Impact of Climate Change / Women and children are at the most risk in disaster-prone areas
Bangladesh is one of the most vulnerable countries to the effects of climate change. The country is prone to natural disasters due to its geographical location. Storms, floods, and tidal waves occur throughout the year.
About 50-55 per cent of the population here are women and children. Therefore, most of the women and children, physically and mentally challenged people, and marginalised people living in coastal areas, islands, haor, char, hilly areas, Teesta-Jamuna-Brahmaputra river basins, and flood and river erosion-prone areas, are constantly under climate risk.
Women in this region are trying to cope with various economic, social, and physical problems. At a high-level panel discussion titled 'Women and Climate Change' at the sideline event of COP26 in Glasgow, the Prime Minister of Bangladesh also acknowledged this.
The world's most vulnerable and marginalised populations are the most affected by the effects of climate change due to a significant number of socio-economic and cultural factors. Women and girl children are one of them as the climate change crisis is not “gender neutral”.
Climate change and disasters are increasing risks relating to maternal and child health. Research indicates that extreme heat increases the incidence of stillbirth, and climate change is also increasing the spread of vector-borne illnesses such as malaria, dengue fever, and Zika virus, which are linked to worse maternal and neonatal outcomes.
A recent study by the Center for People and Environment (CPE), funded by Food for Hungry, shows that 27.05 per cent of people in Patuakhali District, 9.05 per cent in Cox's Bazar district, 33.9 per cent in Barguna District are seasonal migrants for the sake of livelihood. Women are adversely affected by this migration.
This climate change has massive social impacts on women and children. People's employment has been shrinking day by day in climate-affected areas. As a result, male members are moving permanently at certain times of the year in search of new livelihoods, leading to increased seasonal migration.
Divorce rates are also rising as a large proportion of migrant men are engaged in polygamy and do not return to the area, increasing the number of female-headed households. The study also shows that most of the seasonal migrants work in brick kilns.
The migrated women and children are subject to sexual harassment while working in brick kilns, besides having a major impact on health. Poverty is increasing in climate-prone areas. That is why poor families are marrying off girls to reduce economic risk. This increases the rate of child marriage.
Another recent study conducted by CPE in Khulna and Satkhira and funded by the Danish Refugee Council found that child marriage rates in Khulna's Dakop and Koira were 18.14 and 8.30 per cent.
Due to climate change in coastal districts, salinity increases every year and adversely affects women's reproductive health. Various types of diseases are increasing as a result of fishing in salt water of coastal areas, and use of excess salt water for food and daily activities.
Notably, asthma, skin diseases, leucorrhoea, and uterine diseases – and even the birth rate of disabled children are on the rise. During the dry season in coastal areas, lack of clean water forces women to wash menstrual cloths in contaminated salt water, which has a direct impact on reproductive health.
In Asashuni, Kaliganj, and Shyamnagar upazilas of Satkhira District, 39.9, 41.0, and 40.0 per cent of women and girls are said to be suffering from reproductive health problems respectively. Due to these complications in the reproductive health of girls, child marriage of girls is increasing in these areas, and women are facing various physical problems due to giving birth at a young age. Local social security is collapsing.
According to the study, incidents like the trafficking of women and children, and the violence against women are increasing in climate-prone areas. This risk is increasing day by day due to women's lack of access to resources and services, lack of equality in society and family, lack of adaptation skills, limited or no participation in economic activities, and lack of opportunities to participate in adaptation planning, etc.
Air pollution is responsible for the deaths of more than 1,200 children and young people in Europe each year. This significantly increases the risk of disease later on in life, according to a report published by the European Environment Agency.
The report recommends incentivising more investments to reduce risk and focus on women and children in policies and programmes to address climate emergencies. Experts estimate that six million babies are born prematurely every year due to air pollution.
According to experts, climate change is increasing heat, storms, floods, droughts, fires, and air pollution as well as food insecurity, which affect newborns.
The report says climate change is beginning to have a detrimental effect on childbirth. Climate change increases the risk of premature death. Air pollution from burning fossil fuels increases the risk for women with asthma by 52 per cent. Extreme heat causes a 16 per cent increased risk. However, climate impacts are being felt all over the world. But those who are most affected are the least responsible for this crisis.
According to the report, 91 per cent of premature child deaths due to air pollution occur in low- and middle-income countries.
The report stated that the children lose weight by 15.6 per cent due to air pollution. The preterm birth rate is 35.7 per cent—most of which occurs in low-income countries.
A study conducted on 92 women in Gambia showed a 17 per cent increase in staining due to temperature rise. It is responsible for increasing the fetal heart rate and slowing blood flow through the umbilical cord.
