More than 19 million children are vulnerable to impacts of climate change
Hasanur Rahman Hassan, 18, has had to drop out of school four times and relocate three times to different places in Khulna and Dhaka in the last ten years after his family lost their home to floods.
Constantly shifting schools made it difficult for him and his siblings to pursue their studies, and they eventually dropped out to work and help their father support the family. They now live in a Dhaka slum, wondering how to get their next meal.
Like Hassan, the future of more than 19 million children in Bangladesh is at risk from climate change, according to a report by the United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef).
Bangladesh is among countries most vulnerable to the impact of climate change. People suffer from floods, cyclones, droughts, salinity and river erosion, and the poorer people are affected more than others.
As the Himalayan glaciers melt due to global warming, the sea level rises and the risk of catastrophic disasters increases in riverine Bangladesh, experts have said.
Globally, approximately 1 billion children (nearly half of the world's children) live in countries at extremely high risk from climate change, according to Unicef’s first child-focused Children Climate Risk Index, 2021.
Children in the Central African Republic, Chad, and Nigeria are among the most at risk from climate change, while Bangladesh has the 15th highest risk, according to the report.
Climate scientists are increasingly concerned that global warming will trigger tipping points in the Earth’s natural systems, which will lead to widespread and possibly irrevocable disaster unless action is taken urgently.
The Children’s Climate Risk Index (CCRI) uses data to generate new global evidence on how many children are currently exposed to climate and environmental hazards, shocks and stresses. Bangladesh is one of the countries most vulnerable to climate change, with one-third of the population at risk of displacement because of rising sea levels.
According to the Global Climate Risk Index, Bangladesh ranked among the top 10 countries in the world most affected by extreme weather conditions from 1998–2021.
Cyclones and floods are common in the coastal areas of Bangladesh. About 25% of the population live in these areas and they are severely affected by the natural disasters, said Unicef.
Children in 20 districts across the country are most at risk, including the southwestern districts of Khulna, Satkhira, Bhola and Sirajganj.
When families affected by natural disasters lose their homes, the children of those families are often forced to join work to earn money. As a result, children are more likely to be victims of various forms of abuse.
There is a risk of missing children, victims of sexual abuse, child labor, trafficking, and unsafe migration during disasters.
Unable to take responsibility after losing their homes and livelihoods, many families are marrying off their daughters quickly. One 14-year-old girl was married off when her father, a night guard, felt he could not adequately support her.
“Due to my father’s lack of income and continuous floods, I was married and this has created unbearable trouble in my life. My father lost his job in the pandemic and was not able to arrange a dowry. My husband, Rabiul, will never come to take me to his home unless he gets the dowry money of Tk75,000.”
Dr Nazmun Nahar Nur, deputy director (DRR & CCA) at Save the Children International, told Dhaka Tribune: “Apart from child malnutrition, dropouts, child marriages, child labor and migration, one of the major issues is protecting children from the climate crisis in Bangladesh.
“Financial trouble due to natural disasters makes girls more likely to be harassed and abused in various ways. Many are sold into the sex trade. In the case of boys, they leave the village as children and move to the cities to engage in various hazardous occupations,” she added.
Save The Children has been working on the Child Centred Climate Change Adaptation Project (CCCCA) for the last 8 years in Dhaka, Khulna and Sirajganj.
Muzammel Haque, senior officer of the CCCCA at Save the Children in Bangladesh, said: “Unfortunately, Dhaka and other cities in Bangladesh are not well prepared for the influx of environmental and climate change migrants and relocating from climate vulnerable locations may place children in a situation of one set of problems being replaced by another.”
How to mitigate the effects
Nazmun Nahar called for ensuring a green recovery program and restoration of biodiversity, increasing child-focused climate change projects and policies, ensuring climate change engagement in the national and international negotiations, ensuring climate change mitigation and countries’ commitment, and strengthening climate change and gender action plans.
She added: “While climate change cannot be prevented, we can control it. The whole world must work in alignment for this, starting from increasing green space to waste management and pollution prevention. If the rivers of the country are protected, we will be able to control our unique condition.”
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Tony Michael Gomes, director of Communications, Advocacy and External Engagement at World Vision Bangladesh, remarked that children were the first to be affected by any kind of disaster. All types of climate change crisis in Bangladesh are based on post-disaster conditions.
“Our losses are low if we take action for disaster control. The government needs to put more emphasis here,” he said.
He suggested developing eco-friendly villages to help flood- and disaster-prone areas.
Steps taken by the government
The Department of Environment is working on a National Adaptation Plan for climate change. It aims to address water resource management in coastal areas with high salinity, agriculture, nutrition, urban adaptation, health, as well as children, elderly and gender Issues.
Mirza Shawhat Ali, director (climate change & international convention) at the Department of Environment, told Dhaka Tribune: “We do not work specifically on the effect of climate change on children, but we automatically prioritize women and children. Gender mapping of the National Adaptation Plan is underway, and we would like to include it in the budget for the next financial year.”
He said Bangladesh had received $9.21 million from the International Adaptation Fund. The funds will be used to develop 800-900 disaster resilience houses in Char Fasson of Bhola district and Gangachara upazila of Rangpur for disaster-affected people.
Furthermore, a sustainable agriculture project in hilly areas is set to begin in six months, with a budget of $5.7 million.