DHAKA – An estimated 19.4 million children in Bangladesh, including half a million Rohingya children, are exposed to the most detrimental and hazardous consequences of climate change, UNICEF said on Friday.
In a report released in Dhaka, Geneva and New York, UNICEF said more resources and innovative programs were urgently needed to avert the danger that climate change posed to poor Bangladeshi children.
“Climate change is deepening the environmental threat faced by families in Bangladesh’s poorest communities, leaving them unable to keep their children properly housed, fed, healthy and educated,” said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore, who visited Bangladesh in early March.
The results of the report, titled “A Gathering Storm: Climate Change Clouds the Future of Children in Bangladesh,” were based on “existing available data” and focus group discussions, Sakil Faizullah, a UNICEF spokesperson in Dhaka, told EFE.
“We analyzed the data to see the impact of climate change on the children. Our experts interacted with families in Dhaka, Barisal, Cox’s Bazar,” he said.
UNICEF found that Bangladesh’s flat topography, dense population and weak infrastructure make it uniquely vulnerable to the powerful and unpredictable meteorological forces that climate change is exacerbating.
“The threat is felt from the flood and drought-prone lowlands in the country’s north to its storm-ravaged coastline along the Bay of Bengal,” UNICEF said in a statement.
Drawing on interviews with families, community leaders and officials, UNICEF concluded that a combination of extreme weather events – such as flooding, storm surges, cyclones and droughts – and longer-term phenomena directly related to climate change – such as rising sea levels and saltwater intrusion – are pushing families further into poverty and displacement.
In turn, children’s access to education and health services is severely disrupted, the report added.
Around 12 million of the worst-affected children live in and around powerful rivers, which flow through Bangladesh and regularly burst their banks.
The most recent major flooding of the Brahmaputra River in 2017 inundated at least 480 community health clinics and damaged some 50,000 tube wells, essential for meeting communities’ safe water needs, UNICEF said.
Another 4.5 million children, including almost half a million Rohingya refugee children living in fragile bamboo and plastic shelters, live in coastal areas that are regularly struck by powerful cyclones.
Another three million children live further inland, where farming communities suffer increasing periods of drought.
Well over five million children vulnerable to climate change are under the age of five, UNICEF said, adding that a changing climate is already undermining their lives and diminishing their prospects for a better future.
The report said that climate change is a key factor pushing poorer Bangladeshis to abandon their homes and communities as they try to rebuild lives elsewhere.
“When families migrate from their homes in the countryside because of climate change, children effectively lose their childhoods,” UNICEF Bangladesh Representative Edouard Beigbeder said in the statement.
Bangladesh already has six million climate migrants, a number that could more than double by 2050, the report said.