Women are more vulnerable than men to climate change around the world. Among women, pregnant women are at the most risk. The reason for this is that women belong to the poorest group in the world and are more dependent on natural resources. That is why the effect of temperature increase on them is more.
Another study  showed a macro-level association between climate change risk and women's and children's health at the district level in India.
"Climate change affects women's pregnancies through both direct and indirect pathways. Common direct pathways include heat exposure, storm, flood, drought, wildfire, and air pollution.'
Devastating floods, cyclones, and other environmental disasters that are linked to climate change threaten the lives and futures of more than 19 million children in Bangladesh, UNICEF said in its 2019 report. Climate change is an important factor that is forcing poor people to leave their homes and communities and try to start a new life elsewhere.
Slum children are in lack of healthy food, education, adequate health care, sanitation, malnutrition, and safe drinking water. Children there are at risk of violence, hazardous labour or child marriage. Bangladesh already has six million climate change migrants; the figure might be more than double by 2050. In addition, another 4.5 million children living in coastal areas are regularly affected by cyclones. They also suffer for flood and river erosion.
According to UNICEF , various types of diseases including hepatitis A, cholera, dysentery, typhoid, dengue, and chikungunya fever spread among children and their families due to various reasons including unplanned urbanisation and changing climate conditions. All the achievements of various countries of the world, including Bangladesh, in protecting children and improving their quality of life, are at risk due to climate change.
The future of about 1.2 million children is at risk due to river erosion in Bangladesh. Because of the adverse effects of climate change, the life and future of one out of every three children in Bangladesh is at risk from natural disasters such as cyclones or floods, the UNICEF report mentioned.
UNICEF believes that children in these 20 districts of Bhola, Barguna, Patuakhali, Pirojpur, Cox's Bazar, Noakhali, Tangail, Faridpur, Bagerhat, Khulna, Jessore, Satkhira, Netrakona, Jamalpur, Sirajganj, Rajshahi, Gaibandha, Nilphamari, Habiganj and Sunamganj are at risk. A maximum of 17 lakh 18 thousand 893 children are in critical condition in Noakhali. Among them, 4 lakh 51 thousand 540 children are below five years old.
According to a report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), unless effective measures are taken to prevent climate change and global warming, natural disasters will increase by 320 per cent in the next 20 years, and child mortality will increase.
According to an article published by Save the Children, about 17.5 million children are being harmed every year due to climate change.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has announced reducing carbon emissions in Bangladesh. The Ministry of Shipping is working under the direct supervision of the Prime Minister to keep the river navigable to prevent erosion.
Besides, the Ministry of Water Resources is also active in protecting the banks of the river. The government continues the plantation drive. Plans have been taken to combat climate change through afforestation and use of renewable energy.
'Alokjatra Dol', an organization of creative talent development of coastal school-college students, has been working across the coastal areas to create disaster awareness among children in Bangladesh. The organisation is bringing out the wallpaper 'Belabhumi' with school students on disaster awareness.
Through Belabhumi, the children of the region are getting to know about the ways to deal with the risk of disasters and the bad impacts of climate change.
The government is also focusing on the importance of forestry to combat the effects of climate change. Especially in the coastal areas, trees are being planted on embankments, which is making a special contribution to the creation of green afforestation and environmental protection.
While praising Bangladesh's steady progress, UNICEF said  more innovative programmes are needed to save future generations from danger. Bangladesh Government's 'National Child Policy' is a very effective and sustainable measure to combat the adverse effects of climate change on women and children in the coastal region.
The 'National Child Policy - 2011' on child protection, safety, dignity, and development, mentions the activities to be undertaken for the protection and safety of children during disasters and post-disaster times.
Several projects of public-private and international organizations are working to combat the negative impact of climate change on women and children. Children are mostly affected by climate change as they spend more time with their mothers and stay at home. Therefore, women's safety is also necessary to keep children safe.
In order to ensure the health and safety of women and children living in adverse environments, social protection programmes, including the provision of clean water (Gender Budget Report 2019-20), for women and children living in disaster-prone areas have been undertaken. These projects are being conducted under the direct supervision of Bangladesh Climate Change Trust (BCCT).
To make Bangladesh a sustainable development country by 2030, the government is conducting various activities in coastal areas to combat climate change. Since 2009, the current government has been working tirelessly to combat the adverse effects of climate change.
Now, it is time to take appropriate actions to combat the adverse effects of climate change. Due to these effects, the coastal people are most vulnerable; particularly, the impact on women and children is most severe.
There is no alternative to the joint collaboration of public-private and international organizations to deal with this global issue. If we all work together along with the government, it is possible to tackle all challenges and ensure a safe life for everyone including women and children.