Over 19 million kids in Bangladesh at risk from climate change

Down To Earth || Kiran Pandey, Madhumita Paul || 05 April 2019

UNICEF report says nearly 86% of these children living in 17 districts are under threat from floods and cyclones

More than 19 million children in Bangladesh, from 20 of the country’s 64 districts, are most vulnerable to the disastrous consequences of climate change, warned the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in a new report.

Over five million of them are under the age of five and the changing climate is already undermining their lives and diminishing their prospects for a better future. Children staying on the coastline facing the Bay of Bengal and several more remote inland areas are the most vulnerable, notes the report.

Last month, children in more than 112 countries walked out to protest inaction on climate change. Thus, acknowledging the threat to children, this UNICEF report advocates for policies building resilience of resources and infrastructure to climate and non-climate disasters — such as floods, cyclones and earthquakes — to ensure minimum disruption of health services.

It also recommends promoting the demand for, and utilisation of, climate resilient or adaptive services, technologies and facilities.

Cyclone, floods are major threats

Nearly 86 per cent of these children (16.3 million out of 19 million) living in 17 districts are under threat from floods and cyclones. Noakhali district was ranked as the most vulnerable followed by Cox Bazaar, with cyclones as the common threat to both the districts.

Disaster-prone Districts Projected Under-5 Population 2018* Projected Under-18 Population 2018*
Barguna Cyclone 94,938 3,65,730
Pirojpur Cyclone 1,11,555 4,52,548
Bagerhat Cyclone 1,33,822 5,51,104
  Patuakhali Cyclone 1,72,264 6,74,206
  Satkhira Cyclone 1,85,281 7,72,118
  Khulna Cyclone 2,00,105 8,31,287
  Bhola Cyclone 2,29,660 8,70,403
  Cox’s Bazar Cyclone 3,78,154 13,95,360
  Noakhali Cyclone 4,51,540 17,18,893
  Nilphamari Drought 2,39,662 8,88,557
  Rajshahi Drought 2,46,764 10,27,032
  Netrokona Flash flood 3,18,463 11,21,414
  Habiganj Flash flood 3,26,517 11,25,993
  Sunamganj Flash flood 4,24,275 14,08,194
  Gaibandha Flood 2,93,269 2,93,269
  Faridpur Flood 2,19,686 8,62,401
  Jamalpur Flood 2,79,345 10,25,598
  Sirajganj Flood 3,91,315 14,40,772
  Tangail Flood 3,86,040 14,82,420
  Jessore Water Logging 2,76,411 11,12,531
Total number of children at risk: 53,59,067 1,94,19,829

Close to 12 million Bangladeshi children live in and around river systems that are at increased risk of producing life-threatening floods. Another 4.5 million children live in coastal areas regularly struck by powerful cyclones.

A further 3 million children live inland, where farming communities suffer increasing periods of drought.

Earlier, the UNICEF has also highlighted climate impacts on children across the world, including in Bangladesh— focusing on the major climate-related risks; children’s current and future exposure to these risks; and the policies required to protect children from these risks.

Children of poor families most at risk

Poor families bear the brunt of climate-related impacts as they are unable to ensure basic necessities like protection, nutritious food and clean water.

The latest report underlines that climate-change related natural disasters have also led to migration of families from rural to urban areas resulting in unplanned urbanisation and environmental deterioration, which has led to an increase in communicable and non-communicable diseases.

Vector-borne diseases like dengue and chikungunya fever are the emerging threats. The Bangladesh Directorate General of Health Services recorded 10,148 cases of dengue infection and 26 fatalities in 2018.

According to UNICEF Bangladesh Child Protection Specialist, Kristina Wesslund, climate change is one of the reason behind an estimated 3.45 million Bangladeshi children being pushed towards child labour.

Risk to pregnant women too

Rising sea levels and unchecked salt water intrusion are also a serious threat to pregnant women, says the report.

It emphasizes on the link between high salinity in drinking water and an increased risk of grave medical conditions, including preeclampsia and hypertension.

Call to action

As Bangladesh embarks on the second phase of its Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan in 2019, it is essential to prioritise and allocate resources to protect the children from the effects of climate change, says the report.

It calls for action on key development aspects of water, health, sanitation and nutrition.