Last month, tropical cyclone Biparjoy landed in Pakistan and India, battering the coastal belt on both sides of the border and displacing hundreds of thousands of people through preemptive evacuations. While the storm weakened significantly prior to making landfall, authorities and communities braced for widespread devastation, memories from the unprecedented flooding last year are still fresh. In Pakistan, the floods in 2022 killed over 1,700 people, uprooted crops and livestock, impacted access to health services including sexual and reproductive health needs, and rendered communities vulnerable to myriad insecurities. It is estimated that the floods caused over $30 billion in damages and economic losses.
This comes as no surprise; extreme weather events are becoming more severe and frequent. The Asian Development Bank and World Bank placed Pakistan among the top risk-prone countries in terms of increase in average temperatures and resultant economic and social losses. The impacts of climate change go beyond the environment, with negative consequences on social inequalities, particularly among groups that are most vulnerable. Women and girls face the greatest risks, including gender-based violence and child and forced marriage.
Readying communities to withstand natural disasters
That is why Pathfinder is working to build climate resilience within communities, focusing beyond emergency response to ensure preparedness for natural disasters and climate shocks. We are strengthening health systems and empowering communities by ensuring women and girls have improved access to health services and agency in their own lives. Scientists and researchers have ranked the empowerment of women (through greater agency over their sexual reproductive health) 7th out of the 100 most substantive solutions to global warming.
When women aren’t fully engaged in climate work, programs, at best, may not meet their needs and, at worst, may put women at greater risk. Given the urgency and scale of the climate crisis, it is imperative to ensure that all people can choose to participate in developing and implementing climate solutions. That’s why Pathfinder is empowering women from their homes to the international stage in our work to build adaptation and resilience, empowering them as change agents.
While Pathfinder responded quickly to last year’s flooding, providing essential supplies and medicines, preparation for these types of emergencies is at the heart of our work. Pathfinder is focusing beyond emergency response to prepare communities and health systems to withstand climate shocks. Although Pathfinder is not a humanitarian response organization, our work is critical to saving lives when emergencies hit. Through our Advancing the Leadership of Women and Girls for Better Health and Climate Change Resilience program, we have worked closely with communities and local partners to identify gaps in the health care delivery system that leave people vulnerable during crises.
Building more resilient health systems
Through the project, health facility assessments in Pakistan were conducted in 432 health facilities across Sindh Province, and 60 in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, which included government dispensaries, basic health units, rural health centers, and maternal and neonatal child health centers. The assessments helped to identify gaps in preparedness and are leading to plans to improve preparedness including establishment of emergency staffing plans to ensure round-the-clock coverage of essential services at a higher caseload seen in emergencies.
With the government, including provincial disaster management authorities, and local universities, we worked with local health officials to make recommendations to improve disaster preparedness. Recommendations focus on community adaptation, health system resilience, and sustainability, including needs for infrastructure and supplies, training and mentorship, and overall coordination across the health system that were identified by the assessment.
We determined key training needs to better equip healthcare providers, imparting trainings on the Minimum Initial Service Package for Sexual and Reproductive Health, gender-transformative approaches, emergency response and preparedness, disaster relief, and community mobilization through Lady Health Workers (LHWs), who are an essential link between communities and their services. Pathfinder has also focused on advocacy and coordination between provincial departments of health and community-based organizations, identifying areas where there was limited support, organizing referral linkages, and identifying needs across communities and health facilities.
Engaging communities for better health and climate change resilience
We have also engaged civil society, specifically academia and climate practitioners, to enhance our understanding of climate adaptation, and we are prototyping student-designed solutions for testing in communities within project districts, leveraging the latest practices globally, as well as longstanding indigenous knowledge.
Finally, Pathfinder is drawing from the experience and expertise of longstanding civil-society organizations that have worked in their communities to mitigate climate threats, and we are exploring district-specific opportunities to improve the agency of women and girls. These include livelihood support, ensuring availability of community spaces, strengthening referral linkages for support services and resources, encouraging ‘townhall’ style engagements, mentoring female climate champions in the community, and improving counseling services for adolescents and youth. At courtyard information sessions, Pathfinder targeted pregnant women, mothers, adolescents, and students. Community champions will provide gender-transformative trainings to community members and develop advocacy plans for disaster preparedness.
Pathfinder’s work has just started, but we know that preparation is key when climate shocks hit. We have a lot to learn from the response to Biparjoy. Our next steps will be to follow up with a review of our approaches and plans, working closely with communities and public health systems and personnel. As we enter the most abundant season of rain, Pathfinder’s work to incorporate contingency planning, coordination, and response mechanisms to shocks will help us lead the way to a more climate-resilient future.