The changing climate
As disaster risks evolve, UNICEF helps build resilience of communities
Bangladesh, home to 160 million people, is among the countries most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Around 40 per cent of the population here are children.
A low-lying delta characterised by a dense network of rivers, Bangladesh has been subjected to natural hazards, regardless of climate change.
But as warmer temperatures cause the Himalayan glaciers to melt, a rising sea level and deadlier disasters threaten more lives.
The Bangladesh government has identified as major hazards floods, cyclones, droughts, tidal surges, tornadoes, earthquakes, river erosion, water logging, rising water and soil salinity.
Floods often lead to, or are a result of, river erosion. These results in the loss of lives, land, property and the displacement of people.
Cyclones and storm-surges are common events in the coastal areas of Bangladesh and these have devastating effects in these areas where about 25 per cent of the population reside
Khulna, Satkhira and Bhola are three districts located in southwestern Bangladesh, where climate change is affecting the severity, frequency and distribution of hazards. Along the coast of the Bay of Bengal, a rising sea level is worsening the problems. Saline intrusion is a major issue and has penetrated inland over a hundred kilometres.
Extremes of heat are another type of impact of climate change with the potential of destroying livelihoods in Bangladesh. Major droughts affect the country almost every five years, with the north-western part being most vulnerable.
As for children living in these communities, the risks are higher than adults. They are less able than adults at adapting to heat and other climate-related exposure. Due to lower functional immunity, they are at higher risk of contracting deadly vector-borne and diarrheal diseases as well as undernutrition. Disasters tear down schools, social institutions and livelihoods.
It is during the time of disasters that children are most vulnerable to dislocation, sexual exploitation, child labour, trafficking and unsafe migration
Also, in Bangladesh gendered social norms affect girls and boys very differently, based on the age and sex of a child, the extent of vulnerability becomes diverse and sometimes quite pronounced, particularly for girls.
Bangladesh government recognises the threat posed by climate change. In the past few years, the government made significant advances in Disaster Risk Reduction or DRR.
Bangladesh has constructed a series of multi-purpose buildings used as storm shelters during cyclones, significantly reducing mortality. But the damage and loss of income continues to rise.
But the link between Disaster Risk Reduction and climate change is yet to be fully established, without which Bangladesh will face challenges in dealing with large-scale disasters.
The government spends about 6 to 7 per cent of its annual combined development and non-development budget on climate-sensitive activities, which is equivalent to US$1 billion annually.
But this huge investment has to be strengthened with better institutional capacity, financial planning, monitoring, reporting and holistic policies. Climate change will slow, halt or reverse sustainable progress if development achievements are taken for granted.
But the link between Disaster Risk Reduction and climate change is yet to be fully established
UNICEF recognises that sustainable development cannot be realised if Bangladesh remains vulnerable to the effects of climate change as greater hazards undermine efforts to improve the survival, development, participation and protection of children.
Bangladesh has taken several steps towards climate-change resiliency in recognition of its vulnerability. The government has shifted from a traditional approach of urgent ‘response and relief’ to a more comprehensive and sustainable approach of DRR.
Bangladesh’s National Disaster Management Act enables various government ministries and departments to work together for DRR. Climate change and environmental sustainability are reflected in government policies and plans, including the 7th Five Year Plan.
It has achieved technical advances in forecasting, created thematic clusters with development partners and increased knowledge and understanding of the risks.
It has put in place mechanisms for addressing climate sensitive issues in the country including the provision of significant funds.
While international aid assistance was mobilised to respond to the plight of the 700,000 Rohingyas displaced from Myanmar in late 2017, the Bangladesh government were able to quickly and efficiently deal with the displacement of 4 million people from floods with only minimal assistance from UNICEF and other agencies.
UNICEF working with the government, advocates for policies and investments that are climate-change resilient, inclusive and child-centred
Among the key considerations are:
- Service delivery must continue during and after disasters
- Investments must ensure that resources and infrastructure are resilient to disasters
- Children’s perspectives and needs must be included in policy, initiatives
UNICEF’s agenda for climate change takes into account the situation faced by children of different ages during disasters. UNICEF supports data systems for designing programmes suitable to changing needs. Safe water, hygiene and gender-responsive facilities are promoted in the form of improved drinking water facilities and separate latrines in schools.
