Bangladesh Plans to Launch Toll-free SMS Flood Warning

Farmers in Bangladesh would welcome an early warning system that does not rely on smartphones. Authorities and devising an SMS service after devastating floods killed many people and destroyed harvests. Credit: Rafiqul Islam/IPS

Farmers in Bangladesh would welcome an early warning system that does not rely on smartphones. Authorities and devising an SMS service after devastating floods killed many people and destroyed harvests. Credit: Rafiqul Islam/IPS

By Rafiqul Islam
DHAKA, Aug 1 2022 – Ziaur Rahman, a farmer of Pakuar Char under Sariakandi Upazila in Bogura, cultivated jute on a newly emerged river island (char) in the Brahmaputra River, but this year’s flood washed away his crop.

“Flood is very common in the char areas during the monsoon. Despite that, I sowed jute seeds on the char. This year, the flood hit our locality too early, damaging my jute field,” he said.

Ziaur said his jute field was almost mature and could have been harvested within a couple of weeks, but the sudden deluge damaged it.

“I did not get flood forecast in time, and that was why I failed to harvest jutes, incurring a heavy loss this year,” he said.

Like Zillur, many farmers lost their crops to the devastating flood that swept Bangladesh’s northeast and northwestern regions in June this year.

According to Bangladesh Agriculture Minister Dr Abdur Razzaque, floods damaged Aus (a type of rice) paddies of around 56,000 hectares across the country this year.

The Flood Forecasting and Warning Centre (FFWC) under Bangladesh Water Development Board (BWDB) issues daily flood bulletins and warnings, but the people living in remote and vulnerable areas hardly benefit because they do not have the proper technology.

Under the digital flood forecasting and warning system introduced in 2021, the FFWC issues flood warnings to the people living in flood-prone areas through ‘Google push notifications’ three days to three hours before a flood hits.

To receive flood warnings, people need an android mobile phone. The notifications are sent to these devices through a Google alert between three days and three hours before the onset of a flood, depending on the system’s predictive capacity.

BWDB, in collaboration with tech-giant Google and Bangladesh Red Crescent Society, developed the system, which is now functional in the 55 districts of the country.

Sarder Udoy Raihan, an FFWC sub-divisional engineer, said the BWBD has available data on floods and sends those to Google.

Google improved flood mapping using its topographical data and sends ‘push flood notifications’ to those living in flood-prone areas.

While this system has been helpful, many people living in remote chars and flood-prone areas do not have access to smartphones and the internet, so they don’t receive digital flood warnings.

BWDB has decided to launch a toll-free SMS service containing flood-related messages and information, said officials at BWDB.

The BWDB, a2i, Google, International Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies have already started a collaboration to reach the flood warnings and information at the doorsteps of the people living in the country’s flood-prone areas through toll-free mobile SMS service. This will enable them to take measures to protect their properties before a flood hits.

FFWC executive engineer Arifuzzaman Bhuyan said talks continue with the stakeholders concerned, including Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC), to introduce the SMS service.

“Introduction of the SMS flood alert service depends on the BTRC as there is an issue of cost involvement,” he said, hoping that the BWDB would be able to launch the SMS service in the next season.

Once the toll-free SMS service is introduced, mobile phone users living in flood zones will be identified using their cellphone tower ping, and SMS will be sent to them containing information on the rise or fall of river water level, severity of flood and details of the nearest shelter.

Raihan said it would be possible to send around 36 million SMS per year through mobile phone operators if flood warnings could be sent to people through SMS.

Sardar Mohammad Shah-Newaz, a former director of Flood Division at Dhaka-based think tank, Institute of Water Modelling (IWM), said if the flood forecast were not appropriately disseminated to those living in flood-prone areas, it wouldn’t help.

“Almost all people of the country use mobile phones. If the flood warnings could reach the people living in flood-prone zones through toll-free mobile SMS, they would be able to take precautionary measures to save their properties and minimise their loss and damage to this end,” he said.

