Learning to Live in a Changing Climate: the Impact of Climate Change on Children in Bangladesh
Climate change presents one of the greatest development challenges of our time, and it is now clear that the eradication of poverty and inequality cannot be achieved without also addressing the causes and consequences of climate change. This is particularly urgent for Bangladesh as one of the most vulnerable countries in the world to climate change impacts. With high existing levels of poverty and inequality, as well as frequent disaster events, climate change is exacerbating the challenges that girls, boys, women, and men in Bangladesh face every day.
Climate change is threatening to reverse development gains Bangladesh has achieved towards universal access to primary education, health services, safe water, as well as ending child marriage and child labour, and eradicating hunger and malnutrition. As communities struggle to cope with the increased frequency and severity of disasters caused by climate change, girls are at increased risk of child marriage or trafficking and boys of child labour. As farmers struggle to produce staple crops in bad year after bad year from changing seasonal patterns, risk of malnutrition and related health and development consequences increases. As changes to rainfall patterns, temperatures increases, and storms increase salinity and water scarcity, more people will be without adequate quality and quantity of water to meet even their most basic health and hygiene needs.
Progress achieved to date on these development priorities now cannot be taken for granted and must be shored-up against climate change impacts. Where progress is still needed, this will now be much harder to achieve across all sectors in a changing and more changeable climate. Further, capacities are needed to adapt to climate change. Today’s children will be facing unfolding climatic changes for the rest of their lives, so now more than ever achievement of an educated, healthy, and safe population with access to adequate nutritious food, clean water, and public services, is vital for Bangladesh to thrive now and into the future.
Unaddressed, climate change will harm the poorest and most vulnerable children first, hardest, and longest.The types of climate risks confronting children are diverse, ranging from direct physical impacts, such as cyclones, storm surges, and extreme temperatures, to impacts on their education, psychological stress, and nutritional challenges. Children are more likely than adults to die or be injured during disasters and, as a result of flooding, experience prolonged school closures as well as illness due to unsafe drinking water and skin diseases from washing with saline or polluted water. Families who lose their livelihood due to climate change may be forced to migrate, often to urban slums, which in turn lack adequate basic services to provide for children’s needs.
Climate change is a threat multiplier that is exacerbating inequality; therefore a focus on the most vulnerable girls and boys across Bangladesh is needed. It is important for UNICEF to understand the ways in which climate change may undermine efforts towards achieving the goals set out in the 2017-2020 Bangladesh Country Programme. Adjustments to current programming approaches may be necessary, as well as developing new areas of work where UNICEF may be able to offer a comparative advantage. With an understanding that vulnerability to climate change is a product of sensitivity, exposure, and adaptive capacity; UNICEF can prioritise actions to target the most vulnerable children and adolescents in Bangladesh to help stem this growing inequality.
- Who is vulnerable and what success looks like has changed
The vulnerability context for children in Bangladesh is dramatically changing, therefore the Country Programme 2017-2020 must be oriented towards meeting the needs of children and adolescents vulnerable to climate change impacts and its associated increased disaster risks.
Efforts to prevent backsliding of development gains as a result of climate change, as much as progress forward, must be prioritised in the Country Programme 2017-2020. New approaches might be needed to achieve the same things, or tried and tested approaches may no-longer work or not be the most appropriate.
- Predictable disruptions must be planned for
Access to education services, healthcare provision, and safe drinking water will require different considerations in different locations in light of climate change impacts, particularly in areas suffering chronic crisis where there is no longer a distinction between disaster periods and normal periods. Climate change impacts must be factored into planning for continuity of service provision.
- Projects and policies must be climate risk screened
UNICEF and Government of Bangladesh investments must now be suitable and sustainable in the face of climate change. Climate change and disaster risk analysis must be mainstreamed across UNICEF’s portfolio to ensure investments are not undermined by climate change and disaster risks, or indeed inadvertently make people more vulnerable.
- New investments are needed to adapt to climate change
New policies and initiatives are needed for Bangladesh to adapt to climate change, therefore there is a role for UNICEF to ensure that the voices, perspectives, and needs of children and adolescents are brought into these processes, and there may be new climate change adaptation initiatives that UNICEF has a comparative advantage to lead on.