Gender and Climate Disaster: A Worsening Situation for Pakistani Women

By Tristen Thakar, University of Pittsburgh WIIS Chapter

 

Since mid-June, high levels of rain have unleashed catastrophic flash floods along the Kabul and Indus rivers, leaving over a third of Pakistan submerged in water. This has displaced over 7.6 million people throughout the country, including around 598,000 Afghans living in refugee camps.[1] Along with countless people losing their homes, over 1,500 people have lost their lives, including around 600 children.[2] Everyone in Pakistan is being affected by these floods, but pregnant women are being hit the hardest.

The United Nations Population Fund estimates that around 650,000 pregnant women and young girls have been affected by this disaster; in September 2022 alone, around 73,000 women were expected to give birth.[3] Many of these women need things like prenatal care and the presence of skilled medical staff, not to mention the special medical support for the child or mother that might be needed post-birth. All this is extremely difficult to find. In addition, it is still common for many women in Pakistan to deliver at home, and with many women currently living in plastic tents after losing their homes, the need for safe spaces to give birth in the coming weeks or months will be very important.

Meeting the other needs of these women will not be easy, either. Many pregnant women around the country struggle to find even basic food and clean water. Without homes to give birth in, many of them are scrambling to find other options. Traveling to healthcare facilities is difficult. The World Health Organization reports that of the 1,460 health facilities that were damaged by the summer floods, 432 were completely demolished.[4] Healthcare workers, essential medicines, and other medical supplies are in short supply, which means that many pregnant women will not receive the full treatment they might need even if they can reach a working healthcare location. This puts pregnant women in a very difficult situation.

The key point to remember, however, is that the summer floods have exacerbated this situation, not created it. For years, Pakistani women have faced the same medical issues due to weak healthcare infrastructure, a continuing rise in birth rates, and lack of services throughout the country. As a result, Pakistan has the highest maternal mortality ratio (MMR) in South Asia and has made less progress on this front than other developing countries outside of the region. Studies have shown that between 2010 and 2018, 91,076 children were born in Pakistan, with an MMR during that time of 319 per 100,000 as compared to the average of 124 per 100,000 in comparable countries.[5]

 

These statistics show that Pakistan was already behind many other countries when it came to the care of pregnant women, even before the floods worsened their situation. The Pakistani government must make the improvement of its healthcare infrastructure a top priority during the rebuilding of the country. This is not just because it is right from a humanitarian perspective; it is a key element for economic development. Studies have shown that deficient birth outcomes such as preterm delivery and low birth weights lead to high healthcare costs, which negatively affects a state’s economic development.[6] Because of this, the Pakistani government should act with some urgency to better support these women. The rebuilding and improving of the Pakistani healthcare system should focus on four things: overseeing the construction of modern healthcare facilities;  improving roads so women–and all citizens–have reliable ways of getting treatment; working with industry-leading companies to create reliable medical supply chains so pregnant women and their babies can receive the medications they need; and creating new government programs to support pregnant women throughout their pregnancy and post birth.[7] The introduction of all of these elements will make a major impact on the lives of pregnant women.

In conclusion, the floods throughout Pakistan in the summer of 2022 have been tragic and life-changing for many people, but they should also be seen as a time for the Pakistani government to improve conditions for all Pakistani citizens and to make a serious effort to help women, especially pregnant ones. They need a lot of support and will continue to need this support long after the flooding subsides.

 

NOTES

[1] “Pakistan: Floods – Jul 2022 | ReliefWeb.” Accessed October 7, 2022. https://reliefweb.int/disaster/fl-2022- 000254-pak.

[2] “Pakistan: Floods – Jul 2022 | ReliefWeb.” Accessed October 7, 2022. https://reliefweb.int/disaster/fl-2022- 000254-pak.

 

[3] Human Rights Watch. “Flood-Affected Women in Pakistan Need Urgent Help,” September 2, 2022.  https://www.hrw.org/news/2022/09/02/flood-affected-women-pakistan-need-urgent-help

 

[4] Baloch, Shah Meer. “‘The Hospital Has Nothing’: Pakistan’s Floods Put Pregnant Women in Danger.” The  Guardian, September 14, 2022, sec. World news. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/sep/14/the-hospital has-nothing-pakistans-floods-put-pregnant-women-in-danger.

[5] Aziz, Aleha, Sarah Saleem, Tracy L. Nolen, Nousheen Akber Pradhan, Elizabeth M. McClure, Saleem Jessani, Ana L.  Garces, et al. “Why Are the Pakistani Maternal, Fetal and Newborn Outcomes so Poor Compared to Other Low and  Middle-Income Countries?” Reproductive Health 17, no. 3 (December 17, 2020): 190.

https://doi.org/10.1186/s12978-020-01023-5.

 

[6] Aziz, Aleha, Sarah Saleem, Tracy L. Nolen, Nousheen Akber Pradhan, Elizabeth M. McClure, Saleem Jessani, Ana L.  Garces, et al. “Why Are the Pakistani Maternal, Fetal and Newborn Outcomes so Poor Compared to Other Low and  Middle-Income Countries?” Reproductive Health 17, no. 3 (December 17, 2020): 190.

https://doi.org/10.1186/s12978-020-01023-5

 

[7] Gajate Garrido, Gissele. “The Impact of Adequate Prenatal Care in a Developing Country: Testing the WHO  Recommendations.” SSRN Electronic Journal, 2011. https://doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1879464.

 

 

 

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Aziz, Aleha, Sarah Saleem, Tracy L. Nolen, Nousheen Akber Pradhan, Elizabeth M. McClure,  Saleem Jessani, Ana L. Garces, et al. “Why Are the Pakistani Maternal, Fetal and Newborn  Outcomes so Poor Compared to Other Low and Middle-Income Countries?” Reproductive  Health 17, no. 3 (December 17, 2020): 190. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12978-020-01023-5.

Baloch, Shah Meer. “‘The Hospital Has Nothing’: Pakistan’s Floods Put Pregnant Women in  Danger.” The Guardian, September 14, 2022, sec. World news.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/sep/14/the-hospital-has-nothing-pakistans-floods put-pregnant-women-in-danger.

Human Rights Watch. “Flood-Affected Women in Pakistan Need Urgent Help,” September 2,  2022. https://www.hrw.org/news/2022/09/02/flood-affected-women-pakistan-need-urgent help.

Gajate Garrido, Gissele. “The Impact of Adequate Prenatal Care in a Developing Country:  Testing the WHO Recommendations.” SSRN Electronic Journal, 2011.

https://doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1879464.

“Pakistan: Floods – Jul 2022 | ReliefWeb.” Accessed October 7, 2022.

https://reliefweb.int/disaster/fl-2022-000254-pak.

“Pakistan: Floods – Jul 2022 | ReliefWeb.” Accessed October 7, 2022.

https://reliefweb.int/disaster/fl-2022-000254-pak.

 

 

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