Experts: Climate change and SRHR policies need to be integrated, implemented

Climate-related natural disasters have disrupted access to healthcare services and family planning, leading to increased rates of unintended pregnancy and maternal mortality

Climate change is not only affecting nature, but also directly affecting sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR). It exacerbates existing challenges and creates new ones, with risk also increasing with time, according to the speakers at a recent roundtable.

In Bangladesh, the impact of climate change on SRHR is significant. Climate-related natural disasters, such as floods and cyclones, have disrupted access to healthcare services and family planning, leading to increased rates of unintended pregnancy and maternal mortality. 

Women and girls are particularly vulnerable, as they often have limited access to resources and face gender-based violence during displacement. To address these challenges, it is important to integrate climate change and SRHR policy into disaster risk reduction and adaptation efforts in Bangladesh, said the speakers.

Share-Net International Rapid Improvement Model (SHIRIM) arranged the roundtable, titled “The linkage between Climate Change and Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) at the policy level,” at an auditorium in the capital recently. Government and non-government officials, foreign donors, and experts working on climate change and SRHR were among the participants. 

The roundtable was hosted by the International Center for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD) and RedOrange Communications, with Dhaka Tribune as the media partner.

Nazneen Khan, researcher,  ICCCAD, presented the keynote paper and she noted that the impact of climate change is not only on nature. Health risks have also increased, especially for women. But most women do not want to talk about these things. As a result, women in coastal areas and Howrah regions are at high health risk.

Dr Nazneen Khan Mahmud Hossain Opu/Dhaka Tribune

Chief guest Kazi Zebunnesa Begum, additional secretary  (WH Wing), Health Service Division, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, said “The Health Ministry alone cannot do anything when it's about gender and climate change issues. I think we all need to come to a platform and work together.”

She also highlighted tobacco consumption and said: “One cigarette contributes 14-gram carbon dioxide to the environment. Active smokers and passive smokers, everyone is facing the same level of problems. Our National Board of Revenue (NBR) is getting more taxes, almost more than Tk22,000 crores from tobacco, but they don't calculate the health issues caused by tobacco consumption.”

Kazi Zebunnesa Begum Mehedi Hasan/Dhaka Tribune

The additional secretary called upon the organizers to arrange more initiatives in association with multiple ministries of Bangladesh to address climate change issues.

Special guest Tahmina Shirin, director of the Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research, said: “We have to fix who will do what. There should be a chain. We need funds from the government sector because the government has funds for disaster management, but after every disaster, there are also health issues. We need funds to respond to this as well.”

Prof Dr Tahmina Shirin Mehedi Hasan/Dhaka Tribune

Daniel Novak, first secretary (Health) and Program Specialist -SIDA, Embassy of Sweden, said: “When talking about climate change, we usually focus on coastal areas, but we almost forget about urban areas. We also need to think about urban areas.

“We need to think about sound and air pollution as well. We have to think about other health aspects of climate change, not only SRHR,” he added.

Daniel Novak Mehedi Hasan/Dhaka Tribune

Senior adviser (SRHR and Gender), Embassy of the Kingdom of Netherlands Mushfiqua Zaman said: “We have to analyze who is being most affected by this. Every one of us is included because climate change will affect us all. We need to engage the youth and private sector as well. We cannot delay anymore, our backs are already at the wall.”

Mushfiqua Zaman Satiar Mahmud Hossain Opu/Dhaka Tribune

Mahbubul Alam, lead of gender mainstreaming, BRAC, said that everyone should work together to solve this problem as soon as possible.

Mahbubul Alam Mahmud Hossain Opu/Dhaka Tribune

BRAC Gender Justice Department Head  of Program Masuma Billah said: “We are working in 64 districts to address this issue, but there is a lack of women's participation when we are working at the policy and implementation level.”

Masuma Billah Mahmud Hossain Opu/Dhaka Tribune

Azmal Hossain, program analyst-urban health, UNFPA Bangladesh, said:  “At the end of the day, the government will initiate this. We are supporting the government.”

Md Azmal Hossain Mahmud Hossain Opu/Dhaka Tribune

SERAC Bangladesh Program Manager Tasnia Ahmed said: “People are not getting any kind of information and in some remote places they don't even know what reproductive health is, like in the char area of Bangladesh.” She recommended including local values and leaders at the advocacy level.

Tasnia Ahmed Mahmud Hossain Opu/Dhaka Tribune

Halida H Akhter, senior associate, Center for Human Nutrition, Dept of International Health, said: “Women and girls are always backbenchers in case of any emergency. Women and children are 14 times more vulnerable during disasters in developing countries.”

She suggested that women's representation be increased at the policy level and be considered when forming programs.

Furthermore, she said the media has a strong responsibility to raise awareness of climate change and SRHR.

Dr Halida Akhter Mahmud Hossain Opu/Dhaka Tribune

Director of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD) Professor Saleemul Huq said: “Every one of us knows what our role is in dealing with climate change, and you need to figure out what your role is. The outcome of this roundtable is to help people who are working in this sector.”

He also said: “Climate is like a nexus term, and we should coordinate this term with a lot of issues, like climate and women, and climate and gender.”

Prof Saleemul Huq Mahmud Hossain Opu/Dhaka Tribune

Arnob Chakrabarty, managing director of RedOrange Communications, said: “We need to look at our existing health and climate policies and ensure that SRHR is integrated into disaster preparedness and climate change response programs.”

Arnob Chakrabarty Mahmud Hossain Opu/Dhaka Tribune

The guest speakers included Dr Halida H Akhter, senior associate, Center for Human Nutrition, Dept of International Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Mushfiqua Zaman Satiar, senior adviser (SRHR and Gender), Embassy of the Kingdom of Netherlands in Bangladesh, Masuma Billah, head of the program, BRAC Gender Justice Department (former Share-Net Bangladesh CoP Management and SHIRIM expert), Md Azmal Hossain, MSS, MPH, MScPH, program analyst -urban health, UNFPA Bangladesh among others.

Prof Saleemul Huq, Director of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD) chaired and Arnob Chakrabarty, Managing Director of RedOrange Communications moderated the roundtable.