A blog post by Reni Axelrod, Junior Associate
Climate change threatens Pakistani pregnant women’s maternal health. Extreme flooding caused by climate change is increasing throughout the country; Pakistan recently experienced an extreme flood during its 2022 monsoon season. More than 1,460 health facilities were destroyed and 650,000 pregnant women need reproductive health services. Taking a human rights approach to the flooding crisis is necessary to ensure Pakistani pregnant women’s maternal health.
Access to clean, safe water ensures pregnant women’s dignity. Flooding has the greatest impact on pregnant women’s maternal health. Sustainable Development Goal (SDG 3.1.1) is to reduce maternal mortality (death while pregnant or withing 42 days after pregnancy) to 70 per 100,000 live births by 2030. Recurring flooding is preventing Pakistan from reaching SDG 3.1.1.
Water is critical for sanitation and basic living. Women are vulnerable to human rights violations from lack of access to clean, safe water including waterborne disease, disruption in maternal care due to climate displacement, and gender-based violence. Pakistan’s government must center pregnant women’s human right to water in climate adaptation plans or additional public health crises will occur.
Exposure to waterborne diseases threatens the maternal health of Pakistani pregnant women. Flooding contaminates water with viruses and bacteria, thereby increasing exposure to infectious diseases and threatening pregnant women’s health and their infants. Exposure to the parasite toxoplasma gondii in contaminated water, for instance, leads to fetal damage.Water management systems must include developing irrigation systems, harvesting recycled water, and safe water storage.
Flooding leads to pregnant women’s forced migration. During the September 2022 monsoon, 70,000 pregnant women were expected to deliver. Displacement disrupts access to health services including increased risk of maternal complications. Maternal mortality is worsened especially among pregnant women in rural areas who commonly give birth at home. Forced migration causes pregnant women to experience increased mental health stresses that impact infant birthweight and mortality.
Flooding caused by climate change increases emotional, physical, and sexual violence. Women in rural communities are responsible for collecting water. During periods of water scarcity their failure to provide water makes them vulnerable to physical violence. The 2022 flood doubled gender-based violence against Pakistani women. Pakistani women must mobilize as community health workers to provide maternal care during crises.
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