NIGERIA- Devastating floods, erosion, drought, desertification, hurricanes, and various other forms of natural disasters are here with us; and the sad reality is that it is reinforcing gender inequalities in no small measure. Climate change is making access to natural resources a delusion, and women are becoming helpless by the day, as they strive to adjust to changing climate realities. Majority of women in the rural areas remain ill informed and ill equipped to help themselves, their families and communities. They constitute the most vulnerable groups, in the face of climate induced adversities.
Recent months have been the hottest in my part of the world! Concerned by the jarring heat one sun-drenched afternoon, I couldn’t help but use the Google weather application on my phone to check out the day’s weather information. It was no surprise to see that the temperature was all high-120° Fahrenheit! I found the figure rather abnormal particularly because it was supposed to be the rainy season.
I grew up with an understanding that spring time in Nigeria starts in April and ends in October, while the Harmattan (Dry) season was expected to last from November to March. Of course, in recent times, the skies seem to have lost the power to shower the earth as at and when outght. It cannot be overstated that weather patterns, across the globe, have become very unpredictable in the face of climate change, traceable to man’s excesses. Speak of air pollution, deforestation, encroachment on flood plains, poor waste disposal practices etc.
The evidences of extreme weather conditions with damning consequences on man and the environment are now as plain as the nose on a man’s face. Discoveries from an ongoing socio-economic study, which I am anchoring in flood and erosion prone/affected and communities across Gombe Central Senatorial district, of Nigeria, remains eye opening; just as it unveils the tales of woe that have become the lot of the residents.
Many watercourses and vast areas of land have become silted and or gullied due to erosion and flooding. From Yamaltu to Ako Local government areas of Gombe State, the story is no different. Vast areas of land have been degraded and becoming unfit for human habitation; and as is often the case in disaster situations, the women are the worst affected.
While standing by the brim of a high spot overlooking the dangerously eroded and silted Dangaro River (which could now best be described as a very wide and deep gully during the dry season), my eyes became fastened on a human figure, obviously a woman, who was washing clothes in the dry riverbed. I couldn’t help but wonder what the source of water for her laundry was, becuase the paltry pool in sight was muddy brown.
As I was soon to find out when I got close to the woman who introduced herself as Hadiza, her source of water was a bucket-sized shallow hole she dug into a section of the dry watercourse cum gully. “This is where I collect water to meet my drinking, cooking and washing needs, particularly in the dry season; as the taps in our village seldom runs” she reveals. Hadiza, a household head who lives in Dangaro village with her children says that “collecting water from the dried up river is draining as it takes so much of her time and energy”.
Though the water appeared clean to my probing eyes, it definitely could not be void of contaminants, particularly as the entire grounds remains accessible to wandering animals and humans. Worst still households in the community rely on pit latrines, just as they also practice open defecation. It was no surprise that there were accounts of the outbreak of cholera and displacements in the community.
Binta, a housewife who also lives in Dangaro village is scared stiff that her home which has now become very close to the ever widening river Dangaro, may one day be swept away by flood waters. “The rainy season is here again and we have nowhere else to go” she laments.
Mr. Gamaliel Steven, an environmental expert linked the rising trend of flood and erosion situation in communities to the global climate change crisis, and acknowledges that "women in rural communities are not having it easy at all”. Citing an example of the situation in Dadinkowa community in Yamaltu Local Government Area, he informs me that “women in the community are crying out for help, as flood and erosion is disrupting their livelihoods and threatening their living areas.
Majority of the women in the community engage in subsistence farming and many have lost their vegetable farms and gardens to flooding and erosion. “Now that the rainy season is setting in, their worries are becoming heightened again” he adds.
Past efforts made to arrest the alarming spate of floods and erosion have failed. Nonetheless, hope beams as the government of the day is taking novel measures to help affected communities. Much as I am aware that work has started in earnest towards developing an ‘Ecological Master Plan’ for Gombe State, aimed at tackling identified threats, it has become pertinent to sound an alarm that- the voices of women in the affected communities must count throughout the entire process.
Women must be allowed full representation, participation and leadership in organized activities, as this is key to building ecological ingenuity, resilience and vibrancy in the communities. I am eager to see women’s needs, abilities and solutions prioritized in the drive towards reclaiming the climate and also restoring the environment. How about you?