Sonari, who is heavily pregnant, toils amid fields filled with bright yellow melons in Jacobabad, which was named the hottest city on Earth last month.
Waderi, her 17-year-old next-door neighbor who recently gave birth, is back to work in temperatures that may reach 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit), with her infant laying on a blanket in the shade nearby so she can feed him when he cries.
“We become anxious when the heat comes and we’re pregnant,” Sonari, who is in her mid-20s, said.
Pregnant women who are exposed to heat for lengthy periods of time had a greater risk of problems, according to a review of 70 research published since the mid-1990s.
According to a meta-analysis conducted by numerous research institutes across the world and published in the British Medical Journal in September 2020, for every 1 degree Celsius increase in temperature, the number of stillbirths and preterm deliveries increases by roughly 5%.
The impact of global warming on women’s health, according to Cecilia Sorensen, head of Columbia University’s Global Consortium on Climate and Health Education, is “extremely underdocumented,” partially because excessive heat tends to worsen other diseases.
“We’re not associating health repercussions on women,” she explained, “and that’s frequently because we’re not collecting data on it.” “Women in poverty are also less likely to seek medical help.”
“Heat is extremely dangerous for pregnant ladies.”
According to interviews with more than a dozen female residents in the Jacobabad area, as well as half a dozen development and human rights experts, women are particularly vulnerable to rising temperatures in poor countries on the frontlines of climate change because many have little choice but to work during their pregnancies and shortly after giving birth.
Women in socially traditional Pakistan – and many other regions – commonly cook family meals over hot stoves or open flames, sometimes in confined rooms with little ventilation or cooling, adding to the dangers.
“You have the weight of that heat in addition to the ambient heat if you’re inside cooking close to a hot open fire,” Sorensen noted.
In recent months, South Asia has seen abnormally warm weather. According to experts at World Weather Attribution, an international research cooperation, an intense heatwave that burnt Pakistan and India in April was 30 times more likely to occur as a result of climate change. Temperatures on the planet have risen by around 1.2 degrees Celsius since pre-industrial times.
Extreme heatwaves are likely to become more common as temperatures rise.
A local joke goes somewhat like this: “If we go to hell, we’ll take a blanket.”
Few locations are as painful as this one. On May 14, temperatures reached 51 degrees Celsius (124 degrees Fahrenheit), which local meteorologists said was exceptional for this time of year. Later in the year, tropical rainfall can combine with warm breezes from the Arabian Sea to raise humidity levels.
The more humid the weather, the more difficult it is for people to cool themselves through sweating. Wet bulb temperatures, acquired with a thermometer wrapped in a wet towel, are used to determine such situations. Human survival is thought to be impossible at temperatures of 35°C or higher in the wet bulb.
According to regional meteorological statistics, Jacobabad has reached the threshold at least twice since 2010. According to a research published in the journal Science in May 2020, the frequency of such “extreme humid heat episodes” has more than quadrupled globally in the previous four decades.
Sonari, who is in her twenties, and Waderi labor in the melon fields approximately 10 kilometers from Jacobabad’s center with about a dozen other women, some of whom are pregnant.
They start work at 6 a.m. every day and take a brief break in the afternoon to perform chores and cook before returning to the field to continue until dusk. Leg aches, fainting spells, and difficulty while nursing are all mentioned.
“It feels like no one sees them, no one cares about them,” relief worker Liza Khan said of the condition of many women in Jacobabad and the greater Sindh province, which straddles Pakistan’s and India’s borders.
Khan’s phone is continually ringing as she travels to one of three heatstroke response centers she has helped establish in recent weeks as part of her work with the Community Development Foundation, a non-profit organization.
Khan, who has a finance degree, has lived in more affluent areas of Pakistan but returned to her birthplace to be a voice for women in the traditional area.
“Nowadays, I’m working 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” the 22-year-old said, adding that the impact of high heat was becoming increasingly intertwined with other social and health concerns facing women.
On May 14, when temperatures in Jacobabad reached 51 degrees Celsius, marking it the world’s hottest city at the moment, the severe conditions faced by many women were tragically thrown into relief.
Nazia, a young mother of five, was cooking a meal for her cousins who were paying a visit. She fell and was brought to a local hospital, where she was declared dead from a suspected heat stroke due to the lack of air conditioning or a fan in her kitchen.
Officials from the district’s health department did not respond to calls for comment regarding Jacobabad’s recent record of heat-related mortality, or more particularly about Nazia’s case.
Her body was carried to her ancestral village the next day to be buried, and her children, the youngest of whom was a one-year-old who was still nursing, routinely cried for their mother, according to a relative.
Many individuals can’t afford or utilize air conditioning or even a fan to cool down because of widespread poverty and frequent power outages.
Experts advocate providing clean-energy stoves to replace open-fire cooking, delivering women’s medical and social services early in the morning or late in the evening when it is cooler, and replacing tin roofs with cooler white material to reflect solar radiation away from the residence.
Sherry Rehman, the Minister of Climate Change, warned the media that women will likely face the brunt of rising temperatures as they scorched the country, and that future climate change initiatives would need to meet the special needs of women.
She said, “A megatrend like climate change… poses a huge danger to the well-being of unempowered women in rural regions and urban slums.” “Pakistani women, particularly those on the periphery, will be the worst hit.”
Some in Jacobabad find it infuriating that Pakistan is only responsible for a small percentage of the greenhouse gases that were generated during the industrial revolution and are now warming the environment.
“We are not contributing to the deterioration, but we are on the front lines in terms of suffering,” Hafeez Siyal, the city’s deputy commissioner, said.
A donkey-drawn cart loaded with blue plastic jerrycans pauses near the entrance to a maze of roads leading to a cluster of residences in a city residential neighborhood. The driver of the cart runs back and forth, bringing 20-litre jugs of water from one of the city’s few dozen private pumps.
The majority of Jacobabad inhabitants rely on such water supplies, which can cost anywhere from a fifth to an eighth of a family’s little income. Even still, it is frequently insufficient, and some families are compelled to ration.
Razia, a young mother, was persuaded to pour some of her precious water over her six-month-old Tamanna in the midday heat by the sound of her baby sobbing. Tamanna was significantly calmer after she seated her in front of a fan, playing with her mother’s scarf.
Water shortages, according to municipal officials, are partially due to power outages, which prevent water from being filtered and distributed via pipes around the city. Sindh is also suffering from severe water shortages, with climate change minister Rehman citing deficiencies of up to 60% in the province’s important dams and canals.
Rubina, Razia’s next-door neighbor, fried onions and okra over an open fire, noting that she gets dizzy in the heat and tries to immerse herself in water every time she cooks to avoid passing out.
However, there was not always enough water to do so.
“Most of the time, it runs out before we can buy more, so we have to wait,” Rubina explained as she watched her children and grandkids share a cup of water. “When we wake up on hot days with no water or power, the only thing we do is pray to God.”