Tens of thousands of villagers have been displaced and over 2,600 houses damaged. The main agricultural sector of the area – rubber plantations – has also been hit. With a possible 8,000 hectares of plantation destroyed by flooding and mudslides, rubber production has been severely disrupted. Shrimp farms have also been hit and tourists have had to be evacuated from some resort islands by the military and navy since many roads and railway lines across the southern provinces are submerged.
These unseasonably heavy rains in Thailand come as international delegates meet in the capital Bangkok for a United Nations (UN) Framework Convention on Climate Change. The purpose of the meeting is to work out how climate agreements adopted at Cancun three months ago will be implemented on the ground. Even if the targets agreed by governments are met, the UN warns that scientists say they would deliver only 60 per cent of the emission cuts thought to be needed to keep average temperatures rising less than 2 degrees. Even then, two degrees does not guarantee the survival of communities particularly at risk around the globe.
Environmental activists following discussions in Thailand are also warning that women are especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Studies show that women are up to 14 times more likely to die from natural disasters than men; for example, women accounted for 70 to 80 per cent of those who died in the 2004 Asian tsunami. Women are also more severely affected by disasters and climate uncertainty, since they have more limited access to resources and land and often have no collateral, so find it harder to receive credit and loans.
The difficulties faced by women are, however, increasingly being recognised and represented. Alertnet reported on the attendance at the convention of Aira Kalela, Finland’s special representative on climate change and gender. Finland has been supporting a Global Gender and Climate Alliance set up four years ago. This alliance has supported the presence of 70 female delegates at the convention in Thailand, mostly from developing countries in Africa and Asia. Such initiatives are helping to ensure that the voice of the poorest and most vulnerable across developing countries is at least now being heard.