Lenaigwanai is one of the dozens of women who have arrived at the Umoja refuge in recent months fleeing violence that they say got worse as each successive year of low rainfall plunged their families deeper into poverty. Her semi-nomadic Samburu community of pastoralists are particularly vulnerable to drought because they depend on the livestock whose emaciated corpses litter the barren lands that once provided plentiful grazing.
A 2021 study of extreme weather events in Kenya by researchers at St. Catherine University in Minnesota found the economic stresses caused by flooding and drought or extreme heat exacerbated violence against women in their homes. The research, which used satellite and national health survey data, showed that domestic violence rose by 60 percent in areas that experienced extreme weather.
“Heat waves, floods, climate-induced disasters increase sexual harassment, mental and physical abuse, femicide, reduce economic and educational opportunity and increase the risk of trafficking due to forced migration,” said McGovern, who added that the data remains limited on some fronts, including on psychological and emotional violence and attacks against minority groups.
“The climate discourse is all about the numbers, but the evidence on violence and changes in power dynamics cannot be captured that way, and so it is not given the same weight,” says Nitya Rao, a professor of gender and development at the University of East Anglia in the U.K. “It is very difficult to make a linear connection.”
With their semi-nomadic lifestyle, Samburu women are particularly vulnerable. They have little or no stable access to health facilities, police protection or support services, Meriwas said, making it harder for them to report abuse. “They are really suffering in silence.”
In eastern India, more frequent downpours and devastating floods are what’s driving violence. Poverty is exacerbated by sudden economic stress, and societal inequality often traps women with abusive partners or other family members because they have nowhere else to go and cannot rely on authorities for help.
With her husband working away from home much of the year as a farmhand, each season can be a challenge. But the monsoon season, Devi said, is by far the toughest. That is when the rivers in her low-lying village downstream from the melting Himalayan glaciers swell to bursting, flooding large swaths of land and making farming impossible. With no prospect of work until the floods recede, her husband returns home and takes his frustration out on his family.
Devi, who shares her small thatched-roof home with her mother-in-law, has little privacy to describe the nature of the violence. But when the older woman went out of earshot, she said her husband beats her and verbally abuses her “day and night” during the floods.
For Devi, the floodwaters themselves trap her. When they surround her home, they cut her and her family off from the outside world, increasing her vulnerability even further. As she talks about her situation, she repeatedly invokes a well-known Hindi phrase that translates roughly as “I endure,” which almost always refers to women’s suffering.
When Typhoon Rai hit the Philippines in December 2021, the country was better prepared. The relatively low death toll — in the hundreds — has been attributed in part to improved early warning systems and other measures put in place by local authorities. But it caused nearly as much property damage as previous storms. Just over a year later, many victims are still living in makeshift shelters after losing their homes, and in many cases, their crops and livelihoods.
Rommel Lopez, spokesperson for the local social welfare department, said these stresses often acted as triggers for abuse within families in a country where violence against women is common. One in every four Filipina women aged 15 to 49 has experienced physical, emotional or sexual violence from a husband or partner, according to a 2017 demographic survey conducted by the Philippine Statistics Authority.
“When there’s a calamity or disaster or conflict, that can put families in difficulties. The situation at evacuation centers is a contributing factor,” Lopez said. “It makes them agitated. It adds to their frustration. When someone is frustrated, they could reach a certain point and that could trigger [violence].”
When covid hit in 2020, she decided to leave the city and take her family back to her home province of Southern Leyte on the eastern side of the archipelago that makes up the Philippines. She got together with a local fisherman, and for a time the couple enjoyed a quiet life. They would occasionally quarrel over his drinking, particularly after Nase became pregnant in 2021, but never got into physical fights.
The tensions between the couple peaked in February, when Nase’s partner returned drunk and rowdy to the library, disturbing other evacuees. Nase said she tried in vain to quiet him down. When she went to leave, he kicked her before rushing out of the room. Nase passed out and when she regained consciousness the next day, he was in jail.
Rose Lairolkek sat in the little remaining shade afforded by the cluster of traditional mud-roofed huts that make up the refuge. She recounted how her husband came home angry after discovering all his cattle had died and attacked her, and how she still bears the scar on her right shoulder more than two years later.