Suggesting automation of the flood forecasting system in Bangladesh, Shah-Newaz said the BWDB could introduce the SMS service, and it should launch the service as soon as possible.

Deluge is a common phenomenon in Bangladesh. During every monsoon, flood hits different parts of the country, causing a huge loss of lives and assets.

Due to heavy precipitation upstream in India’s northeast states, Bangladesh experienced devastating floods in its northwestern districts and Sylhet division, leaving millions of people stranded and triggering a humanitarian crisis.

According to the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS), the death toll from this year’s floods has reached 123 in the country. The total deaths were recorded from May 17 to July 17 in 2022.

Of the total deceased, 69 people died in Sylhet, while 41 in Mymensingh, 12 in Rangpur and one in Dhaka.

IPS UN Bureau Report


!function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0],p=/^http:/.test(d.location)?’http’:’https’;if(!d.getElementById(id)){js=d.createElement(s);;js.src=p+’://’;fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js,fjs);}}(document, ‘script’, ‘twitter-wjs’);  

AOP Health Starts Research for Leukemia Treatment

VIENNA, Austria, Aug. 01, 2022 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — The AOP Health Group (AOP Health) is a European pioneer for integrated therapies for rare diseases and in critical care headquartered in Vienna, Austria. The company focuses on research, development and global sales of innovative treatment solutions and specializes in therapies for rare diseases and intensive care. In early July, AOP Health signed an agreement with Leukos Biotech, a spin–off company founded by the Barcelona–based Josep Carreras Leukaemia Research Institute. The agreement signed by AOP Health covers the option for developments of the newly discovered chemical substance within any treatable indication, not limited to oncological or rare diseases.

Agreement sets basis for new areas of therapy

At first, AOP Health will focus on the development of treatment options for Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML) and Myelodysplastic Syndrome (MDS). Both are special disease types of leukemia that often start in the bone marrow. Agnes Kohl, Chief Business Officer of AOP Orphan Pharmaceuticals GmbH, Member of the AOP Health Group explains: "Based on positive data, our plan is to expand the development for further orphan indications even outside of AML and MDS at a later stage. With this agreement, we may be able to broaden the portfolio within our therapeutic areas offering even more treatment options for patients."

Development in cooperation with Leukos

As AOP Health focuses on rare, hemato–oncological cancers and has many years of experience in the development and commercialization of hemato–oncological treatments, the company will drive the further development of the substance in cooperation with Leukos based on a new mode of action. This could potentially turn into a milestone in the treatment of many blood cancer and other cancer patients. Luis Ruiz–Avila, Chief Executive Officer of Leukos Biotech: "We focus on developing new treatments for a wide variety of tumors. We were born to transform excellent science from the Josep Carreras Leukaemia Research Institute into valuable products for cancer patients in need, and this agreement is a very significant step in that direction. We are convinced that AOP Health is the right partner to turn this promising, novel mechanism of action into a clinical reality for the benefit of patients in a wide variety of unmet medical needs".

About AOP Health

The AOP Health Group incorporates several companies including AOP Orphan Pharmaceuticals GmbH with its seat in Vienna, Austria ("AOP Health"). The AOP Health Group is the European pioneer for integrated therapies for rare diseases and in critical care. Over the past 25 years, the Group has become an established provider of integrated therapy solutions operating from its headquarters in Vienna, its subsidiaries and representative offices throughout Europe and the Middle East, as well as through partners worldwide. This development has been made possible by a continually high level of investment in research and development on the one hand and a highly consistent and pragmatic orientation towards the needs of all its stakeholders on the other "" especially the patients and their families as well as also the healthcare professionals treating them.

About Leukos

Leukos Biotech, SL (Leukos) is a spin–off company from the Josep Carreras Leukaemia Research Institute incorporated in Barcelona in 2015. The company is developing new treatments and diagnostic tools for a wide variety of tumors targeting the serotonin receptor HTR1B, which antitumoral potential was first described and patented by Leukos' founder Dr. Ruth Risueo in her laboratory at the Josep Carreras Research Institute. Leukos' main financial support is from private and institutional investors. The main shareholders are Inveready, CDTI Innvierte and the Josep Carreras Foundation. Besides investors' support, Leukos has received non–dilutive grants and loans from the Catalan Government, the Spanish Government and the European Union in various programs.

