Recently, children across the globe including India skipped school, en masse, to participate in global protests against climate change. While several powerful people and world leaders (read Donald Trump), often deride climate change as fiction, the numbers are now starting to jar. A new report by UNICEF has found that a combination of extreme weather events could be endangering the lives of over 19 million children in Bangladesh.
According to the report, titled, "A Gathering Storm: Climate change clouds the future of children in
Bangladesh", climatic disasters like frequent cyclones, heavy flooding and other extreme environmental and social conditions linked to climate change has restricted the growth and prosperity of a millions of families in Bangladesh's riverine and coastal belts. And children have been the worst affected.
Approximately 12 million children live in the frequently flooding riverine areas of the country, where health and sanitation facilities are often destroyed by natural phenomena, making survival of communities extremely hard. As per the report, 480 community health clinics were inundated after the 2017 flooding of the volatile Brahmaputra river while 50,000 tube-wells were damaged.
An estimated 4.5 million children inhabit the coastal areas of Bangladesh which are also frequent hosts to debilitating cyclones. These include half a million children belonging to refugee Rohingya Muslim families that live in temporary and unreliable plastic shelters.
Not just floods, droughts also affect the lives of almost 3 million living further inland.
“Climate change is deepening the environmental threat faced by families in Bangladesh’s poorest communities, leaving them unable to keep their children properly housed, fed, healthy and educated,” said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore, who visited Bangladesh in early March 2019. Fore further warned that climate change had the potential to reverse years worth of gains that the world had achieved in terms of child survival and development, not just in Bangladesh but elsewhere too.
As per UNICEF's findings, climate change has also resulted in massive population shifts and migration within Bangladesh with many in rural areas moving to cities and urban spaces in search of work and better living conditions.
The report also linked the adverse effects of climate change-driven migration to low employment rates and high rates of child labour and child marriage among children.
According to some estimates, between 50,000 and 200,000 people are displaced annually by river erosion alone. The report states that 6 million people in Bangladesh have already been displaced due to various climate change affects.
“Climate change makes people poorer,” Gyas Uddin, a specialist on child protection issues in Dhal Char, part of southernmost Bangladesh, was quoted by the report. “And poverty is a major factor behind child marriage.”
Almost 3.45 million Bangladeshi children are part of the labour force and the report states that climate change could be one of the reasons for it. With families having to constantly rebuild their homes and lives due to natural calamities, basic facilities like regular education, clean sanitation and water supplies, and a steady source of income are often the worst hit.
The sudden influx of almost 700,000 Rohingya refugees did not help the groaning economy or stressed resources of the country.
Children are the future of the world and it is the responsibility of present generations to leave behind a world that could sustain newer generations. In 2019, Bangladesh is set to embark upon the second phase of its Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan which was released in 2009 to help reduce child mortality rates in flood/cyclone prone areas. While efforts under the Plan's first phase have indeed brought down mortality during cyclones in recent years, much more needs to be done in terms of securing a healthy and safe life for generations of women and children, as well as men in Bangladesh.
The reduction in mortality rates has not just been the result of the the 2009 Action Plan, but a culmination of efforts that have been going on even before that. to further improve mortality and health metrics, the government of Bangladesh would need to focus on things like nutrition, education, water, sanitation and hygiene, health and social protection.
The UNICEF report also stressed on the importance of using community building exercises to help make communities become aware and able of dealing with adverse natural conditions, and on influencing/empowering youth to act as agents for future generations.