Climate change threatens millions of Bangladeshi children, warns UNICEF

A new report shows environmental disasters linked to climate change are threatening the lives and futures of more than 19 million children in Bangladesh, including prompting many families to push their daughters into child marriages.

Climate change in Bangladesh could impact the lives of more than 19 million children, according to a new UNICEF report. 

The humanitarian agency said on Friday that the country’s flat topography, dense population and weak infrastructure makes it “uniquely vulnerable to the powerful and unpredictable forces that climate change is compounding”. 

The report author, Simon Ingram, said the danger was "flooding is extreme and it is almost on an annual basis”. 

The lives and futures of more than 19 million children in Bangladesh are threatened by environmental disasters, according to a new report.
Source: AP

The report, titled "Gathering Storm: Climate change clouds the future of children in Bangladesh", showed about 12 million children currently live in and around powerful river systems, which flow through Bangladesh and regularly burst their banks.

Another 4.5 million children live in coastal areas, which are regularly struck by powerful cyclones, including almost half a million Rohingya refugee children from neighbouring Myanmar - living in makeshift bamboo and plastic shelters.

Rohingya children

A further 3 million Bangladeshi children live in farming communities, which are facing increasing periods of drought.

The report also found a link between climate change and child marriage, child labour and access to education is evident in various parts of Bangladesh.

"Climate change is undoubtedly increasing the number of children who are pushed into the workplace, where they miss out on an education and are terribly exposed to violence and abuse," UNICEF Bangladesh Child Protection specialist Kristina Wesslund said.

Rohingya Muslim girl Afeefa Bebi, holds her brother as doctors check her mother Yasmeen Ara at a community hospital in Kutupalong refugee camp, Bangladesh 2017.
Source: AP

Bangladesh has one of the world's highest rates of child marriage, with nearly a third of girls married before the age of 15. 

Child protection specialist Gyas Uddin agreed with the report's findings. 

"Climate change makes people poorer and poverty is a major factor behind child marriage," he told AFP.

In 2007, a powerful cyclone killed nearly 4000 people and impacted hundreds of thousands more.

Bangladeshi children walk along streets submerged by rainwater in Old Dhaka city last year, after heavy monsoon rains flooded parts of the capital.
Source: EPA

The most recent flooding of the Brahmaputra River in 2017 damaged 50,000 tube wells, which impacted safe, drinking water and had almost 500 health clinics bursting at the seams with residents needing urgent medical treatment.

"This had an enormous effect not just in terms of displacing families and pushing them out of their homes,” Mr Ingram said, adding the “destruction that it caused to health facilities and to basic services like water and sanitation”. 

UNICEF also said a change in climate was pushing poorer Bangladeshis from rural areas and into the capital Dhaka and other major cities for resources, where children's rights can be violated.

Rohingya Muslim women, who crossed over from Myanmar into Bangladesh, hold their sick children.
Source: AP

Mr Ingram said there were already six million climate refugees in Bangladeshi cities, a number that could double by 2050.

Rising sea levels leading to unchecked saltwater intrusion also posed a threat to pregnant women, with the report showing an increased risk of medical conditions, including pre-eclampsia and hypertension, identified among mothers-to-be at the coast. 

Additional reporting AFP 

Published 5 April 2019 at 7:17pm, updated 5 April 2019 at 7:53pm
By Charlotte Lam