By Whitney Ricker, FEMA contractor and climate justice advocate
It’s common knowledge at this point; women (on average) are more likely than men to be affected by climate change. This fact usually conjures images of women in the Global South who will face extreme hardship due to severe famine, migration, and violence caused by the impacts of climate change and de-stabilization. Children who grow up in these situations will likely be at a large disadvantage due to poor economic conditions, and physical and mental health issues stemming from their struggles.
While these are important issues to think about on a global stage, it can be easy to overlook what is already happening in our own backyard. Read on for more information on the connection between women, children, poverty and climate change.
Poverty Among Women and Children in the District
Women in the District face homelessness at a
higher rate than their male counterparts, and over a quarter of children live in poverty. While residents in Washington, D.C. become wealthier on average, the gap between the haves and have-nots also grows. For instance, the housing prices within the District have risen to $602,500, with no signs of going down. Gentrification continues to push families and individuals out of neighborhoods, which leaves a large number in poverty. The statistics below show the bigger picture – the populations that now live under the poverty line:
Extreme Weather and Climate Change in the District
Flooding is expected to be a major issue facing D.C. in the coming decades. As land in the District sinks and increasing sea levels raise the waters of the Potomac and Anacostia Rivers, extreme flooding events will inundate
further inland, including portions of Anacostia, the Tidal Basin, and the Southwest Waterfront. Inundation can lead to issues, including storm drain backups and potential sewage overflows, especially in sections of the city where old infrastructure has not been updated.
Climate change is increasing extreme weather events. As poverty grows within the District, extreme weather will cause intense, new challenges for those who face poverty. During the summer months, Washington, D.C. is subjected to the “Urban Heat Island Effect,” which is when urban centers experience higher temperatures than surrounding areas during extreme heat events. Numerous factors contribute to this event, such as dark pavements absorbing heat and less greenery to deflect heat and cool down surrounding areas.
During the hottest months of the year, increased temperatures can have severe
health impacts, especially for expectant mothers, children, the elderly, and those who in poverty.
The health impacts include the following:
Research has shown correlations between extreme weather events and an increase in overall violence. Extreme heat events are correlated with increased rates of violent crime, especially in socially disadvantaged neighborhoods. Women and children are more likely to experience sexual violence, abuse, and exploitation following all types of natural disasters. In 2018, violent crime had decreased overall in D.C. However, a natural disaster could quickly change the trend.
How to Help
On a large scale, it will take social reform, healthcare reform, and many other measures to ensure that women and children in poverty in Washington, D.C. are prepared for the impacts of climate change. Here are a few ways that you can help daily.
Volunteer – There are dozens of shelters and food banks across the D.C. region, along with other organizations dedicated to helping women who have suffered abuse and/or other trauma. If you have time, here is a list of shelters in the District. Along with volunteering at shelters, volunteering with children/teenagers who live in harsh circumstances can have a positive impact for years to come.
Help those you encounter – Instead of giving money to those you see on the street, consider giving them a nutritious snack, or carry around a cold bottle of water to give to someone on a hot day. A small act could be a lifesaver to someone living on the streets.
Donate – Shelters are always in need of supplies, food, and clothing to distribute. Consider cleaning out your closet or buying a few extra items at the store to donate to local shelters.
Advocate for children and education – Advocating for a good education, especially around the connection between poverty and climate change, can have big impacts on a large scale.
Whitney Ricker is a recent graduate of James Madison University, where she studied Geographic Science with an emphasis on Environmental Conservation, Sustainability, and Development. She is currently employed as a FEMA contractor, and when she isn’t advocating for climate justice, she can be found watching documentaries and British TV shows at home.