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The research found that because of warming by 2050, daily water collection times for women without household access could increase by 30% globally and up to 100% in regions across South America and Southeast Asia.

India to bear the highest cost globally as climate change increases women’s water collection burden

The monetary costs of climate-induced rise in water collection time would be substantial by 2050— with highest for India— under a high-emissions scenario, says new research

New research showed that rising temperatures are going to exacerbate the burden of water collection on women globally, with India incurring the highest monetary cost at $1.4 billion by 2050 under a high-emissions scenario.

The report said historically, a 1°C temperature rise increased daily water collection times by four minutes. Reduced precipitation also increased water collection time, most strongly where precipitation levels were low or fewer women were employed.

Indian women carrying water. Photo: Alberto Buscató Vázquez/Wikimedia Commons

The research analysed the effect of climate conditions on self-reported water collection times for 347 subnational regions across four continents from 1990 to 2019, with a special focus on the past 60 months. The study noticed slightly stronger effects in northern Africa, India and Pakistan.

The research found that because of warming by 2050, daily water collection times for women without household access could increase by 30% globally and up to 100%—for example, in regions across South America and Southeast Asia— as opposed to 19% in the low-emissions scenario (RCP2.6). This underscores a gendered dimension of climate impacts, which undermines womens’ welfare.

Highest monetary cost to India 

According to the study, the monetary costs of climate-induced increases in water collection time could be tens to hundreds of millions of US dollars per year (at 2017 purchasing power parity) already by 2050 under a high-emissions scenario.

In terms of costs, India is followed by Turkey ($1.4 billion) and Pakistan ($2.1 billion). Emissions mitigation in line with the Paris Agreement (RCP2.6) would substantially reduce these costs, for example, to $750 million in Turkey, $1.2 billion in Pakistan and even to net benefits in India, owing to the role of increasing precipitation. 

Likewise, if the percentage of families without running water continues to fall at the current rate, the effects could be greatly mitigated, reaching $300 million in Turkey and zero in India.

Pakistan is an anomaly in this regard, noted the study, as the percentage of homes without access to water has actually increased over the past 20 years. If this trend persists, prices are expected to escalate to $3.7 billion yearly. 

Women carrying water pots, Mojgarh Fort, Marot, Punjab, Pakistan. Photo: Naeemakram319/Wikimedia Commons

The study pointed out that these cost estimates are limited in their underlying assumptions and probably fail to capture the knock-on consequences of lost education and skills for socio-economic development, they demonstrate the large welfare losses that these impacts may entail.

Global water scarcity is getting worse due to climate change. Women are frequently responsible for collecting water in rural households without access to running water, which negatively impacts their well-being through prolonged daily time commitments, physical strain, and mental discomfort.

How does rising temperature affect water collection?

The study said that evapotranspiration is the most straightforward way that temperature increases can lengthen the duration that water collects. Greater evaporation of water from the Earth’s surface results from hotter weather, which lowers lake, stream, and river levels as well as the pace at which groundwater recharge occurs. Women would naturally seek out larger water sources by travelling farther as a result of these impacts.

Higher temperatures can also lengthen the time it takes to gather water since they make the trip more uncomfortable, in addition to the physical processes that change the availability of water.  High temperatures can lead to heat stress and decrease labour productivity, particularly for work that is done outside, making this a potentially relevant mechanism for water collection.

A lady assisting her friend to carry water on the head in Northern Ghana. Photo: Sir Amugi/Wikimedia Commons

Impact of precipitation 

Changes in precipitation have a greater impact in areas that are comparatively drier. Both the advantages of more precipitation and the disadvantages of less precipitation are greater in areas with lower totals of precipitation. This emphasised how much more vulnerable women are in areas where water scarcity is already a possibility.

It was found that a 10 mm increase in monthly precipitation reduced daily water collection time by about 1.39 minutes on average, with larger magnitudes in regions with lower average precipitation totals.

The combined impacts of temperature and precipitation showed increases in water collection times in almost all regions, with the exception of Indonesia, where strong increases in precipitation bring benefits that are larger than the adverse local temperature effects. The study found that, globally, the effects of temperature significantly outnumbered the various effects of precipitation.

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