About the Josep Carreras Foundation

The Josep Carreras Leukaemia Foundation was established in 1988 with the intention of contributing to finding a definitive cure for this disease. Its efforts are concentrated on four basic areas: administering the Spanish Bone Marrow Donor Registry (REDMO), scientific research, carried out by the Josep Carreras Leukaemia Research Institute, patient guidance through an online patient consultation channel, and reception apartments for patients who need to undergo treatment and have to spend a long time far from home.

About the Josep Carreras Leukaemia Research Institute

The Josep Carreras Leukaemia Research Institute, a public centre pertaining to the Generalitat de Catalunya's CERCA network, was established in 2010 with the aim of furthering biomedical research and personalised medicine in the field of leukaemia and other onco–hematological diseases. It is the first research centre in Europe exclusively focussed on leukaemia and malignant blood diseases, and one of the very few in the world. The Josep Carreras Institutes has three coordinated but independent scientific campuses: University of Barcelona Hospital Clnic Campus, The Catalan Institute of Oncology/Germans Trias i Pujol Campus, and the Sant Pau – Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB) Campus

About Inveready

Inveready is a leading alternative asset manager in Spain – investing in early–stage VC, growth VC, venture debt, strategic equity in listed companies, infrastructure and private equity – providing financing solutions to companies throughout their life–cycle. Founded in 2008, Inveready counts on 200 active companies, and more than 1bn of assets under management. Inveready has been investing in companies in the Life Sciences sector since 2008. Notable investments in this vertical are Atrys Health (listed on the Spanish market), EDESA Biotech (listed on Nasdaq), AVX Pharma (sold to Aerie Biotech) and PaloBiofarma (licensing agreement with Novartis). Inveready is headquartered in San Sebastian, and has other offices in Barcelona and Madrid. It has been recognized on multiple occasions by ASCRI and Preqin for the return on its funds and transactions (For more information, visit

Mag Nina Roth, MAS

AOP Health
Needs. Science. Trust.

AOP Orphan Pharmaceuticals GmbH
Member of the AOP Health Group

Leopold–Ungar–Platz 2, 1190 Vienna, Austria

Photos accompanying this announcement are available at–dbfc–4165–854b–63345d24a713–91da–4609–8570–2e9a1012c392

Introducing Hope Over Fate: the Story of Sir Fazle Hasan Abed and BRAC

Sir Fazle Hasan Abed, the founder of BRAC and “one of the unsung heroes of modern times,” according to Nicholas Kristof of The New York Times, authorized his own biography before dying of brain cancer in 2019. Author Scott MacMillan wrote Hope Over Fate based on hundreds of hours of interviews with Abed and his friends, family and co-workers. Credit: courtesy of BRAC

By Scott MacMillan
Redding Conn, USA, Aug 1 2022 – About seven years ago, I started working on a project with Sir Fazle Hasan Abed, the founder of BRAC. It was originally supposed to be a memoir: the story of Abed, the mild-mannered accountant who would rid the world of poverty, as told by the man himself. I was privileged to be Abed’s speechwriter for the last several years of his life, and I would sit for hours listening to stories from his remarkable life: of his boyhood in British India, his love life in London in the 1960s, his three marriages, and how, in 1972, with a few thousand pounds from the sale of his flat in Camden, he launched a small nonprofit organization to aid refugees, originally called the Bangladesh Rehabilitation Assistance Committee. Many people would go on to call BRAC, which Abed led until his death in 2019, the world’s most effective anti-poverty organization.

That seemed like a story worth telling in full, and after some coaxing, Abed gave me permission to begin ghostwriting his autobiography. He was an exceptionally private person, however, and cringed at anything with a whiff of self-promotion. “You have me pontificating!” he once scolded me after an early draft of one speech.

