Bangladesh has to talk about the increased health risks it is facing due to climate change-induced extreme weather in the ongoing COP23 being held in Bonn from November 6-17.
This issue has been largely ignored by the policy-makers and we can’t afford to wait any longer.
The frequency of floods in Bangladesh has increased in the past few years. Major floods, which used to take place once in 20 years in Bangladesh, now happen once in every five-year period.
Statistics of concern
In August 2017, Bangladesh (along with India and Nepal) underwent one of the worst flooding incidents in decades.
Nearly 41 million people across the three countries were affected, with the death toll mounting to over 1,200.
IFRC reported that this was been the worst flooding incident in Bangladesh in 40 years and it affected nearly 8.2 million people in this low-lying riverine country.
To put things into perspective, it was the fourth significant flood in 2017 and almost 1/3 of the country went underwater, while 32 districts in total were flooded. Although debated, these types of heightened and frequent floods are indicated by some as the earlier signs of climate change.
Similar predictions were also presented by our government’s 2009 Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan.
It forecasted severe floods that may cover over 60% of the country in every four to five years. The severity of the floods in 2017 didn’t go unnoticed.
Reaz Ahmed, the director-general of Bangladesh’s Department of Disaster Management, expressed concern to the CNN, stating that: “This is not normal.”
Around the world
We observed more than our fair share of extreme weather events in 2017, not only here in Bangladesh, but also in other parts of the world.
Hurricane Irma and Harvey wreaked havoc in the US, deadly heat waves swept through India, Europe, and elsewhere. Also, there were reported cases of extreme droughts in East Africa and unprecedented mudslides in Sierra Leone.
In fact, Oxfam reports that, every year, we are now seeing an average of 400 “extreme weather events” which is a significant rise from the past.
This is especially concerning for Bangladesh, which isn’t yet ready to face these climate-induced adversaries.
As one of the worst climate change victims in the world, Bangladesh has a lot to worry about. At this point, we stand in a situation when it is not only necessary to adapt a mitigation plan to tackle the extreme weather events, but also to work on and garner the ability to cope with its aftermath.
When the dust settles
In the aftermath of the flooding disaster in Bangladesh this year, we have seen various diseases such as diarrhoea, malaria, and dengue breaking out which are incapacitating the recovering communities of Bangladesh.
IFRC reported more than 13,000 cases of waterborne diseases including diarrhoea and also respiratory infections, skin infections, and eye infections. There have been other reported cases of scabies, asthma, and even snake bites.
These health risks are directly related to the effects of climate change.
How can Bangladesh, a country already riddled with so many problems, face these increased health risks?
We observed more than our fair share of extreme weather events in 2017, not only here in Bangladesh, but also in other parts of the world
Quality healthcare is a luxury for the most in this country. Bangladeshis spend most of their healthcare expenditure from out-of-pocket money.
In a recent report, it was shown that out of $2.3 billion spent on health every year in Bangladesh, 64% comes from out-of-pocket payments while only 26% of the expenditure is covered through public funding by prepayment mechanisms.
Is there a health facility in the land?
Public healthcare facilities in Bangladesh are synonymous with a nightmarish ordeal, especially in remote districts. They lack the basic medical equipment and instruments, in some cases rudimentary tools like clocks and height-measuring scales. Commonplace drugs are sometimes not found in those hospitals.
People have to travel a long distance before they come across any public healthcare facilities. Now, imagine a healthcare crisis after an extreme weather event, what will happen to the people affected who reside far away from any healthcare facilities?
Given the context, we can barely imagine the aftermath of the coastal floods that will happen in Bangladesh in 2100, when the sea level would have risen to 2.5 feet.
If not planned out well in advance, the aftermath will be apocalyptic, to say the least.
It is high time we talk about this issue. Both in the ongoing COP23 and in the regional scope.
Bangladesh has to work with the key actors to tackle climate change-induced health risks, which include the government, private sector, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), and donor agencies.
The recognition and support of the international community will definitely be needed to bring this pressing issue to the limelight. Bangladesh has to take crucial steps to make that happen, before it’s too late.
Md Sajjad Azim is a climate tracker.