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OP-ED: Washed away in the time of Covid-19

  • Published at 09:05 pm July 21st, 2020
A reality we have to face head-on REUTERS

How the youth are affected, and what we can do

Bangladesh is in the period of a demographic dividend, where 60% of people are young. As the youth are being deprived of access to material, spiritual, and emotional resources -- their capacities, and home-grown thoughts, are not functioning for disaster management and environmental protection. 

We know that people who earn less than Tk67 per day or consume less than 2,122 kilocalorie per day are poor. During the period of 1985-86, the poverty rate was 55.7%, and then the rate was 31.5% in 2010. Now, 22% of people live under the poverty line. But food consumption and income are not real indicators to measure poverty. 

Extreme and hardcore poverty, Covid-19 induced income poverty, food poverty, jobless poverty, housing and health poverty, child poverty, poverty of landless people, poverty of immobilized people, poverty of slum people, ecological poverty, insecurity induced poverty of mass people, poverty of haor, baor, and marginal people -- all are prevailing in our country. The 2020 flooding has already begun in Bangladesh. 

At the end of May, Amphan swept from one end of the country to the other. Over 2.4 million people were evacuated to enduring and impermanent shelters before the cyclone hit, and over 200,000 houses were fully spoiled. Synchronization with local governments and health facilities is decisive for communities to seek advice on how to facilitate health services. 

Exhortations come as Bangladesh braces itself for mostly heavy rain, among fears that the increasing approach in water levels of major rivers might persist. Flooding hit several northern districts in late June after heavy rains in the country and river catchments in India. Jamalpur, Kurigram, and Gaibandha districts were the worst affected, with some flash flooding also reported in the Sylhet and Sunamganj districts. 

Since then, flooding has been reported in several other districts. In line with a report by Network for Information, Response, and Preparedness Activities on Disaster (NIRAPAD), a total of 1,012,775 people have been affected and 221,158 households marooned. 

The affected districts include Lalmonirhat, Kurigram, Gaibandha, Nilphamari, Rangpur, Sunamganj, Sirajganj, Bogra, Jamalpur, Sylhet, Tangail, Rajbari, and Madaripur. Districts expected to witness further flooding are Kurigram, Lalmonirhat, Rangpur, Nilphamari, Gaibandha, Sylhet, Sunamganj, Netrokona, Kishoreganj, Bogra, Sirajganj, Jamalpur, Tangail, Rajbari, Madaripur, Shariatpur, Chandpur, Munshiganj, Faridpur, Manikganj, Rajshahi, Natore, and Naogaon. 

The flood situation may again worsen in the two northeastern districts of Sylhet and Sunamganj, with a break of just several days when the region witnessed short- term floods since last week of June, as the water levels of all major rivers in the upper Meghna basin started rising again because of the onrush of upstream water, together with heavy rainfall. 

World Bank predicts a one-metre rise in sea level will inundate 20% of its coastal region, leaving 25 to 30 million people without homes, without jobs. As per WB’s “South Asians Hotspot” published in September 2018 more than three quarters or 134 million out of 165 million population of Bangladesh or 82% are at risk of declining living standards as a result of erratic climate change. Rising temperatures could affect living standards in a diverse way. 

The decline in living standards as a result of changes in average weather could cost a loss of 6.7% or 171 billion of Bangladesh’s GDP by 2050 unless actions are taken to reduce emissions and global annual average temperature increase. In fact, the cost of inaction will be highest for the severely affected regions, amounting to 59 billion or a 14.4% loss in GDP by 2050. 

If the current trend is not reversed, then nearly 800 million people of South Asia will be affected, and if corrective actions are taken, then around 370 million will be affected. Consequently, the youth cannot be equal members of society due to the lack of three resources: 

Material resources (income, nutrient food, proper education, health care, rights in land, forest, water bodies, and employment), spiritual resources, and emotional resources. Coronavirus has added a new dimension of youth poverty. If we consider the price hike and low unemployment, then the rate would be 83%. 

The situational imperatives of “youth poverty” makes them powerless, isolated, hopeless, helpless, and weak. It is time to ensure health care facilities, economic opportunities, social facilities, the guarantee of transparency, and protective security for the young generation. 

Otherwise, the total development process will be fear, uncertainty, and doubt. As Bangladesh is one of the most vulnerable countries in terms of climate vulnerability, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has been taking action to live with natural disasters. She adopted the “Climate Change Strategies and Action Plan” as early as 2009. She also involved communities and created 6,000 well-trained volunteers and constructed nearly 3,800 cyclone shelters. 

The current situation demands developing flood-resistant salinity resilient crops, empowering flood- affected people, upholding Covid-19 health services, providing pure potable water, and proper sanitation in order to adapt to climate change, and the pandemic, for social welfare. 

Shishir Reza is an Environmental Analyst and Associate Member, Bangladesh Economic Association.

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