Floods destroying ‘womb’ in developing countries

Mohd Fahad

Over the last decade, the dire repercussions of climate change have become indisputable and increasingly alarming. Floods have affected billions of people around the world. In developing countries, its impact has been greater on vulnerable groups, especially women. In the decade starting 2010 showed a significant increase in the risk of pregnancy loss (miscarriage or stillbirth) for women exposed to floods in early and mid-stage pregnancy. According to research published in Nature Communications, flood events during 2010-2020 could be responsible for approximately 1,07,888 additional pregnancy-related losses annually in 33 developing countries.
Preconception exposure to floods may significantly affect the health of pregnant women and the development of their fetuses. Previous studies have indicated that maternal exposure to flood during pregnancy elevates the risk of pregnancy loss, a major public health concern that is linked with substantial economic and emotional tolls. However, prevailing epidemiological data linking maternal flood exposure to adverse birth outcomes often stems from small samples, isolated flood incidents, or confined regions, making it difficult to draw reliable conclusions.

Women sensitive to indirect effects
Women and children are 14 times more likely than men to receive fatal casualties when disaster strikes. An Oxfam analysis showed that during the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami, 70 percent of the 230,000 people killed were women. Women in developing countries such as Pakistan are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate disasters due to deep-rooted gender inequities that define the moral and social fabric of their societies. The direct consequences of floods are immediate such as physical destruction, psychological stress and infectious diseases etc. But its indirect effects particularly affect pregnant women, including unsafe labor and delivery, and lack of essential elements such as food and water. Apart from this, exposure to floods greatly affects the health of pregnant women and the development of their fetus. The destruction of family and social structures, including homes and local communities, by floods makes women more vulnerable to these hazards and have to manage the risks alone.

Most cases reported in South Asia
Flood-related risk most affects women aged 21-35. Geographically, South Asia (43%) reported the highest incidence of pregnancy loss, followed by Sub-Saharan Africa (28%) and South America (13%). Pregnancy loss occurred more frequently in rural areas (59%) than in cities (41%). The countries with the highest rates of pregnancy loss in the 2010s were the Dominican Republic, Rwanda and Colombia. Involving women in key decision-making within communities, recognizing them as important stakeholders, and empowering them with climate-risk resilience skills and knowledge could elevate their role as agents of change.

The world suffered economic losses worth billions of dollars
Flood-related maternal and child health challenges are greater in developing countries as 89 percent of the global flood-affected population lives in low- and middle-income countries. Recent changes in climate, sea level, infrastructure, and population dynamics have accelerated the severity, duration, and frequency of catastrophic floods. Floods have emerged as the most prevalent types of natural disasters over the past few decades, affecting 2.3 billion people. This has resulted in economic losses of more than $600 billion globally. This study serves as a warning to governments, policy makers and international organizations to prioritize the protection and assistance of pregnant women in developing countries, especially in the face of increasing flood risks due to climate change.

Flood related pregnancy loss
Heavy rain/monsoon rain- 89.84
Tropical Cyclone- 9.46
Embankment/Dam Failure – 0.70
Source: Nature Communications


(The writer is a Jaipur-based journalist and alumnus of Mass Communication Research Centre, Jamia Millia Islamia University)

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