I was about halfway done with his memoir when he told me to stop. The story, as I had written it, did not feel right coming from him. He much preferred to let BRAC’s work speak for itself—which may explain why so few people outside his native Bangladesh knew who he was or the magnitude of what he had accomplished.

Abed eventually came around to the idea that his story needed to be told by someone, even if it would not ultimately be him. He asked that I use the material I had gathered to write the book myself, in my own words—which I did, even knowing that many of those words would fall short of the task. The book, Hope Over Fate: Fazle Hasan Abed and the Science of Ending Global Poverty, is released today by Rowman & Littlefield.

An accountant’s story

Abed told stories, but he was not a good storyteller in the typical sense. He did not sprinkle his speeches with anecdotes of the “ordinary” people he had met, as politicians sometimes do. He was an accountant, and for him, numbers told stories.

So here is the story he would tell of his native Bangladesh—no names or faces, just a chorus of statistics. At the moment of its independence in 1971, Bangladesh was the world’s second-poorest country, with a per capita GDP of less than $100, a nation of sixty-six million living on a patch of flood-prone land the size of Iowa. One in four children died before their fifth birthday. As late as 1990, the country still had one of the highest maternal mortality rates, at 574 per 100,000.

Sir Fazle Hasan Abed in his later years, visiting a BRAC school. Credit: courtesy of BRAC

In the 1990s, however, things began to change, rapidly and almost miraculously. Quality of life improved at a historically unprecedented rate. By 2013, under-five mortality had plummeted to just 40 per 1,000 live birthdays; maternal mortality had dropped similarly. These and other changes constituted “some of the biggest gains in the basic condition of people’s lives ever seen anywhere,” according to The Economist.

People standing up for themselves

What happened? Abed’s work had much to do with it. BRAC trained and mobilized people, giving them a sense of self-worth that many had never felt before. They began standing up for themselves against landlords, corrupt government officials, and imams opposed to women’s rights. Often, he found what people really needed was hope—a sense that, with a modicum of outside help, their fate could be in their own hands.

His methods were varied and novel. Incentive-based training gave health information to mothers so they could save their own children’s lives. Women took small loans from BRAC to buy cows and handlooms, the first time they had owned anything of substance. Since they had nowhere to sell the milk and fabric they produced, Abed built up the dairy and textile industries by launching enterprises that bought the women’s goods. These enterprises, owned by BRAC, turned out to be profitable, so he plowed the money back into the poverty programs. Abed also launched fifty thousand schools, plus a commercial bank and a university. BRAC now likely reaches more than one hundred million people in about a dozen countries in Africa and Asia. No other nonprofit or social enterprise has reached such scale.

Yet Abed was no ascetic, self-abnegating Gandhi. He left the office at a reasonable hour and enjoyed coming home to the comforts of domestic life, to the sound of family and the warm smell of spices from the kitchen. Twice a widower, he told me of his loneliness between his marriages, and how, despite his preoccupation with work, he found it hard to return to an empty house.

The science of hope

How, then, did he do it? Remarkably, Abed would sometimes say that BRAC had done relatively little to help Bangladesh rise from the ranks of one of the poorest nations on earth. It merely created the enabling conditions: it was the poor themselves, especially women, who worked tirelessly, once those conditions were in place, to change the conditions of their lives.

I suspect this is why he thought his own story did not deserve so much attention, especially compared to the millions of women who had long labored on the fringes of society, who would one day, in his words, “be their own actors in history, and write their own stories of triumph over adversity.”

So this is the biography of a man, yes, but it is also the biography of an idea—the idea that hope itself has the power to overcome poverty. Near the end of his life, Abed spoke of “the science of hope”—the study and practice of giving people a sense of control over their own lives. “For too long, people thought poverty was something ordained by a higher power, as immutable as the sun and the moon,” he wrote in 2018. His life’s mission was to put that myth to rest, which is why the story of Abed is the story of the triumph of hope over fate.

