Millions intended to be spent on the health needs of Eastern Cape residents have gone missing from d.
The number of women living below the poverty line had increased since 1970 and a lack of environmental protection was a major contributory factor.
Delegates at the Women in Environment conference in Polokwane heard that the environment that used to be the principal supplier of food and jobs to the majority of rural women has become degraded and is failing because of climate change.
Deputy Minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, Rejoice Mabudafhasi, told delegates at the conference, which started on Wednesday, that there had been a significant increase in the number of women living below the poverty line.
The conference, held under the theme "All hands on deck", was aimed at addressing the challenges faced by rural women.
These include climate change, soaring food prices and the ever-rising price of fuel.
According to the intergovernmental panel on climate change, more than 200million people worldwide are expected to be exposed to increased water crises as a result of climate change by 2020.
"The current pattern of economic development and globalisation is increasing the gap between the rich and poor and leads to environmental degradation," Mabudafhasi said.
She said the greatest threat to biodiversity and food security was desertification because poor women resorted to debushing as an alternative energy sources.
She said some women in the Sekhukhune area had become semi-blind because of the type of wood used as a source of energy.
"This is because they can't afford cleaner energy and inhale poisonous fumes," she said
Janet Kabeberi, adviser to the United Nations Environment Protection, says much needs to be done to solve the problem and cope with climate change.