WASHINGTON Women hit hard by the effects of climate change -- drought, floods, sea level rise and crop failure -- gathered on Monday to plan a Capitol Hill push for U.S. legislation to curb greenhouse gas emissions.
Climate "witnesses" from the United States, Peru, Senegal, Uganda and other countries aim to tell their stories to members of Congress on Tuesday in a lobbying effort timed to follow Monday's International Women's Day.
Beyond trying to cap climate-warming carbon dioxide emissions, the women said they want to make the strong link between poverty and climate change, and to stress that poor women suffer disproportionately as a result, so adapting to climate change is key.
"Nature is disrupted," Marisa Marcavillaca of Peru said through a translator. "It rains when it shouldn't rain. We have freezing temperatures when we shouldn't have freezing temperatures. Because our yields are down, it is difficult to feed our children."
Warmer temperatures in her farming area have spurred plant diseases, and the quality of agricultural seeds has degenerated, cutting into local women's ability to earn a living, she said.
Because many women in poor countries are farmers, and because their traditional tasks tend to use lots of water, they are often the first to feel the consequences of climate change, said Rebecca Pearl of the Global Gender and Climate Alliance.
"WE BLAMED GOD"
When agricultural productivity drops due to changing climate in Peru, Marcavillacca said, young people in the area are leaving for cities, "which means that our culture is being dismembered."
Constance Okollet of Uganda said she first noted a change in her farming village in 2007, when floods swept away most homes. Because her home still stood, she took in neighbors until there were 29 people staying in her house.
"We didn't know what was happening," Okollet said, wiping away tears at the memory. "We blamed God."
When the floods returned in 2009, with "drastic rain," hailstorms and wind, destroying schools, contaminating the water supply and disrupting planting seasons, Okollet learned that human activities are one cause of climate change. The floods were followed by a eight-month drought.
"We want reduced emissions," she said. "Let them have some plans for adaptation so that we get our seasons back."
Vore Gana Seck of Senegal said she lives in a fishing village where the beach has shrunk from a width of about 50 yards (meters) to about one yard, due to sea level rise.
Ground water is becoming salty as the waters rise, making the soil saline and hard to cultivate, Seck said.
Sharon Hanshaw of Biloxi, Mississippi, didn't think about climate change until after Hurricane Katrina ravaged the U.S. Gulf Coast in 2005.
"Everything I knew changed," Hanshaw said. "When I went back (home after the storm), you don't see no replica of life -- and that's climate change ... It doesn't matter if you're in a foreign country or in the United States."
Hanshaw and others want global action to cut greenhouse gas emissions, looking for progress at an international climate meeting in Cancun, Mexico, in December.