Global warming is real, and I believe there is no other way of going around this fact. Climate change impacts are being felt all over the world, and Bangladesh stands as the most vulnerable in the long run.
Excessive dependence on fossil fuels and how we are running out of alternatives to fight rising sea levels are more than just worrisome -- melting ice caps in the Himalayas result in greater number of destructive floods in a region prone to life-threatening floods already.
Last month, Bangladesh, Nepal, and some parts of India suffered one of the most horrible floods in the history of their existence. While food shortage and vector diseases are a few of the greatest concerns at any point of calculating devastation left behind by the ravaging waves, it is, however, high time we start discussing impacts which go beyond the physical realms of devastation and are more humanely intimate and personal.
Statistically, global consumption of petroleum and natural gas are currently uncontrollable, after setting new records back in 2015. While the Paris agreement may have brought a lot of countries to pledge for stark decreases, the process seems way too complicated and long-term as the most climate change vulnerable countries bear the brunt.
Hotter days ahead
Even with the committed 2C temperature rise, we are set to face extreme weather conditions four to five times more than the 2000s. In layman’s terms, increasing temperatures mean water from the oceans evaporates at least thrice as quickly as it used to, and bring about striking thunders with heavy rain and storm.
Bangladesh is considered as the most climate change vulnerable country in the world, yet our efforts of adapting to climate change have been commendable. There are numerous cyclone shelters all around the country, innovative farming seeds to fight salination, rising land levels to tackle rising sea levels, etc. However, with the frequency of extreme weather and natural disasters going up, one of the most underplayed issues that we have to collectively tackle is protecting women in times of natural disasters.
It will take a concise and collective effort to mitigate health impacts stemming from climate change. But it will take a lot more to cut down on segregated impact which specifically targets, jeopardises, and weakens women
To understand this, you and I should be aware of the countless UN Women reports that share the finding that nutrition intake among the women in diasporas in rural areas is much less compared to the men’s intake. The reason is simple: Women are believed to be the primary caregivers in the family, and the common problem lies within fixed gender roles set by society where women are expected to sacrifice their health to feed their husbands, fathers, and children.
While everyone is equally impacted during floods, tsunamis, and flash floods from hurricanes, the problem exacerbates post-disaster.
When the dust settles
When food is already scarce and the next relief truck is almost two days away, women, ranging from 10 to 50 year olds, sacrifice their health and nutrition to feed their families so the others can live better.
For instance, women in the rural areas of Africa have to travel at least 10 miles on average to fetch water for themselves and their families. This means, there is less energy and resistance to cope with any vector or aqua diseases, like malaria or cholera.
In times of crisis, government mechanisms are supposed to take care of the most vulnerable. While you and I can point out the most vulnerable in this situation, no effort is actually made to take care of women specifically after a disaster.
What multiplies this mess is a general lack of understanding of the uniqueness of female suffering post-disaster or in crisis.
More often than not, reproductive health care is overlooked to a point where menstruating women are ridiculed and punished with greater physical labour they can’t escape from.
Relief efforts in most cases will not distribute reproductive health kits and available doctors are mostly male, who suffering women are uncomfortable to confide in.
There are many NGOs working to create a monolithic rule of providing extra care to women during efforts of restoration, but that mostly falls apart due to the rush and haste that accompany rescue operations and relief distribution.
Women’s health is our priority
With all this in mind, I believe it is important to rethink strategies post extreme weather incidents.
While climate adaptation efforts are going great for Bangladesh, how we approach restoration and alleviate human health suffering from frequently-occurring climate change impacts requires attention.
Erum Burki, who is a Technical Director at Save the Children, identified natural disasters and emergency situations as an opportunity to spread awareness about family planning and sexual health among people who often don’t have the right access to such knowledge due to their geographical location.
This means, there should be a more robust operational structure of identifying the most vulnerable actor in any crisis.
Efforts to establish absolute equal access to nutrition is a must that all parties involved in distributing food and clothing should take care of.
Plus, greater emphasis should be provided to anti-discrimination campaigns as a reinforcing measure to tackle this disparity.
More importantly, health kits should start including reproductive health care for women, like sanitary napkins and painkillers for better and more comfortable living, provided exclusively by female personnel who can also assist in directing female health care questions to available doctors on site.
However, the most important ambition to create a healthier environment post-emergency situation should start from a more efficient and institutionalised effort to mitigate various health impacts.
In this regard, Bangladesh should take ownership of any emergency call and act through small projects initiated by NGOs and non-NGOs that are willing to work in disaster areas.
It will take a concise and collective effort to mitigate health impacts stemming from climate change. But it will take a lot more to cut down on segregated impact which specifically targets, jeopardises, and weakens women and makes them a tool of furthering oppression.
With so much to fight for in their lives, fighting impacts of climate change should, for all reasons, be the least of their worries.
Asif Hassan is a Senior Content Strategist at MediaMuse.