While talking about the global crises looming over our heads, including climate change, we often fail to vociferously discuss the disproportionate impact on the disadvantaged and the marginalised, who form a significant part of our highly stratified society.
Marginalised communities are more likely to live in areas which are at most risk of climate change, and are less likely to have access to resources or the ability to relocate.
Minorities, indigenous communities and lower socio-economic groups
Indigenous communities are socio-culturally distinct and they directly derive their resources from natural systems, but that isn’t the case with every such community. Similarly, minority communities, in urban areas especially, are at a relative disadvantage over those in the majority.
As a result, these communities are the ones to be most affected by climate change, while those with essential resources eventually manage to rebuild their lives. For the former, climate change not only dilapidates their present lives but also aggravates their already existing problems as they end up losing their land, livelihoods and in most cases even basic human dignity.
Henceforth, climate refugees, or those who have to re-locate, continue to live in miserable conditions. Subsequently, they are more prone to health-related risks due to inadequate access to potable water and proper sanitation.
In the Amazon, the causes as well as effects of climate change are deforestation and forest fragmentation, and consequently, more carbon release into the atmosphere escalates the existing damages. The droughts in 2005 resulted in wildfires in the western Amazon region. The 2019 wildfires were even worse, causing a huge affect on the livelihoods of the indigenous peoples in the region.
In Assam, the condition is deteriorating due to annual floods and the large-scale erosion of Majuli – a river island on the Brahmaputra. The erosion has been particularly affecting the livelihood activities of the Kumar communities in Salmora and Bongaon areas.
Moreover, a study on the livelihoods in Assam showed that farmers are the most affected by climate change, followed by drivers and street food sellers in urban areas.
The LGBTQIA+ community should also form an integral part of our collective fight for climate justice.
“Trans people, especially trans people of colour, face heightened suffering at all stages of the natural disasters which are becoming more frequent in our changing climate. During Hurricane Katrina, trans people faced discrimination in emergency shelters, and some were even turned away. Over a decade later, the Black gay community of New Orleans has yet to fully recover,” says Catrina Randall, who identifies as queer.
According to her, 24% of homeless youth in the UK belong to the LGBTQIA+ community and many ostracised young people from the community live in makeshift camps outside the city, “which can be flattened or flooded by hurricanes”.
The community, she says, also face trouble while crossing borders to escape conflict and disaster.
People with disabilities
People with disabilities (PwD), which comprises of 15% of the world population, is one of the most underprivileged, excluded and under-reported groups in almost any given context – even while discussing climate justice.
This group already has very limited access to knowledge, resources and services, which hampers their participation in protests demanding climate justice.
Additionally, their health condition often make them susceptible to contagious diseases resulting from the climate change disasters. In devastating events like hurricanes, floods and cyclones, disabled people, due to their impaired senses, limited motor ability or both, might face difficulty in the process of evacuation. Hence, a large number of climate refugees worldwide belong to PWD.
In most of the primitive societies which are prone to the harmful effects of climate change, women are mostly responsible for gathering and producing food, water, fuel, fodder and other such items.
Such tasks become more difficult due to the effects of climate change like deforestation, change of weather, exhaustion of resources in vicinity and so on. Natural disasters like floods and drought also hit them way harder than usual. Shockingly, around 80% of the people displaced by climate change are women.
According to health professionals Bruce Bekkar and Susan Pacheco, “Adverse pregnancy outcomes, specifically premature birth and low birth weight, both of which often have life-long consequences, as well as stillbirth, have been associated with increasing heat and air pollution”.
Alas, times of crisis witness the ostracisation of the already marginalised. Their vulnerability and subsequent hardships need to be brought to attention and be conspicuously reflected in the wide discourse.
Sugandha Bora is a Class 12 student at Maria’s Public School, Guwahati, Assam. This essay is a part of Fridays For Future, Guwahati.
Featured image credit: Matteo Paganelli/Unsplash