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ENVIRONMENT: UN Skips Gender Perspective in Climate Change

Thalif Deen

UNITED NATIONS, Aug 2 2007 (IPS) - When the United Nations concluded a two-day debate Thursday on the potential devastation from climate change, it covered a lot of territory: deforestation, desertification, greenhouse gases, renewable energy sources, biofuels and sustainable development.

But one thing the debate lacked, June Zeitlin executive director of the New York-based Women&#39s Environment and Development Organisation (WEDO) told IPS, was a gender perspective.

"Women and children are 14 times more likely to die than men are during a disaster," she said.

In the 2004 Asian Tsunami, 70 to 80 percent of overall deaths were women. And in the 1991 cyclone disasters that killed 140,000 in Bangladesh, 90 percent of victims were women.

"Similarly in industrialised countries, more women than men died during the 2003 European heat wave," Zeitlin told a panel discussion Tuesday, in advance of a first-ever thematic General Assembly debate devoted exclusively to climate change.

She also said that following the August 2005 Hurricane Katrina in the United States, African-American women who were the poorest population in some of the affected states of Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi faced the greatest obstacles to survival.

She argued that women make up the majority of the world&#39s poor, and in particular the world&#39s rural poor, and are largely responsible for securing food, water and energy for cooking and heating.

"These statistics beg the question: Why? And what can we learn from this to fashion more effective solutions to the climate change crisis," Zeitlin said.

She told IPS that she was the only one at the panel discussion to provide a gender perspective about the crisis at hand.

Over 120 of the U.N. member states addressed the Assembly Wednesday on a subject which Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says should be tackled "head-on."

"I am convinced that this challenge, and what we do about it, will define us, our era and, ultimately our global legacy," he told delegates.

"We cannot continue with business as usual," he noted, "The time has come for decisive action on a global scale."

Speaking on behalf of the 130 developing nations of the Group of 77, Pakistan&#39s Minister for Environment Mukhdoom Faisal Saleh Hayat said climate change poses serious risks and challenges, particularly to developing countries.

Therefore, he said, the present crisis demands urgent global action and response.

"We are concerned about the fact that adverse effects of climate change and the associated phenomena, including sea level rise and the increase in frequency and intensity of hurricanes, cyclones, floods and other weather patterns, as well as de-glaciation, drought and desertification, threaten the sustainable development, livelihoods and the very existence of many developing countries."

He particularly singled out countries in Africa, the 50 least developed countries, the land-locked developing countries and disaster prone developing countries.

The minister said that in order to enable developing countries to pursue sustainable development and to address the challenges posed by climate change, developed countries should provide adequate new and additional financing to support developing countries in their efforts to adapt to climate change and the response measures designed to address climate change.

He also called for the transfer of technology to developing countries, including through improved financial instruments and mechanisms.

And most important of all, he said, industrial nations should implement their commitments made at various U.N. summits and conferences – since the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio – relating to economic and social development and environmental sustainability.

Meanwhile, in a report released here on "Energy and Gender", the Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organisation said women have been largely absent in the decision-making process, and their roles in environmental management are often overlooked.

"There has been little reference to gender in the international climate change discussions," the study said.

Zeitlin of the Women&#39s Environment and Development Organisation said women have always been leaders in community revitalisation and natural resource management.

"Yet women are so often barred from the public sphere and thus absent from local, national and international decision-making related to natural disasters and adaptation."

There are plenty of examples where women&#39s participation has been critical to community survival.

In Honduras, she said, La Masica was the only community to register no deaths in the wake of Hurricane Mitch in Central America in 1998 due to an early warning system operated by women in the community.

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