Voicing climate change concerns at CRC30 forum

Serious actions to combat climate change must be taken now

Adrien Blanchard
CRC forum, Khulna
UNICEF Bangladesh/2019/Rahat
22 August 2019

Voicing climate change concerns at CRC30 forum

Shahin, an 18-year-old boy from a village in Satkhira, a district in southwestern Bangladesh, was sharing his experience about the impact of climate change among the people of the coastal districts of Bangladesh as he spoke at the CRC30 Forum discussion organised in Khulna recently.

To the West, Satkhira borders the Indian state of West Bengal with whom it shares parts of the lush Sundarban forest. To the South, Satkhira’s coastlines bound the Bay of Bengal.

The region is particularly vulnerable to tidal surges and cyclones. In his village, Shahin says, floods are also very common. “Our houses and our schools have been washed away. We are daily witnesses to this devastation.”

Facing one disaster after another

Nothing, however, compares to the tropical cyclone Aila, which in 2009 threw Shahin’s life upside down. The torrential rains accompanying the storm nearly destroyed everything Shahin and his family possessed. “Even today, we still feel the damage,” he says.

“My mother and I were home alone,” he recounts, “and we tried to stay for as long as we could, but our house was completely flooded.” So, Shahin and his mother swam to the nearest shelter. For about half an hour, they braved the surrounding waters as well as the heavy downpours.

Luckily, they reached their shelter safely and were able to quickly find Shahin’s father. They were worried because he had been transporting some of the family’s possessions to the shelter earlier that day and hadn’t heard back from him.

Throughout Shahin’s first week in the shelter, conditions were harsh. “There wasn’t enough food and water. And, there was a severe diarrhea outbreak,” causing a family friend of his to die.

His family stayed there for about one month, sharing a large open room with 100 to 150 others, according to Shahin’s estimates. After he left the shelter, “I missed school for a year and a half,” he says, because the “school building was used as a shelter for those who couldn’t afford to rebuild their homes.”

Only months ago, in March 2019, Shahin’s worst nightmare came to life. The cyclone Fani reached the coasts of Bangladesh and threatened to uproot Shahin’s life once more. “I was so scared that the same thing would happen again,” he says.

But Shahin and his community had grown more resilient since 2009. As he explains, “We learned from our experience, so we were prepared for Fani. We moved to shelters more quickly and were better protected.

CRC forum, Khulna
UNICEF Bangladesh/2019/Rahat

“I also helped carry children to the shelter,” he adds, “and I convinced my family to leave our home and get to safety.” Still though, community members’ homes were destroyed and the fish spawn collectors of his village, adults and children alike, lost their livelihoods.

“I saw the hardships of my village’s people and I wanted to tell their stories,” says Shahin, also a UNICEF child journalist as well as a talented photographer and videographer. With his camera, he documented the events and regularly shared his work on social media.        

This same sense of advocacy drove Shahin to attend the CRC30 forum: “I needed to voice their [the villagers’] concerns.”

The chance for children to make their voice heard

To celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), UNICEF Bangladesh, in partnership with the Bangladesh Debate Federation, harnessed young people’s energy for civic engagement and launched the CRC30 forums, a nationwide dialogue on child rights.

Young people from all over the country took part in the CRC30 forums, engaging experts, policy makers, and opinion leaders to discuss on the current state of child rights in Bangladesh and on ways to further protect child rights in the future.

From climate change and child marriage to violence in schools and youth employability, minority rights, the forums covered a wide range of issues that pose threats to child rights in Bangladesh.

The young people participating in these forums, however, did more than just talk about these problems. They also attempted to solve them. Participants worked in teams to develop policy recommendations that will effectively tackle the issues at hand and advance children’s rights. They then presented the recommendations to local leaders in attendance. Shahin and his teammates discussed climate change issue with local policymakers, bureaucrats and opinion leader and sought solutions to many of the climate change related problems.

Combating climate change a priority 

Shahin’s village was completely transformed by climate-related disasters. Climate change posed a threat to the rights of children living in the coastal community, ranging from the right to education and nutrition to the right to health and protection.

If there is one thing Shahin and his group members wanted to make clear during the CRC30 Forum discussion was that: serious actions to combat climate change must be taken now.