Mothers vulnerable to climate change

By Carlos Roa

The Women’s Fund has carried out important educational work in Miami on the risks that heat poses to pregnant women

As we celebrate mothers, this month of May is a good time to review why one group of them is more vulnerable to climate change.

For that, we had a conversation with Viviana Alvarado Pacheco, Senior Research and Policy Manager of The Women’s Fund Miami-Dade.

She explained how pregnant women and mothers of young children are affected by the increasing weather events in South Florida, one of the regions of the world most affected by this situation.

Pregnancies at risk

Viviana explains that “The region’s combination of heat and humidity poses a high risk to pregnant women.” This is why they made it a priority to work on the issue from a health perspective.

A study in the international health journal BMJ found associations between high temperatures during pregnancy and the risk of premature birth, low birth weight and stillbirth.

This group is also at greater risk of heat exhaustion while performing their work, as well as the possibility of suffering heat stroke more frequently.

Low-income women, such as Latinas and Afro-descendant women, are especially affected, as they are subjected to more demanding jobs or are unable to stop working during pregnancy.

She also warns how the housing problem affects pregnant women in the South Florida metropolis.

“Rents are getting higher and higher, so low-income pregnant women end up living in places that are not adequate to deal with the heat.” Some do not have air conditioning; others use it to the minimum to save money and that is a risk for the pregnancy.

Many of them do not have their own car and the wait at bus stops, under the sun, can be long. She adds that the areas where they live have no street trees, which makes the situation even worse.

Mothers in adverse situations

Viviana also draws attention to the risks women face once they have given birth. “Once they become mothers, adverse climatic environments force them to deal with their children’s health ailments, such as asthma and other respiratory diseases.”

In addition, “Women are the caregivers at home for people with disabilities, in addition to caring for their children,” she notes. This makes it more difficult for them to evacuate in the event of an extreme weather event.

In the 2004 Myanmar tsunami, “Most of the victims were women. Many of them did not leave their homes because they had children or relatives in their care.”

She also recalls that women often earn less money than men and this makes them especially vulnerable when they are single mothers. “It is very difficult for them to escape in case of a hurricane, because they don’t have the economic resources,” she says.

And adds that it is also difficult for them to move to a place with fewer risks, because of the same financial limitations. She fears that the increase in the number of hot days per year will make the struggle more difficult for these women.

Contributing with solutions

The worst part of this scenario is that those affected are not aware of the risk they are running, nor what actions can be taken to reduce it.

“We noticed that in Miami, they were advertising heat precautions for the elderly, children, and even pets, but they didn’t mention pregnant women,” Alvarado says. That spurred them into action.

Based on this, the spokesperson believes that the best thing that can be done to counteract the adverse situations of these women is information and education.

That is why the Extreme Heat and Pregnancy Health campaign was launched, which VoLo Foundation co-sponsored with Miami-Dade County, the City of Miami and Baptist Health.

This effort, kicked off in May 2021, is showing increasing results in education and awareness of the risk to pregnant women from Miami’s heat.

“We work tirelessly to spread the word about the steps they should take to take care of themselves: hydrate, seek shade and rest,” Viviana concludes.

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