Awareness actions and messages on climate change and DRR are spread within communities with the help of local and religious leaders, community influencers, ward level committees and children themselves. Below are some of UNICEF’s interventions for specific age groups:
Infants, young children and mothers
UNICEF supports inclusion of climate resilience plans in existing health response systems during heatwaves, diseases spreading to new areas and disaster causalities.
UNICEF advocates for incorporation of emergency preparedness in the curriculum for public health professionals. It also works with the government to include the issue of climate change into school curriculum and learning packages for teachers.
In health facilities, UNICEF advocates for the use of solar power. UNICEF support is used to maintain emergency stock in areas vulnerable to disaster.
To raise health awareness in disaster-prone districts, community radio is used to spread vital information, for example about hypertension during pregnancy, a complication effecting many mothers who are exposed to soil or water salinity.
UNICEF works to support the system for making HIV medication available to mothers, children, adolescents in a disaster situation.
The protection needs of children during emergencies are a part of UNICEF training provided to parents through Early Childhood Development (ECD) centres.
Child care services must continue during and after disasters. As part of that effort, UNICEF introduces policies and frameworks for Education in Emergencies at district level with partners.
UNICEF promotes linkages with agriculture, livestock, and fisheries to ensure access to safe and nutritious foods during disasters. It also advocates for innovations and development of crop that are climate resilient.
Water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) facilities are often destroyed or overrun by polluted water during disasters. UNICEF conducts research and works with the government to make sure WASH structures are climate resilient. UNICEF is also working to scale up use of the MAR system and other climate-resilient water technologies for creating fresh drinking water in water logged, salinity-infected and drought prone areas.
Children of primary-school age
UNICEF supports pilot initiatives to prevent student dropout and school disruption after disasters.
In the event of climate emergencies, response should follow a National Education Strategy so that education can continue in disaster-prone districts. For preparedness and response, UNICEF works to improve coordination at the district level.
UNICEF is working to support more and more children who are out of school because of climate disasters by improving access to both formal and non-formal education.
UNICEF provides direct support to increase the number of facilities for safe drinking water in primary schools and inform students on the methods for adapting to climate change. As part of the Little Doctor Program, primary school-goers are provided climate change health education.
Protection services are provided to children with single parents, mostly destitute women. UNICEF is working to scale up this service provided to children before, during and after a crisis.
Adolescents as agents of change
UNICEF is working to increase opportunity of Life Skills Education in high schools, especially in areas vulnerable to climate change.
UNICEF supports pilot initiatives to provide secondary education through alternative delivery, such as evening school and weekend school. Such initiatives are also aimed at reducing the number of children who enter the labour market following emergencies.
Life Skills Education teaches adolescents methods for staying safe during the risky conditions that follow disasters, such as trafficking, migration to urban centres, living in disaster shelter and sexual violence. UNICEF also works to generate evidence for linking of climate change and HIV vulnerabilities.
Adolescent girls are vulnerable to child marriage, loss of education and other exploitations following disasters. UNICEF supports training for teachers and communities to emphasise the importance of girls’ education and additional support for continuing high school. Mobile teams and child-friendly spaces supported by UNICEF help adolescents become more capable in reporting abuse, violence or neglect in times of emergency.
UNICEF aims to have the many adolescents and radio-listener groups engaged in climate-change related initiatives. Drowning is a significant cause of death for children. As part of community engagement for DRR, UNICEF supports safe swim programmes for adolescents.
UNICEF trains frontline workers on inter-personal communication and ensures supply of mega phones, wind-up and solar radios in towns and municipalities.
Policy and awareness
Psychosocial and recreational kits funded by UNICEF are already placed in areas vulnerable to disasters. These kits ensure that children in these areas are able to access at least three components of the minimum packages of services in times of emergency.
For urban areas, UNICEF is working to develop climate change and DRR strategies that are responsive to the needs of children. As part of this initiative, UNICEF trains government officials on child-centred adaptation and school safety.
UNICEF also supports plans and budgets for setting up stronger disaster management mechanisms, reflecting the priorities of marginalised communities.
UNICEF is advocating the inclusion of child friendly preparedness, response, protection and risk mitigation for disaster and climate change as part of its review of the Disaster Act 2010.
Children’s Climate Declaration - Children’s Climate Summit, Bangladesh, 20 November 2020