Scott MacMillan is the author of the Hope Over Fate: Fazle Hasan Abed and the Science of Ending Global Poverty (Rowman & Littlefield), from which this is adapted.
This excerpt is adapted by permission of the publisher. The book is available now from major retailers.

IPS UN Bureau


!function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0],p=/^http:/.test(d.location)?’http’:’https’;if(!d.getElementById(id)){js=d.createElement(s);;js.src=p+’://’;fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js,fjs);}}(document, ‘script’, ‘twitter-wjs’);  

Salvadoran Farmers Learn Agricultural Practices to Adapt to Climate Change

Farmer Luis Edgardo Pérez kneels next to a loquat (Eriobotrya japonica) seedling which he just planted using one of the climate-resilient techniques he has learned to retain rainwater and prevent it from being wasted as runoff on his steep terrain in the Hacienda Vieja canton in central El Salvador. CREDIT: Gabriela Carranza/IPS

Farmer Luis Edgardo Pérez kneels next to a loquat (Eriobotrya japonica) seedling which he just planted using one of the climate-resilient techniques he has learned to retain rainwater and prevent it from being wasted as runoff on his steep terrain in the Hacienda Vieja canton in central El Salvador. CREDIT: Gabriela Carranza/IPS

By Edgardo Ayala
SAN PEDRO NONUALCO, El Salvador , Aug 1 2022 – With the satisfaction of knowing he was doing something good for himself and the planet, Salvadoran farmer Luis Edgardo Pérez set out to plant a fruit tree on the steepest part of his plot, applying climate change adaptation techniques to retain water.

This is vital for Pérez because of the steep slope of his land, where rainwater used to be wasted as runoff, as it ran downhill and his crops did not thrive.

Before planting the loquat (Eriobotrya japonica) tree, Pérez had previously cut part of the slope to create a small flat circular space to plant it.

This technique is called “individual terraces” and seeks to retain rainwater at the foot of the tree. He has done the same thing with the new citrus trees planted on his small farm.

He learned this technique since he joined a national effort, promoted by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), to make farmers resilient to the impacts of climate change.

“In three years this loquat tree will be giving me fruit,” the 50-year-old farmer from the Hacienda Vieja canton in the municipality of San Pedro Nonualco, in the central Salvadoran department of La Paz, told IPS, smiling and perspiring as he stood next to the newly planted tree.

San Pedro Nonualco is one of 114 Salvadoran municipalities located in the so-called Central American Dry Corridor, a strip of land that covers 35 percent of Central America and is home to more than 10.5 million people, whose food security is threatened by inconsistent rainfall cycles that make farming difficult.

The Reclima Project is the name of the program implemented by FAO and financed with 35.8 million dollars from the Green Climate Fund (GCF), which supports climate change mitigation and adaptation in the developing South. The Salvadoran government has also contributed 91.8 million dollars in kind.

The program was launched in August 2019 and in its first phase led to the installation of 639 Field Schools to promote agroecology practices in which 22,732 families are participating in 46 municipalities in the Salvadoran Dry Corridor.

In addition, 352 drip irrigation systems will be installed, and 320 home rainwater harvesting systems have begun to be set up in 12 municipalities in El Salvador.

By the end of the program, it will have reached all 114 municipalities in the Dry Corridor, benefiting some 50,000 families.

Patricia Argueta, 40, plants a green bell pepper (Capsicum annuum) seedling in the community garden of Hoja de Sal, in the municipality of Santiago Nonualco in central El Salvador. She is one of the farmers learning new agroecological techniques as part of a project aimed at helping them combat the impacts of climate change. CREDIT: Gabriela Carranza/IPS

Patricia Argueta, 40, plants a green bell pepper (Capsicum annuum) seedling in the community garden of Hoja de Sal, in the municipality of Santiago Nonualco in central El Salvador. She is one of the farmers learning new agroecological techniques as part of a project aimed at helping them combat the impacts of climate change. CREDIT: Gabriela Carranza/IPS

Learning and teaching

Pérez is one of the 639 farmers who, because of their enthusiasm and dedication, have become community promoters of these climate-resilient agricultural practices learned from technicians of the governmental National Center for Agricultural and Forestry Technology.

