has been going on since the earth came in to being. It was some 4600 million years ago our planet was born after a gaseous Nebula, whirling in the Space cooled down and gradually a crust was formed. This planet, the Earth at the time of birth was shrouded in an envelope of Carbon Dioxide. The quantity of Carbon Dioxide in the earth's atmosphere controlled the temperature of the earth. 

The 'fireball' earth as it cooled down reached a stage some 2.7 to 2.3 billion years ago that the entire landmass of the earth was covered under ice. Likewise 850 to 630 million years ago the planet was once again enveloped by ice leading to a 'snowball' earth. The frozen earth was 'warmed' probably by the Carbon dioxide released by the volcanic eruptions! There were minor ice ages between 460 to 430 million years ago and 350 to 260 million years ago. The latest ice age started some 2.58 million years ago and ended around 10000 years ago. 

The period between the two ice ages has been a period of warming. Incidentally since the termination of the recent (as per geological terminology!) ice age some 10000 years ago we are living in a 'hot house earth' or green house earth. In this kind of environment the solar radiation is trapped inside the 'shroud' of Carbon Dioxide and other green house gases around the earth.

Evidences from fossil pollen and spores of the past indicate that two episodes of green house state left an indelible mark on vegetation of the earth. The first of these two started some 500 million years ago and lasted for 145 million years and the next one started some 230 million years ago and lasted for 130 million years.

Presently we are bothered by the possibilities of the warmth of the earth reaching a stage beyond our tolerance. But we should always keep in mind that for living beings in general, cold spells death and warmth means life. Earth's history has proved beyond doubt that living beings proliferated only during the warm phases.

With this background the question arises if the warmth of the earth's air is congenial for life, then why are we bothered about the health of the mothers? 

It is mainly because the climate shifts of the past, before the advent of the man on this Planet did not affect him. The climate shift brings with it unprecedented disasters in the form of droughts, floods, vector borne diseases, drinking water scarcity, storms, cyclones etc. With the population bursting at seams the problem is compounded and the humans have to face the nature's ire.

Amongst the human race the worst affected are the mothers and the children of villages and small towns of a developing country like India. They are the ones who are exposed maximum to the vagaries of the Nature.

That is why the concern for the health of the mother. 

In order to combat the impact of climate change on biodiversity the United Nations has set Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The basic objective of the MDGs is to remove poverty and hunger by the year 2015. Amongst these, MDG 5 pertains to the improvement of maternal health. It aims to reduce by three quarters the ratio of maternal mortality. In other words it aims at healthy mother means a healthy child.

It is necessary to know and make the masses aware about the possible impacts of climate shift without causing a panic. For example, it is now established that pre-monsoon showers may be more intense and longer lasting than earlier. This year's rainfall pattern on considerable parts of India has shown that a ground already soaked with pre-monsoon showers is more prone to flooding. Secondly these showers accelerate the process of erosion in the Himalayan region, causing the rivers to carry more load of silt. Already silted river beds are further loaded which lead to greater floods-the floods in Kosi, Ganga and Gomti Rivers of 2008 are a pointer to this observation. Incidentally, these rivers flow through densely populated areas. In order to save the population, the rivers have been 'jacketed' in the populated stretches. At such places rivers have only two options, either to leave their load and forge ahead or to break the walls of the embankments. Kosi did it leading to millions being affected. The flooded areas of these rivers in Bihar and U.P are now facing the brunt of vector borne and water borne diseases. Naturally women and children are the worst victims of such condition.

Long term plans are required to save these unfortunate mothers from the vagaries of climate. A massive awareness programme is required to make people understand the need to vacate their houses and shift to safer areas. Safe lands have to be identified to house the masses in the eventuality of disasters as floods. In short pre-disaster mitigation is vital, than wait for the disaster and rescue people.

The ambit of MDG 5 is large. It not only aims at saving the mothers from disasters but also takes care of their feeding, health and immunization programmes as well. It is however, imperative that there are matters within the purview of the governments but still there are issues which have to be tackled by an informed society only. For example, by educating the masses about the importance of drains to remove stagnant water and choked drains and ditches, vector borne diseases can be put at bay. Similarly by providing proper clothing which covers the arms and the feet to children and mothers of areas prone to vector borne diseases, can save many a lives from malaria, chikunguniya and cerebral malaria. 

Droughts are another scourge for hunger and malaise in the developing world. Droughts are also linked with climate change. The parched earth leaves a trail of hunger and death. With the passage of time, village dwellers have forgotten the importance of water harvesting and storing water for the dry days. Similarly water intensive crops usurp much of groundwater, causing drinking water shortage and women have to trudge miles to fetch water for the family. Merely providing water at door step through taps is not going to solve the problem because the resources are limited. Since women are the managers of water and food at home, it is time that they are taught about the significance of water harvesting and conservation of water through audio-visual aids and posters.

In order to educate/motivate a large number of uneducated people lots of funds are required. The fund provider is the government. It takes a strong political will to give priority to a sector involving masses and mothers of future of the country. Alas, a UN report gives a bleak picture about such a will on part of our mentors. The report says, the Union Budget of India this year has merely a 15% increase in allocation for health, which is significantly less than the increases implemented in the last fiscal to the effect of 24%. 

The scenario is bleak all over the globe. Nearly six million new born and mothers perish every year. Their only fault is that they are poor. UN is quite concerned about the issue and lots of steps are being taken everywhere.

Climate shift is inevitable, so will be the floods, thunder storms, cyclones and droughts. How long the humanity will go on sacrificing their mothers? How long many a lives will be extinguished before seeing the light of the day? These are the questions I leave to my readers to think and find solutions.  


More by :  V. K. Joshi (Bijji)

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