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March 3, 2021

Climate crisis

Opinion

March 3, 2021

Understanding connections between heat and violence is increasingly important as we witness the warming of our planet, and anticipate more intense and longer-lasting heatwaves. In most parts of South Africa, temperatures already often exceed 40°C.

While violence in South Africa has often been attributed to its unique historical, social and economic characteristics, the potential contribution of physical environmental factors, such as heat, has largely been ignored.

But a study using data from all 1,158 police wards in South Africa documented higher levels of violence, including homicides, during periods of high temperature.

In Tshwane, Gauteng Province, a study assessed five years of temperature and crime data – and found that the number of violent crime incidents was about 50 percent higher on high-temperature days, compared with low-temperature days and with random days selected from the dataset after the warmest and coldest days had been extracted.

Another study in the same area noted seasonal patterns in crime, with violence most frequent in the summer months.

Francina Nkosi, national coordinator for Women Affected by Mining United in Action (WAMUA), said: “Around the world, climate change-induced crises have been shown to worsen violence against women.

"South Africa is considered a water-scarce country, and the 30th driest country in the world. At times of prolonged drought, women and girls make more frequent and longer journeys to obtain water, which makes them vulnerable to sexual violence”.

The problems caused by climate breakdown are often piled upon those caused by poverty.

“In most mining affected communities, men leave home to seek a living in the cities, women, and children are left to fend for themselves, which makes them vulnerable to violence and sexual exploitation”, Nkosi said.

“Poor harvests, livestock loss, lower earnings, and food insecurity put pressure on men’s traditional role as providers. They often turn to alcohol to bear with the pressure and become more violent, towards their partners. The impacts of gender-based violence are severe and affect all members of the community. “

The studies showing that women suffer higher levels of physical and sexual violence in hot weather are especially concerning in South Africa given the already high background levels of violence against women and a femicide rate among the highest in the world. In 2019, more than 2700 South African women and 1000 children were killed, according to police figures.

But why would higher temperatures increase the risk of violence? Research has proven that changes in weather conditions, especially temperature, can profoundly influence physiology and behaviour.

Heat exposure has a range of physiological impacts, affecting levels of comfort, emotional stability and sense of wellbeing.

Excerpted: ‘The Climate Crisis Fuels Violence Against Women’

Commondreams.org