He meets with them periodically to learn new techniques, and he is responsible for teaching what he learns to a group of 31 other farmers in the Hacienda Vieja canton.

“You’re always learning in this process, you never stop learning. And you have to put it into practice, with other people,” he said.

On his 5.3-hectare plot, he was losing a good part of his citrus crop because the rainwater ran right off the sloping terrain.

“I was losing a lot of my crop, up to 15,000 oranges in one harvest; because of the lack of water, the oranges were falling off the trees,” he said.

On his property he has also followed other methods of rainwater and moisture retention, including living barriers and the conservation of stubble, i.e. leaves, branches and other organic material that cover the soil and help it retain moisture.

Pérez’s citrus production is around 50,000 oranges per harvest, plus some 5,000 lemons. He also grows corn and beans, using a technique that combines these crops with timber and fruit trees. That is why he planted loquat trees.

“I love what I do, I identify with my crops. I like doing it, I’m passionate about it,” he said.

Ruperto Hernández, 72, finishes preparing the organic fertilizer known as bokashi, which he and other families benefiting from a program promoted by FAO in El Salvador use to fertilize their crops in the San Sebastián Arriba canton of the municipality of Santiago Nonualco in central El Salvador. CREDIT: Gabriela Carranza/IPS

Ruperto Hernández, 72, finishes preparing the organic fertilizer known as bokashi, which he and other families benefiting from a program promoted by FAO in El Salvador use to fertilize their crops in the San Sebastián Arriba canton of the municipality of Santiago Nonualco in central El Salvador. CREDIT: Gabriela Carranza/IPS

Collectively is better

About five kilometers further south down the road, you reach the San Sebastián Arriba canton, in the municipality of Santiago Nonualco, also in the department of La Paz.

Under the harsh midday sun, a group of men and women were planting cucumbers and fertilizing with bokashi, the organic fertilizer that the farmers have learned to produce for use on their crops as part of the FAO program.

“We are tilling the soil really well, we put in a little bit of organic fertilizer, mix it with the soil we tilled and then we put in the cucumber seed,” 72-year-old farmer Ruperto Hernández told IPS.

To make the fertilizer, Hernández explained that they used products such as rice hulls, molasses, charcoal, soil, and chicken and cattle manure.

“The more ingredients the better,” he said.

Hernández also showed the water conservation techniques used on the farm. These included shallow irrigation ditches dug along the hillsides at a specific angle.

The seven-hectare plot is a kind of agroecological school, where they put into practice the knowledge they have learned and then the farmers apply the techniques on their own plots.

Among the women in the group was Leticia Valles, who has been working with a towel over her head to protect herself from the sun.

Valles said this was the first time she was going to try using bokashi to fertilize her milpa – a term that refers to a traditional farming technique that combines staple crops like corn and beans with others, like squash.

“We have always used commercial fertilizer, but now we’re going to try bokashi, and I’m pretty excited, I expect a good harvest,” she said during a break.

They and the other participants in the program have also been taught to produce ecological herbicides and fungicides, which not only benefit the land but also their pocketbooks, as they are cheaper than commercial ones.

Imelda Platero, 54, and Paula Torres, 69, stand in a cornfield in the canton of Hoja de Sal in central El Salvador. They are two of the most active women involved in promoting actions to adapt agriculture to climate change in their village in the Dry Corridor. CREDIT: Gabriela Carranza/IPS

Imelda Platero, 54, and Paula Torres, 69, stand in a cornfield in the canton of Hoja de Sal in central El Salvador. They are two of the most active women involved in promoting actions to adapt agriculture to climate change in their village in the Dry Corridor. CREDIT: Gabriela Carranza/IPS

Changing sexist habits

Further south, near the Pacific Ocean, is the village of Hoja de Sal, also in the municipality of Santiago Nonualco, which is taking part in the Reclima Project as well.

