Climate change: The gender perspective
LESOTHO is endowed with a lot of water sources. The vast high velds with natural vegetation dominate the country. Eightyfive percent of Lesotho’s population lives in the rural areas and of these, 70 percent depend on agriculture and livestock. The rural areas of the highly mountainous country, its high plateaus and steep slopes are populated with herd boys and girls. In the 1980s, rivers flowed with clean water. It was easy for the womenfolk to fetch water and it was also easy for livestock to drink because wetlands and small water sources popped up everywhere.
Vulnerability to Climate Change Lesotho is a typical example of a country considered highly vulnerable to climate-related challenges.
As one of the least developed countries, it is over-reliant on rain-fed agriculture for food production and has a large poor rural population engaged in undiversified subsistence farming.
Vulnerability in Lesotho is characterised by high population pressure on the available arable land and natural resources, fragile and substantially degraded soils, high levels of food insecurity and poverty and lack of infrastructure which impacts on the ability of the population to deal with severe weather conditions
In recent years Lesotho has been hit by waves of drought and floods, the El Nino of 2015-2016 and heavy rainfall in winter. Grazing lands have shrunk since the natural vegetation has been reduced. Water sources have either run dry or are yielding less water than before. Poor sanitation as well as mining activities in rural Lesotho pollutes rivers. A major fatal blow for the rural community of Lesotho is the diversion of water sources and rivers to implement the Lesotho Highlands Water Projects thereby leaving com- munities with fewer options for water for domestic use and livestock. Rivers that supply the LHWP have become property of LHWP because rights to their water have been acquired by the project. The communities that relied on these rivers have been deprived of their rights.
Climate change and violence against women and girls
It should be clearly understood that women and men will be differently affected by climate change and it is in that context that debates regarding gender perspectives and the involvement of women in addressing climate change have arisen. Men and women are differently vulnerable to climate change impacts due to existing inequalities such as their roles and positions in society. Access to resources and power relations affect women’s ability to respond to the effects of climate change.
Women in Lesotho, like all women in developing countries do most of the domestic work which unfortunately has been made even more difficult by the climate change. Their work in the fields to produce food for the fami-
the families require rain and enough water sources.
Women and girls now have to walk to further distances to fetch water. Since they also look after livestock, they have to take these with them to drink water and to graze.
This exposes them to violence such as rape, marriage by abduction and child marriage. They are also exposed to violent love proposals which sometimes results in unwanted pregnancies.
CONFLICT OVER NATURAL RESOURCES RANGELANDS — Lesotho is dominated by communal grazing systems. Due to over grazing, rangelands were classified as either in poor (25 percent) or in fair (75 percent) condition in 2001.
Future predictions of low and delayed rainfall under climate change implies a possible loss of nutritious grass varieties, with serious consequences for livestock productivity thereby weakening agricultural production by an average of 55 percent to 65 percent each year (Lesotho Meteorology 2001).
WATER SUPPLY — The rural Lesotho population is dependent on surface water. General Circulation Models (GCMS) predict that due to climate change, lower precipitation prediction is likely to result in a reduced surface and subsurface runoff.
This implies that at the current population growth rate and levels of service, stress levels in water supply could be reached earlier (Le- sotho Meteorology 2001).
It’s been over 10 years since the above predictions and now the effects are being seen. Rural Lesotho has witnessed many cases of conflict over resources.
As natural resources get depleted and the population grows, conflicts arise in Lesotho over mostly water and grazing lands.
Women and girls get caught up in these conflicts and tend to be victims as the outcomes of resolutions often leave them struggling for resources to keep families going.
Outcomes of conflict resolutions over resources are decisions made with the exclusion of women who are very much affected by such decisions. Such decisions are made by men.
To mention a few examples, in the Kao area in the rural part of Butha-buthe district, the villages of Ha Shishila and Halephatsoane have a conflict over range land.
The village of Liqhobong has a conflict with the Liqhobong mine which has diverted its water flow to another village called Motete both in rural Butha-buthe.
The Metolong water project is another example where Lesotho has experienced a conflict over resources. With this project, water has been diverted from water sources that sustained rural communities to supply Maseru.
During the El Nino-induced drought, Metolong communities and the other areas where Metolong water pipes pass through, broke these water pipes.
They had to fetch water somewhere as water sources were dry and community taps which are mostly supplied by natural water sources had no running water.
WHAT WILL HAPPEN IF TEMPERATURES RISE
ABOVE 1.5 DEGREES? Lesotho is a small country with little arable land. The arable land has been declining for five decades now. Figure 1 below shows the decline from 1962 to 2013. With rising temperatures, anything above 1.5 degrees will mean more topsy-turvy weather patterns which could result in loss of more arable land, rivers and underground water.
This means that poverty will remain the order of the day. While the United Nations is fighting child marriages, the by-product of climate change which is poverty will continue to drive more and more families to marry off their children to reduce their burdens of supporting them.
The government of Lesotho has responded to climate change but has left out the gender perspective in the matter. The following are efforts made by government towards mitigating the effects of climate change:
(1) In line with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) guidelines Lesotho has prepared a National
Adaptation of Programme of Action (NAPA) to respond to the immediate needs of addressing the country’s vulnerability to climate change
(2) Through the National Adaptation Programme of Action, a number of programmes in agriculture, water and sanitation, health and land use and forestry which were designed to reduce the harsh effects of climate change on Basotho have been found to be appropriate measures as the country moves towards adaptation to the impacts of climate change.
It is sad that poor developing countries which joined the industrialisation bandwagon not too long ago are suffering and actually making an effort to reverse the harm caused by developed countries over the years.
Perhaps it is easy for poor countries like Lesotho to catch on fast on the information about climate change. It may be easy for them because they depend on these resources that are depleting for survival.
It may be easy for them to attempt to address the situation because they see their sources of life dying and they are seeking for answers as to why this is happening.
But for those who have done the greatest damage to the environment it may be unimportant to worry because they are rich and can invent and buy any technology to sustain their lives.
But for the sake of those who cannot afford expensive lifestyles, for the sake of women and girls who are also working towards bettering their lives and for the sake of the diversity of the world…save the planet.
Villager fetching water from broken water pipe.