The effort in this village is led by Imelda Platero, who coordinates a group of 37 people to whom she teaches climate-resilient practices on the plots of the Hoja de Sal cooperative, created in 1980 as part of the agrarian reform program implemented in El Salvador.

A total of 159 cooperative members collectively farm more than 700 hectares of land, most of which are dedicated to sugarcane production. And the members are entitled to just under one hectare of land to grow grains and vegetables individually.

But she not only teaches them how to plant using agroecological methods to combat the impacts of climate change.

She also teaches the 27 women in the group to become aware of the role they play and to empower them, as part of the program’s focus on gender questions.

“I was outraged when I heard stories about one member putting a padlock on the granary so his wife couldn’t sell corn if he wasn’t there; that is called economic violence,” said Platero, 54.

And she added: “We have been working on this issue, it is a challenge. It is still hard, but the women are more empowered, now they grow their corn and they sell it how they want to.”

Another important aspect is to respect the cosmovision and ancestral knowledge of peasant farmers in the area.

For example, Paula doesn’t plant if she can’t see what phase the moon is in,” said Platero, referring to Paula Torres, a 69-year-old farmer who is one of the most enthusiastic participants in the initiative.

Torres and her husband Felipe de Jesús Mejía, with whom she has raised 15 sons and daughters, are two weeks away from harvesting the first ears of corn from a bright green cornfield that is glowing with life. She is sure that this is due to the organic fertilizer they used.

“I’ve seen the difference, look what a beautiful milpa,” said Torres.

She added that now that she has seen how well the techniques work, she will use them “till I die.” Last year she and her husband produced about 1,133 kilos of corn, and this year they expect to grow more, by the looks of it.

“It’s never too late to learn,” she said, as she bent down and cut zucchini (Cucurbita pepo), which she sells in the community, in addition to cooking them at home.

Climate Change is Putting Women & Girls in Malawi at Greater Risk of Sexual Violence

Credit: UNICEF/Noorani

UN human rights experts are warning of a direct link between the pandemic, socio-economic vulnerability and the risk of exploitation, including forced labour or being sold, trafficked and sexually exploited.

The UN commemorated the World Day Against Trafficking in Persons on July 30.

By Tsitsi Matekaire and Tara Carey
LONDON, Aug 1 2022 – It is often those least responsible for causing climate change that suffer the most from the impacts. And such is the case with women and girls in Malawi – one of the world’s poorest and lowest carbon-emitting countries but ranked fifth in the Global Climate Index 2021 list of nations worst affected by climate-related extreme weather.

Climate change exacerbates sexual and gender-based violence in numerous ways, pushing people further into poverty, enflaming conflict over depleting natural resources, forcing migration, and compounding pre-existing gender discrimination. All these and many other forces conspire to put vulnerable women and girls in greater danger of sexual abuse and exploitation.

A recent study by Cambridge University analyzing scientific literature on extreme weather events found that gender-based violence — such as sexual assault, intimate partner violence, or trafficking, both during and after disasters — are recurring issues in studies worldwide.

In Malawi, the climate crisis is already triggering more erratic and extreme weather, resulting in chronic water, food, and financial insecurity for millions. Over the past twenty years, droughts and floods have increased in intensity, frequency, and scale, causing devasting environmental, social, and economic damage.

Around 9 out of 10 people in Malawi depend on rain-fed agriculture, and over half the population is food insecure. Rising temperatures, unreliable rains, and extreme weather events like cyclones influence food production and costs.

The economic downturn triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic and Russia’s war against Ukraine, which has disrupted global supplies of cereals and fertilizers, have pushed prices up further.

According to World Bank data, 82% of Malawi’s population live in rural areas, and women account for 65% of smallholder farmers, making them particularly exposed to food insecurity. Women are often dependent on natural resources, and many earn a living in the informal sector, leaving them less able to withstand economic and environmental shocks.

Climate change is a threat multiplier

Climate change is not just an environmental problem – it acts as a “threat multiplier” interacting with social systems to exacerbate systemic inequalities. So, although everyone is affected by the ravages of the climate crisis, the vulnerability of individuals varies depending on their gender, geography, class, ethnicity, and age.

Global warming and environmental damage are gendered because the ability of women to adapt is hampered by their social status and limited income, education, and resources. Women are more likely to live in poverty than men and commonly have less schooling, decision-making power, and access to finance.

When yields from harvests are reduced, this leaves subsistence farmers with little or no surplus produce to sell to earn money for purchasing basics like medicine, clothes, sanitary products, schooling, and agricultural inputs for bolstering farming production.

Being unable to produce enough food to feed their families or pay for other essentials puts women under intense pressure to find alternative sources of income. This renders them more susceptible to sexual exploitation, which can take various forms such as transactional sex in exchange for goods, and being trafficked into commercial sexual exploitation.

Family financial hardship also disproportionately affects girls, who are frequently pressured to drop out of school to do domestic work and find paid employment. This, in turn, increases their susceptibility to exploitation, including false promises made by traffickers about jobs and education further afield.

In addition, girls experience higher rates of child and forced marriage, as parents may view marriage as a coping strategy to elevate monetary difficulties and shield daughters from sexual violence. It is estimated that around 1.5 million girls in Malawi are at risk of becoming child brides as a direct result of climate change.

There are other ways that existing gender roles interplay with climate change and sexual violence. In Malawi and across sub-Saharan Africa, gathering water and firewood is widely deemed the responsibility of women and girls. A lack of clean water and depletion of natural resources caused by environmental degradation means they often have to travel further to acquire scarce resources.

Not only does this use up precious unpaid time that could be spent on beneficial activities such as income generation or schooling, but it also heightens their exposure to rape and sexual assault. And in some instances, women and girls must contend with sexual exploitation and abuse by those who control access to limited natural resources, such as at water collection points.

The system is failing victims of sexual and gender-based violence

For the vast majority of victims of trafficking, sexual violence, and exploitation, justice goes unserved. Caleb Ng’ombo runs People Serving Girls at Risk (PSGR), a frontline organization in Malawi that works to end human trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation, prostitution, and child marriages.

Caleb explains, “Victims are being failed by Malawi’s criminal justice system. Few cases make it to court. Those that do are plagued by multiple delays, and perpetrators are rarely punished.”

“Child marriage, sexual exploitation, and trafficking have blighted the lives of thousands of women and girls across Malawi, and the worsening climate crisis is putting more at greater risk. The government should not turn a blind eye to gender-based human rights violations. Addressing these problems must be central to climate response, including disaster and adaption planning.”

Malawi is a source, transit, and destination country for sex trafficking, and climate crisis is fueling it. PSGR and international women’s rights organization Equality Now have submitted a joint complaint to the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACERWC) highlighting the poor implementation of anti-trafficking legislation by the Government of Malawi is leaving girls unprotected against sex trafficking.

Malawi’s criminal justice system needs to respond better to the realities and needs of survivors, including safeguarding them against further exploitation and ensuring support services are readily available.

Effectively addressing this crisis requires a gender-responsive, human rights-based approach from the state, one that targets the root causes of gender discrimination.

Climate change also demands action from wealthy industrialized nations that bare the largest responsible for global warming due to their high emissions, both historical and current.

Around the world, a growing climate justice movement is calling for Global North governments to provide countries like Malawi with international finance for climate adaption, restitution for damages already caused, and national debt cancellation so money can be redirected towards supporting those in need, in particular women and girls and other marginalized groups.

With global temperatures continuing to rise, it is vital that laws, policies, and funding deliver on the distinct vulnerabilities and requirements of women and girls so they are protected against gender-based violence and better able to cope with future climate shocks.

Tsitsi Matekaire is the Global Lead on End Sexual Exploitation at Equality Now and Tara Carey Head of Media.

IPS UN Bureau


!function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0],p=/^http:/.test(d.location)?’http’:’https’;if(!d.getElementById(id)){js=d.createElement(s);;js.src=p+’://’;fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js,fjs);}}(document, ‘script’, ‘twitter-wjs’);